Dealing with Aggressive Dogs: Community Solutions That Consider Each Dog, Not Their Breed

Posted by Stephan Otto, ALDF's Director of Legislative Affairs on April 10, 2009

Across the country, many cities, counties, and even states, are attempting to address the problem of aggressive dogs in ways which are ineffective, and worse, can unfairly punish dogs who have never acted in an aggressive manner. These jurisdictions are doing this through the passage of laws that attempt to restrict or ban certain breeds of dogs.

Breed-specific bans and restrictions are extremely problematic. Dangerous dogs can be of any breed, or of mixed breeds. Such bans are not only difficult to enforce, but they also unfairly penalize those dogs and guardians who are behaving in accordance with the laws, while doing nothing to address one of the root causes of dangerous dogs – irresponsible guardians. In addition, such bans can embroil a jurisdiction in costly litigation based on claims brought by guardians of banned breeds asserting violations of constitutional protections. Fortunately, other communities are handling this issue in much better ways – by adopting responsible laws that focus on the behavior of individual dogs and their guardians, not their breed.

One successful example of such a case-by-case, dog-by-dog approach can be found in Multnomah County, Oregon. This jurisdiction, like many others, has chosen to incorporate a multi-level classification system for problem (potentially dangerous and dangerous) dogs with differing requirements. Their law provides for hearings and authorizes the discretion not to classify a dog when the dog’s behavior was due to “the victim abusing or tormenting the dog, or was directed towards a trespasser or other similar mitigating or extenuating circumstances that establishes that the dog does not constitute an unreasonable risk to human life or property.” In addition, once a dog is classified, then different types of requirements or restrictions may  take effect depending upon the specifics of each case. These can include such things as guardians education and dog training for less serious cases, to secure enclosures and other safety measures to protect the community when there is a greater risk. Also, and important to note, dogs may be declassified as potentially dangerous or dangerous after a certain time period without additional violations.

Not only are laws like the one in Multnomah County, Oregon inherently more fair, they are, according to a county official, quite effective – showing low rates of recidivism.

If your community is grappling with the problem of dangerous dogs, encourage them to follow the examples of communities across the country who have adopted fair, effective laws, treating each dog and owner individually, while at the same time protecting all members of the community – both those with two legs and those with four.

Besides the Animal Legal Defense Fund, there are many other groups and resources available to help guide your community through this process, including:

Animal Farm Foundation

AVMA Report: “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” (PDF)

Multnomah County, Oregon’s Multi-level Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dog Ordinances

A copy of this article was published in The American Dog magazine, Spring 2009.

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