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What Makes a Dog Dangerous?

People use the phrase “dangerous dogs” to refer to dogs that they perceive to be dangerous. In Massachusetts, as well as in many other states, the phrase has a legal definition that isn’t exactly the same as its colloquial usage. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Dangerous Dog?

To be labeled a dangerous dog in Massachusetts, a dog must threaten, hurt, or attack someone. Then, the victim must issue a complaint, and the hearing authority must investigate the situation to determine if the dog is a danger or just a nuisance.

However, there are a few exceptions. Dogs have a right to protect their property, and if any of the following statements are true, the dog can’t be labeled as dangerous, even if it has attacked someone:

  1. The dog was defending itself or its owner from an attack.
  2. The victim was committing a crime on the dog’s property.
  3. The victim was perpetrating a crime on the dog’s owner, such as mugging.
  4. The victim was teasing, tormenting, or assaulting the dog.
  5. The victim was trespassing in the dog’s enclosed structure — this exception does not apply to children under the age of seven.

Differences Between Dangerous and Nuisance Dogs

Nuisance dogs tend to exhibit one or more problematic behaviors, but the courts don’t believe that these dogs are likely to hurt anyone. If a dog is labeled as a nuisance dog, its owner may have to take steps to change its behavior. In contrast, if the courts decide that a dog is dangerous, its owner may need to restrain, confine, muzzle, or neuter the dog. In very dangerous or extreme situations, the courts may order the dog to be euthanized.

Are Certain Breeds Dangerous?

Research suggests that certain breeds of dogs are responsible for more attacks than other dogs. That includes pit bulls, chow chows, Rottweilers, Akitas, and bullmastiffs. However, animal and legal experts don’t believe that any of these breeds are inherently more dangerous than any other breed of dog.

In fact, in Massachusetts, it’s illegal to label a dog as dangerous just because of its breed, and the State of Massachusetts, the American Bar Association, and the Department of Justice are all opposed to laws that ban dogs based on their breeds.

What Makes a Dog Dangerous?

Generally, the way a dog is treated turns it into a dangerous dog, and according to a study from the American Veterinary Association, 76.2% of dogs that attack have minimal interactions with humans. They are often chained up alone in backyards or constantly locked in kennels, rather than welcomed into the family home. Additionally, in 37.5% of dangerous dog cases, the owner has abused, starved, or neglected the dog.

The Signs of a Dangerous Dog

From a behavioral perspective, actions like growling can indicate the potential for danger. Some of the other signs that a dog might attack include the following:

  • Signs of anxiety such as yawning, licking lips, and avoiding eye contact
  • Baring teeth and growling
  • Wagging the tail, while keeping the body completely still
  • Holding their bodies rigidly
  • Raised hackles
  • Exposing the whites of their eyes

If you see a dog exhibiting these behaviors, dog expert Cesar Millan advises you to stay calm and avoid making eye contact to help prevent an attack. Then, turn slightly to the side, keeping an eye on the dog in your peripheral vision, and claim your space. This shows the dog that you want your space but that you don’t want to infringe on theirs.

Owner Responsibility for Dangerous Dogs

When someone’s dog is dangerous, the owner is civilly liable for any damage or injuries caused by the dog. In some circumstances, the owner could also be criminally liable. Owners may be responsible for paying for the victim’s injuries and compensating them for their pain and suffering. Depending on the situation, the owner may also face criminal charges, fines, and jail time.

What to Do If You’ve Been Attacked by a Dangerous Dog

If you’ve been attacked by a dangerous dog, contact the police. Once a dog attacks, it becomes very likely to attack again, and by reporting the incident, you can help to protect future victims. Additionally, seek medical attention — dog bites can become infected or have other severe complications.

Keep records of your treatments as well as information about any lost time at work or other costs you incur due to the attack. Then, contact a dog bite attorney. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have extensive experience helping our clients get the justice they deserve after a dog attack. Contact us for a free case evaluation today.

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