While some California cities or counties may have breed-specific ordinances regarding some canines, there are no special state laws that single out Pit Bulls. State laws do, however, place special rules and restrictions on “potentially dangerous” or “vicious” dogs.
For example, California law says that such dogs must be licensed and vaccinated. In addition, when these animals are on their owner’s property, they have to be kept either indoors or in a fenced yard.
Further, Penal Code 399 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for dog owners to fail to control a dangerous dog. The offense can be a filed as a misdemeanor or a felony, and carries a penalty of up to 3 years in county jail.
As to dog bites, California law imposes “strict liability” on owners if their pet bites a person. This means the owner of a dog who bites someone is liable in a civil lawsuit for the victim’s injuries – even if the animal has never bitten before and the owner did nothing wrong.
Are there special rules/laws in California for Pit Bulls?
Some municipalities and counties in California have breed-specific laws, or breed-specific legislation (“BSL”), regarding some canines. Examples of these breeds of dogs include:
- the Pit Bull,
- the American Pit Bull Terrier,
- the Staffordshire Bull Terrier,
- Rottweilers, and
- German Shepherds.
These ordinances pertain to spay or neuter programs and breeding restrictions and requirements. A goal of spaying or neutering surgeries is to prevent aggressive behavior towards other animals.
What about “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs?
California law does have special rules and restrictions on “potentially dangerous” and “vicious” dogs, which may include Pit Bulls.
A “potentially dangerous dog” is one that has done any of the following:
- performed some act, off its owner’s property, that required a person to take defensive action to prevent bodily harm,
- bitten someone and caused an injury, or
- injured or killed a domestic animal off of the dog owner’s property.
A “vicious dog” is one that has either:
- been listed as a potentially dangerous dog and continues with aggressive behavior,
- severely injured or killed a person without provocation and in an aggressive manner, or
- been seized as a result of its owner’s engaging in dog fighting, a crime under Penal Code 597.5 PC.
A canine is often labeled as either of the above following an investigation conducted by:
- an animal control officer,
- a law enforcement officer, or
- a court hearing.
If, after an investigation, a dog is found to pose an immediate threat to public safety, then personnel can impound it.
What is required of an owner of a dangerous or vicious dog?
A potentially dangerous or vicious dog must be lawfully licensed and vaccinated.
In addition, when the dog is on its owner’s property (for example, private property), the dog has to be kept:
- within a fenced area, or
- in a kennel.
When the dog is in a public place, an adult must:
- control it, and
- keep it on a leash.
A local animal control department can euthanize a vicious dog if it determines that the dog poses a significant threat to:
- public health,
- public safety, and
- the general welfare.
Note that California law also imposes criminal penalties on an owner if he/she fails to control a dangerous dog or animal. California Penal Code 399 PC makes it a crime for:
- an owner to fail to use ordinary care to confine a dangerous or vicious animal, and
- that failure causes someone to be killed or seriously injured.
A violation of PC 399 is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
A misdemeanor offense is punishable by up to six months in a county jail (as opposed to state prison).
A felony crime is punishable by custody in county jail for up to three years.
For purposes of this code section, an animal is considered “dangerous” if:
- it is a wild animal, or
- it is a domesticated animal that is individually vicious or prone to hurting people willfully.
What is California’s Dog Bite Law?
California law holds dog owners “strictly liable” if their pet bites someone. “Strictly liable” means the owner is liable in a civil lawsuit for the victim’s injuries – even if the animal has never bitten before and the owner did nothing wrong.
Note, though, that an owner will not be held liable if:
- “the victim” was trespassing on private property (such as the dog owner’s property),
- “the victim” provoked the dog,
- the animal was protecting its owner or another person in accordance with California’s laws on self-defense, or
- the animal was a military or police canine being used appropriately in accordance with the agency’s written policy.
People who have been bitten by a dog in California are often entitled to compensation for their injuries from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Compensatory damages may include, without limitation:
- medical costs,
- physical or vocational therapy,
- psychological counseling,
- lost wages,
- lost earning capacity,
- pain and suffering, and/or
- Compensation for scarring and disfigurement.
California law requires animals who have bitten someone to be quarantined, usually for ten days. During this time, the county will ensure that the canine does not carry the rabies virus.
Typically, canines who bite people will not be euthanized.
Note that California’s strict liability law on dog bites is different from the dog bite laws of most other states within the United States. Most states follow a “one bite rule.” This rule only holds dog owners liable if they are aware of their dog’s dangerous tendencies. The most common way for owners to become aware of their dog’s aggression is if the dog has already bitten someone.
We have law offices throughout California, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, and more.
 California Food & Agriculture Code 31602.
 California Food & Agriculture Code 31603.
 California Food & Agriculture Code 31621 and 31625.
 See same.
 California Food & Agriculture Code 31641 and 31642.
 See same.
 See same.
 California Food & Agriculture Code 31645 and 31646.
 California Penal Code 399 PC.
 California Civil Code 3342 CC.
 California Civil Code 3342b-d CC.
 California Civil Code 3342.5b CC.