Skip to Main Content

Are dog owners responsible for bites and attacks?

Bull terrier and muzzle. Stock photo by Getty Images

Dog owners, be warned: you could feel a legal bite for your best friend’s aggressive action.

Dog attacks are a regular occurrence in Canada. The Canada Safety Council estimates there are approximately 460,000 bites each year, with just a couple resulting in human deaths.

Those dogs and their owners can suffer heavy consequences, but it depends on their jurisdiction and its own laws. There’s no federal statute specifically covering dog bites.

Animal control is mostly a municipal responsibility in Canada, although some provinces have created broader legislation.

Ontario, for example, has the Dog Owner’s Liability Act, which says dog owners can be civilly liable for property damage or attacks on humans and domestic animals. As well, a court can order a dog be destroyed if its behavior poses a threat to human or animal safety.

In addition, an owner that doesn’t take reasonable steps to prevent attacks could face fines as high as $10,000 and six months in jail.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and P.E.I. have similar provincial laws in place. Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have much lighter penalties but also allow any person to kill a dog that’s attacking another person, a tethered dog, livestock or even just “a food cache, harness or other equipment.”

Many other municipalities have their own bylaws governing dogs and liability, but they’re often similar.

A dog won’t necessarily face destruction for an attack though. Typically, these laws allow mitigating circumstances, such as whether the attacking dog was provoked, negligence on the plaintiff’s part, and whether the attack was isolated or the dog displays ongoing aggressive tendencies.

Similarly, an owner isn’t always liable for a dog’s attack. Often, courts consider whether the dog had exhibited aggressive behaviours, whether the owner was aware of them and whether they’d taken steps to restrain or prevent attacks.

Read more:

Ontario Dog Owner’s Liability Act

N.W.T. Dog Act