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SubjectsPublic SafetyAnimal Control › Dangerous Dogs
Updated 05/2012

Dangerous Dogs



This page provides a summary of legislation and court cases relating to dogs defined as "dangerous dogs" in the state of Washington. It also provides provides links to articles and sample ordinance provisions. Under Ch. 16.08 RCW the state regulates "dangerous dogs" and imposes requirements and restrictions on the owners of such dogs. This law defines and makes a distinction between "dangerous dogs," which are to be regulated under the provisions of Ch. 16.08 RCW, and "potentially dangerous dogs," which are to be regulated by locally-adopted ordinances.

Dangerous dog issues can be quite contentious, often because dog owners frequently have an emotional attachment to their pets that gives them a very different perspective than neighbors or others who feel threatened or have been injured. If a local government’s regulations are not carefully crafted, litigation can result. You are encouraged to review the information on our dangerous dogs pages carefully, so that this issue doesn’t come back to bite you!


  • RCW 16.08.070(1) defines a "potentially dangerous dog" as: "... any dog that when unprovoked: (a) Inflicts bites on a human or a domestic animal either on public or private property, or (b) chases or approaches a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, or any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or to cause injury or otherwise to threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals."
  • RCW 16.08.070(2) defines a "dangerous dog" as: "... any dog that (a) inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property, (b) kills a domestic animal without provocation while the dog is off the owner's property, or (c) has been previously found to be potentially dangerous because of injury inflicted on a human, the owner having received notice of such and the dog again aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans."
  • RCW 16.08.080 sets forth the basic procedures that cities and counties must follow when dealing with dangerous dogs:
    (1) notice to a dog's owner when seeking to have the animal declared to be a dangerous dog;
    (2) the right to a meeting at which the owner can present written and/or oral information as to why the dog should not be declared dangerous; and
    (3) the right to appeal any determination.
    The statute places significant responsibilities on the owner of a dangerous dog:
    (1) obtaining a certificate of registration from the local animal control authority of the city or county;
    (2) providing a proper enclosure to confine the dangerous dog;
    (3) posting of signs warning of the dangerous dog;
    (4) a surety bond in the sum of at least $250,000;
    (5) a policy of liability insurance in the amount of at least $250,000.
    The statute provides that local government jurisdictions can impose more restrictive conditions on owners of dangerous animals, and it allows cities and counties to totally ban dangerous dogs from their jurisdiction.
  • RCW 16.08.090 makes it unlawful for the owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside the proper enclosure unless it is muzzled and properly restrained.
  • RCW 16.08.100 is the penalty section. It provides authority for confiscation or destruction of dangerous dogs in certain situations. It also provides that the owner of a dangerous dog that bites a person or another domestic animal is guilty of a class C felony. The statute further provides that the owner of any dog that inflicts severe injury or death of any human can be charged with a class C felony. The statute contains details regarding affirmative defenses in such cases.

Local Regulation of Potentially Dangerous Dogs

RCW 16.08.090(2) specifically recognizes that local governments will regulate potentially dangerous dogs and that state law does not limit those regulations. Thus, a city, town or county may adopt more rigorous requirements for potentially dangerous dogs than are suggested by the statutes. Seattle, for example, has adopted regulations for "vicious" animals, a term defined similarly to the definition given "dangerous dogs" by the state (one that has bitten or harms a human or another animal). The Seattle ordinance allows a vicious dog to be humanely destroyed, if its owner has been convicted of knowingly owning a vicious animal. This is significant, as the state provisions only provide for the destruction of a "dangerous dog." See RCW 16.08.100(2) - (3). In an appeal of the Seattle ordinance, the supreme court held that the city was not preempted by the state statute, even though the ordinance was more restrictive. See Rabon v. City of Seattle, 135 Wn. 2d 278 (1998).

Breed-Specific Regulations

Some cities, in adopting ordinances based upon Ch. 16.08 RCW, have modified the definition of "potentially dangerous dog" and/or "dangerous dog" to include reference to a specific breed such as the "pit bull terrier" breed. In these cities, the restrictions that apply to either "potentially dangerous dogs" or "dangerous dogs" are made to apply automatically to a specific breed.

A few cities have adopted ordinances that completely ban the ownership of particular breeds including pit bulls, wolf-hybrids, and others. The city of Yakima's ordinance banning pit bull terriers was challenged and upheld in American Dog Owners v. Yakima, 113 Wn.2d 213 (1989).

In the case of breed specific ordinances, local governments should be able to show that the breed has some unique traits and characteristics that pose a greater threat of serious injury or death to humans than other breeds. Breed-specific ordinances must also clearly define the particular breed being regulated so that owners or potential owners are given sufficient notice of requirements and violations.


Canine Good Citizen Certificate Exemption - Some cities are providing exemptions for potentially dangerous and breed specific dogs that receive a certificate from passing the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Program. Among them are Pasco (Adobe Acrobat Document) and Auburn. See Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dog Ordinance Provisions

Service Dog Exemption - The Washington State Human Rights Commission recommends that language be included in breed specific dangerous dog ordinances that provides exceptions, exemptions, or waivers for trained guide dogs or service dogs used by people with disabilities - see Ch. 49.60 RCW, specifically RCW 49.60.215. A trained guide dog or service animal does have to be safe and under the control of the user. Prohibiting specific breeds could be considered too limiting for people with disabilities. Contact the Washington State Human Rights Commission for additional information regarding guide dogs or service animals used by disabled persons. See also HRC's Service Animals Page

Selected Readings

Ordinance Provisions

Any ordinances adopted prior to 2002 may have incorporated wording from the statutes (such as the definition of "dangerous dog"). The definition was modified by Ch. 244, Laws of 2002 (RCW 16.08.070). We recommend that a jurisdiction carefully review the current statutes when drafting local regulations involving dangerous dogs or potentially dangerous dogs. See also Service Dog Exemption

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