I had the opportunity to testify on March 14, 2013, in support of A2379, the New Jersey bill that criminalizes dog fighting, and sets forth penalties for everyone involved in these illegal enterprises, from the dog owners, to fight organizers, gamblers, spectators, and more, described in Justice Long’s post.

Dog fighting does more than harm the dogs subjected to this cruel treatment-it changes public perception about the nature of the types of dogs associated with these enterprises, leading to breed specific bans that do nothing to protect the public or other animals.  In fact, breed specific bans lull the public into a false security of safety, and nothing more.

That is not to say that dogs do not attack other animals, including people. The CDC reports that “[a]bout 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Almost one in five of those who are bitten :a total of 885,000: require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries.”

But aggressive behavior in dogs has far more to do with their socialization and training of dogs than with any “perceived” breed predilection.  While, some behavioral tendencies are, at least partly genetic, the best way to prevent aggressive behavior in dogs, is through proper training and care.

Whether you own a dog, considered to be inherently aggressive or not, you should know what

your liabilities will be if your dog bites or attacks an animal or person.

In New Jersey, the relevant statute makes dog owners strictly liable if their dog bites a person, even if the dog never bit anyone. There are some exceptions-if someone is bitten while on your property illegally, you are not liable. However, once your dog is identified as “aggressive dog” your options going forward may be limited. And don’t forget about the potential for the increased cost of insurance, and other costs you may be liable for.  As reported by the American Veterinary Medical Association: “The insurance industry estimates it pays more than $1 billion/y in homeowners’ liability claims resulting from dog bites.  Hospital expenses for dog bite-related emergency visits are estimated at $102.4 million. There are also medical insurance claims, workmen’s compensation claims, lost wages, and sick leave-associated business costs that have not been calculated.”

Some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Just because your dog is not a breed commonly believed to be aggressive, does not mean he/she will not be a biter;
  • Choose your dog with potential behavior problems in mind, especially if you have other animals, young children, and/or are not home for most of the day;
  • Get as much information as possible about the background of the dog you are considering buying or adopting-information about the sire and dam, if known, former owners, etc.
  • If you know your dog has aggressive tendencies, take preventive measures to avoid situations that trigger those behavior-dog parks are probably out of the question;
  • Consult with your veterinarian to get the best preventive care and behavioral training available; and
  • Contact an attorney to fully understand and minimize your liability.