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Does California Have Rules for Owning Pit Bulls?

Posted by Inna Gorin | Jan 10, 2023

Several states have bans on pit bulls, believing them to be dangerous. Recognizing that danger often stems from poor training or owner behavior rather than the breed, California has no breed-specific laws for any dog, including pit bulls.

Although California has no breed-specific rules, the state has laws regarding dogs and public safety. In addition, some local governments have laws and ordinances related to pit bulls.

Does California Have Rules for Owning Pit Bulls?
The state of California has no specific rules against owning pit bulls, but has dangerous dog laws.

These ordinances relate to spay or neuter programs, breeding restrictions, and requirements. Spaying or neutering surgeries aim to prevent aggressive behavior towards other animals.

In other words, some rules and restrictions exist on potentially dangerous or vicious dogs. Under California law, they must be licensed and vaccinated. When the animals are on their owner's property, they must be kept indoors or in a fenced yard.

California Penal Code 399 PC is the law that makes it a wobbler crime for dog owners to fail to control a dangerous dog. PC 399 can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony, which carries up to three years in jail if convicted.

Suppose you suffer a dog bite from a pit bull. In that case, the dog owner could be liable for your injuries through a civil lawsuit, even if the dog has never bitten anyone.

California is a strict liability state for dog bites. This means the owner is liable regardless of what they have or have not done to prevent the bite.  California law does include some exceptions to strict liability:

  • Any police or military dog that bites someone in the course of their duty
  • Any dog that bites a trespasser
  • If the person who is bitten provoked the dog

In 2020, the California legislature passed a law requiring shelters and rescues to disclose if a dog has bitten anyone. This written disclosure must include the circumstances surrounding the bite. The person assuming responsibility for the dog must sign an acknowledgment that they know the dog's history.

What About Potentially Dangerous Dogs?

Although California does not have breed-specific regulations, the state does have a law about “potentially dangerous” dogs. A dog may fall under this category in the following situations:

  • If, when outside their property, a dog attacks a person in a manner that requires the person to take defensive action.
  • If a dog bites someone and causes injury less severe than “muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations” and does not require stitches or surgery.
  • If, when off the dog's usual property, the dog has bitten, attacked, injured, or kicked a domestic animal.

The dog must have been unprovoked when attacking a person or animal outside their property. In addition, the dog must have attacked or injured a person or domestic animal twice in the previous 36 months to be considered “potentially dangerous.”

What is a Vicious Dog?

 A single unprovoked attack that causes severe injury could result in a dog being considered vicious, which is an animal that has:

  • When unprovoked, attack a person, causing severe injury or death.
  • Been declared potentially dangerous and continues to engage in unprovoked attacks and other behavior listed in the above section

What Happens to a Dog Declared Potentially Dangerous or Vicious?

A dog can be labeled as potentially dangerous or vicious after an investigation conducted by an animal control officer, a police officer, or a court hearing. If a dog is found to pose an immediate threat to public safety, authorities can impound it.

A potentially dangerous dog has the opportunity to improve its behavior. The dog must be vaccinated and properly licensed, including keeping records in its registration files about its designation. Cities may also impose a “potentially dangerous dog” fee because of the need for additional records.

The dog considered potentially dangerous must be limited in its movements. When on its property:

  • The dog must be kept indoors;
  • In a kennel; or
  • In a fenced area from which it cannot escape.

Children should not be able to enter these areas. When off the owner's property, a dog must be:

  • Leased at all times, and
  • Under the control of a responsible adult.

Local animal control authorities must be informed in writing within two working days if a potentially dangerous dog changes owners or residences.

A dog will no longer be considered potentially dangerous if there are no additional incidents within 36 months or before that time if the owner can demonstrate to animal control authorities that the dog is no longer a risk to public safety.

The state does not require that local authorities offer the second option. Removing the dog from the “potentially dangerous list” before 36 months is at the discretion of local authorities. Regarding vicious dogs, animal control may choose to euthanize an animal when it is believed to be a significant threat to:

  • Public safety;
  • Public health;
  • General welfare.

If the dog is not destroyed, local authorities can put restrictions on both the owner and the dog to ensure the dog does not become a threat to public safety.

What are the Local Laws?

Counties, cities, or other local governments may have ordinances specific to pit bulls. Riverside County and San Bernardino County have mandatory sterilization ordinances for pit bulls with some exemptions.

The Riverside law is less about the breed's reputation for being dangerous and instead based on the high number of pit bulls that end up in shelters or are euthanized.

Although California has no breed-specific restrictions on pit bulls, city and county governments may impose restrictions. In addition, the state does have breed-neutral laws for public safety reasons.

What is California's Dog Bite Law?

As noted, California law holds dog owners liable if their pet bites someone. However, a dog owner will not be held responsible under the following conditions:

  • You were trespassing on dog owner's property;
  • You provoked the dog,
  • The dog animal was protecting its owner or someone else as defined under California's self-defense laws or

Suppose a dog bit you. In that case, you may be entitled to compensation from the owner's insurance company for your injuries. Compensatory damages might include the following:

California law requires animals who have bitten somebody to be quarantined for up to 10 days. During this period, authorities will ensure the canine does not carry the rabies virus. In most cases, dogs who bite people will not be euthanized.

Contact our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers for a free case evaluation. The Injury Justice Law Firm works on a contingency basis, meaning you don't pay any fees unless we win your case.

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About the Author

Inna Gorin

Inna Gorin, the founding Partner of Injury Justice Law Firm modeled the Firm after her ideals and principles of what skilled, aggressive and tenacious representation of individual clients should embody. Ms. Gorin's mission is to level the playing field, and provide her clients with the same level...


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