California Dog Bite and Leash Laws

Every day about one thousand U.S. citizens incur dog bites that require emergency attention. Dog bite law is a branch of law that greatly varies from state to state. California has noticed an increase in dangerous dogs and dog bites, and has created a set of laws that are especially stringent in order to keep its citizens safer. Dog owners are responsible and held liable for what their dogs do to both humans and other animals.

A general law that used to be considered the “standard” for all states is known as the “one bite free” law. It states that if the dog has never bitten anyone before, and the owner does not have a degree of knowledge that their animal is dangerous, a court will take little to no action. It basically allows every dog one free bite with no legal recourse. California is one of many states that has a strict dog bite statute, which is a law that overrules the one bite free law in order to encourage dog owners to better train their pets and to veer away from purchasing notoriously dangerous canines. In California, a dog owner is found liable even if the dog has never bitten anyone or shown a tendency of aggressive behavior. A victim of a dog bite must simply show that the dog was owned by the defendant, the bite took place on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property, the victim was actually bitten by the dog and that the victim was injured by the dog. Only in the cases of the victim's trespassing onto private property, and under assumption of risk (if the dog was provoked) is the statute reconsidered.

In California it is illegal to leash a dog to anything unless it is provided with adequate food and shelter. This means that even when you are on a walk with your dog and you want to stop into an establishment for a cup of coffee, you are not legally allowed to tie up your dog outside while you are inside. This law is a misdemeanor offense, and is based on the belief that every dog should be provided with enough area to exercise, and leash lengths do not allow for exercise. Exemptions of this dog leash law are when the animal is in transit, in a vehicle or in physical possession of a person.

Dog owners have a responsibility to ensure public safety. Owners of identified "vicious dogs" must act with extreme caution. A vicious dog is one that, when unprovoked, attempts to bite or attacks a human or domestic animal. Such a dog has been known to endanger the safety of those around him or her and has a reputation for vicious behavior. Owners of vicious dogs must legally have them enclosed in a fence or structure at least 6 feet tall that prevents the entrance of any young children, and ensures that the animal is unable to escape. Such dogs are only permitted to leave their enclosure to see the vet or if court-ordered, and during those times the dog must be muzzled and restrained with a chain that has the strength of 300 pounds and does not exceed 3 feet.

If you or a loved one has been bitten or injured by a dog, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical bills as well as pain and suffering. Because dog bite laws are complicated you should hire an attorney who can explain your case.

By Law Offices of Mann & Elias, California
Law Firm Website:

Scott Mann is a managing partner of the Law Office of Mann & Elias; a Los Angeles personal injury and employment law firm.

Copyright Law Offices of Mann & Elias

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Find a Lawyer