How Strict is Your State? Dog Bite Laws in the U.S.

In the U.S., 36% of households own at least one dog. There are so many joys that dogs provide to families, however owning a dog can also come with liabilities. Even the friendliest family dog can bite someone if they’re scared or defending their owner, territory or food.

That’s why states have introduced legislation to address the consequences of dog bites. The punishment for dog owners whose dog has attacked someone can vary on a variety of factors, such as the severity of the bite, leash laws in the location the bite occurred, if the dog was previously known to be vicious and more.

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    Here we’ll break down everything you need to know about dog bites, including what to do if your dog bites someone. Plus, check out our own survey data about what Americans would do if they were bitten by a dog.

    In this article

      What is considered a dog bite?

      Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and dog behaviorist known for his dog training books and videos, created the first evaluation system to understand the severity of a dog bite at different levels. It’s broken down into six levels outlined below:

      • Level 1: The dog is intimidating, but there’s no contact between their teeth and the victim’s skin.
      • Level 2: The dog makes contact between their teeth and the victim’s skin, but there is no puncture.
      • Level 3: The dog makes one to four punctures in the victim’s skin from a single bite, no deeper than a half length of the dog’s teeth.
      • Level 4: The dog makes one to four punctures in the victim’s skin from a single bite with at least one puncture deeper than half of the length of the dog’s tooth.
      • Level 5: The dog bites the victim multiple times with at least two level 4 bites.
      • Level 6: The victim dies from the dog bite.

      While level 1 and level 2 comprise of over 99% of dog bite incidents and owners have the potential to resolve the problem with training, level 3 and higher are more problematic and can result in the need for extreme, hands-on training or in some cases, euthanasia.

      It’s important to know what level of dog bite has occurred to understand how to approach medical attention, the legality around the event and insurance claims.

      How prevalent are dog bites in the U.S.?

      Dog bites occur more than you might think with an estimated 1,000 people in the U.S. require emergency care treatment for serious dog bite injuries every day. As a dog owner, this statistic alone proves how important both dog training and home insurance coverage is to protect yourself and others. These are just a few of the shocking statistics behind dog bites in the U.S.:

      • Up to 18% of dog bites become infected with bacteria. —
      • People in the U.S. have a 1 in 112,400 chance of being bitten or struck by a dog. — National Safety Council
      • Homeowners insurers paid out $675 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2018. — Insurance Information Institute
      • Nearly 66% of fatal dog attacks between 2005 and 2017 were caused by Pit Bulls. —
      • In more than 84% of dog bite-related fatalities, the dog was not neutered or spayed. — National Canine Research Council

      14% of Americans would press charges if a dog bit them

      We surveyed 2,000 Americans to get a picture of how people would react to getting bit by a dog. To our surprise, only 14% of Americans would press charges against the owner if a dog bit them. For others, it depends on the circumstances if they would press charges or not.

      We found it surprising that for a majority of people, they would only press charges if the bite resulted in medical bills.

      Victim and dog owner relationship over legality

      23% of dog bite victims would not press charges if they knew the owner

      The legality for consequences of dog bites in each state is clearly defined, however, it’s up to the victim whether or not they want to press charges against the dog owner. Nearly a quarter of victims (23%) would not press charges if they knew the owner.

      Results show that women appear to be more compassionate towards the situation with 26% revealing that it would depend on if they know the owner when it comes to pressing charges. That’s compared to 20% of male respondents who would approach the situation similarly.

      Americans in the northeast are the least likely to press charges for a dog bite

      Americans in the northeast were least likely to press charges if a dog bit them — 35% reported that they would not. Comparatively, about a quarter of respondents in other regions said they would not press charges.

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      Dog bite liability by state

      The liability that owners have if their dog bites someone is determined on the state and local level. In some states, owners are liable for any bites that take place, while in others, owners have a “one bite” law, which doesn’t hold the owner accountable for the first bite if the dog didn’t show dangerous tendencies in the past. Some states target specific breeds, requiring insurance coverage for owners of dogs that are considered risky.

      There are three types of laws that impose liability on owners: one-bite rule, dog-bite statute and negligence laws.

      One-bite rule: State dependent, the owner is not held liable for the first bite a dog inflicts.

      Strict liability dog bite statute: The dog owner is held liable for any injury or property damage that the dog causes. Dog bite statutes can vary by state. For example, some states may be less strict if the bite took place on private property versus public property.

      While the dog owner is held liable if they are negligent in controlling their dog, states also have their own laws about what is considered negligent.

      To learn more about the legislation for dog bites in your state, you can find the statue here.

      Steps to take in the case of a dog bite

      Dog bites can occur at unexpected times, but it’s important to take the right steps to ensure the health and safety of you and the person who was bit. Be sure to follow the steps recommended by the CDC and below to reduce the risk of infection and get the help that the victim needs.

      1. Confirm that the victim is no longer in danger: Stay calm and do not make eye contact with the dog. Once the dog is restrained, take the following steps.
      2. Collect or provide information of the dog and owner: It’s important to prioritize the wound as soon as possible, but depending on the circumstances, you’ll want to grab or share the name, address and phone number of the owner to request proof of a rabies vaccination and file a claim if necessary.
      3. Seek medical attention: If you or the victim’s wound can be controlled, immediately use soap and water to wash it and cover it with a clean bandage. See a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
      4. Photograph the injuries: Even if it means temporarily removing the bandages, it’s important to have images of the wounds on the day of the attack to back up any claims filed.
      5. Photograph the injuries: Even if it means temporarily removing the bandages, it’s important to have images of the wounds on the day of the attack to back up any claims filed.
      6. Report the bite: Contact the closest animal control agency or police department to report the attack.
      7. Contact an attorney: Legal council will help you navigate through the incident whether you are the victim or the dog owner.

      Read through our visual below to learn more about dog bites in the U.S.

      Regardless of the state you’re from, it’s recommended to make sure that your homeowners insurance covers your dog if they were to hurt someone while on your property. Be aware that many insurance companies will exclude certain breeds.


      The Simple Dollar used Google Surveys to pose one question to the general American population on January 30, 2020. 2,000 Americans were surveyed about what it would take for them to press charges in an event of a dog bite.