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If My Dog Bites Someone, Will It Be Put Down? Australia Dog Attack Laws

Written By Olivia De Santos | Canine Coach, Professional Writer & Video Content Creator.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | Double B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 14th January 2024

Picture this: you're out for a walk with your four-legged friend, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, when suddenly, out of the blue, your pooch decides to take a nip at someone passing by. Maybe that person antagonised your pup. Maybe your dog felt they deserved it for past sins. Whatever the reason, it's a situation no dog owner wants to find themselves in.

So, what are the consequences of your dog attacking someone? If your dog bites someone, will it be put down? Let's dig into this topic and explore the possible outcomes if your beloved pup happens to sink their teeth into an unsuspecting soul.


Why Do Dogs Bite?

First things first, let's get one thing straight: every situation is unique. Dog bite incidents can range from minor nips to more serious injuries. Equally, your dog may attack other people for plenty of reasons. Here are the main explanations for your dog’s uncharacteristic behaviour (1):

  • Fear
    The most common reason that dogs bite? Fear. Whether that’s because of a sudden fright or a general sense of unease around a person. If your pooch is scared, even the most gentle dogs can snap. The way to combat this is to properly socialise your dog so they are less frightened of humans and other animals.
  • Protection
    Protecting themselves or their owner is another common reason a dog might attack. Resource guarding or possession aggression is a type of aggression where dogs will “protect” their food or toys. That can often result in air snapping or biting – intentional or accidental. 
  • Injury or Pain
    If your dog has an injury or is hurt, they may bite you if you get too close to it. This is to protect from further pain. Generally unwell dogs tend to be more aggressive too as sickness can affect their mood.
  • Depression/Frustration
    Speaking of mood, you know when you’re feeling blue and you just want everyone to leave you alone? Dogs often feel the same when they are frustrated or depressed. This can result in aggressive behaviour, including biting.
  • Play
    Play biting is common practice for young dogs. This is how they learn about bite control and act out play aggression with litter mates and other dogs. Most puppies grow out of puppy biting but it can bleed into adulthood if you don’t train them well. (We’ll come back to this later).

So as a first step, try to figure out why your dog attacked the person. Were they frightened? Has their mood been unusual recently? This context is helpful for facing any claims and preventing future incidents.


What Happens If My Dog Bites Someone?

So now you know why your pup may have bitten someone, let’s talk about the typical chain of events and important things to know after this unfortunate incident.

Related: How To Stop A Puppy Biting & The Importance Of Bite Inhibition.

We’ll talk more specifically about the dog attack laws in Australia in the next section.

This section is going to be more of a general overview of what might happen when your dog bites someone, and the best way to react as an owner.

The responsibility falls on the owner

The first thing to understand about dog attacks is this: legally, it’s your fault.

How do you feel when you read that statement? Defensive? Taken aback?

Well, it doesn’t matter if your dog is normally an angel and this is one mishap. Or if your pup is a rescue dog which a checkered past that’s not your fault.

The legal responsibility for a dog's actions lies with the owner, regardless of whether the dog has a history of aggression or not.

It’s a similar type of responsibility that an adult has for the actions of their child.

As a responsible dog owner, it's your duty to take necessary precautions to prevent your pooch from biting anyone. This includes proper training, socialisation, and keeping your dog on a leash when required. It’s also your responsibility if they make a mistake and injure any members of the public.

Consequences for your dog

The severity of the bite and the circumstances surrounding it will play a significant role in determining the consequences for your furry friend.

In most cases, if it's a minor incident and the dog has no history of aggressive behaviour, the authorities may issue a warning or require additional training for your pooch.

Related: My Dog Was Attacked By Another Dog: What Are My Rights?

However, if the bite is severe and causes significant harm, the repercussions can be more serious.

You also have the one free bite rule that we have in Australia. Many States won’t persecute you for your dog’s first bite. We’ll talk more about this “rule” later on.

That said, depending on the State, your dog could be defined as a “dangerous dog” after their first bite, regardless of the severity. This could lead to your dog being sterilised or put down.

Investigation and Assessment

When a dog bite occurs, it's not uncommon for an investigation to take place. But this only typically happens if the incident is reported by the victim.

If it’s a minor bite or a puppy play biting, this is unlikely to happen. So you can relax!

If your dog broke the skin and the bite was unprovoked, things are more sticky.

The authorities will assess the incident, gathering information from both parties involved and any witnesses. By “authorities” I mean your local council.

They will consider factors like the dog's previous behaviour, the circumstances leading up to the bite, and the severity of the injuries sustained. To help your case, make sure you have the facts straight and call upon any witnesses in the area to give their testimony too.

This assessment helps determine whether your dog poses a threat to public safety or if the incident was an isolated occurrence.

Possible outcomes

In cases where the bite is severe and your dog is deemed dangerous, the authorities may require the dog to undergo behavioural assessments or even be declared a “dangerous dog”.

If your dog is classed as a “dangerous dog” in Australia, they will be treated the same way as banned dog breeds.

Dangerous dogs must be:

  • Desexed
  • Microchipped
  • Muzzled and leashed outside of your private premises
  • In secure housing at all times with warning that a dangerous dog is present
  • Identified with a coloured collar (depending on the state)
  • Prohibited from giving away or selling

Euthanasia is usually considered a last resort and is typically reserved for cases where the dog presents a significant risk to public safety or has caused severe harm.

So if you’re worried that your dog will be put down, this usually won’t happen for a first offence or minor offence. Only if your dog shows extremely aggressive tendencies and cannot be reformed with professional dog training.


Dog Attack Laws In Australia

So those are the general guidelines around dog bites. Now let’s focus on each state in Australia.

Disclaimer: Even though I’ve outlined the general laws for each state in Australia below, local council laws will still vary when it comes to dog bites and other attacks. So please check with your local council for the latest information. The local council law will override the state law in most cases.

What is the “one free bite” rule for dogs in Australia?

The “one free bite” rule is an official policy that many Australian councils respect when it comes to dog bites. Essentially your dog may be entitled to a free pass if this is their first bite offence. (2) However, this depends on the severity of the injury and is usually handled on a case-by-case basis. You may still have to go through the normal incident investigation by the council to qualify for a pardon on the first offence so don’t take this rule as gospel.

Dog attack laws - New South Wales

Dog attacks are subject to prosecution under the Companion Animals Act 1998. (3) The victim must report the incident to the local council for a full review. Although the matter can also be handled by local police. There are protections within the Companion Animals Act 1998 for dog bites incurred if the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property. 

Your dog could be taken away if your dog attacks another person or animal and you haven’t adequately secured them or controlled them.

Your dog is unlikely to be put down in New South Wales unless your dog is dangerous, uncontrollable, and has committed several offences.

You could face charges up to $77,000 depending on the circumstances.

Dog attack laws - Victoria

Dog attacks in Victoria are handled by the local council or the Dangerous Dog Hotline. (4)

As the dog owner, you may be liable to thousands of dollars in fines for your dog’s actions.

Seizing and euthanising your dog is a possibility, depending on the severity of the case.

You may also have to compensate the victim for damages e.g. clothing, medical care, emotional distress, etc.

Dog attack laws - Queensland

Under the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, an authorised local government officer reserves the right to declare any dog as dangerous or menacing if they attack or intimidates people or other animals. (5)

Euthanising your dog for biting someone is uncommon in Queensland and is considered a last resort. More than likely, your dog will be declared dangerous and have to follow strict guidelines when they are in public. However, failure to comply may mean your dog gets put down.

Dog attack laws - Western Australia

Dog attacks are dealt with by the local council under the Dog Act 1976 (WA) and Dog Regulations 2013 (WA). (6)

Dog attacks including bites and intimidation normally result in fines, not euthanisation. You could also face jail time if your dog grievously injures or kills someone.

Dog attack laws - South Australia

Dog attack laws in South Australia come under the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 (SA). (7)

The matter will be investigated by the local council or the Dog and Cat Management Board.

Most offences result in a fine rather than euthanisation. Although fines can be several thousands of dollars depending on the severity.

You are protected under the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 (SA) if your dog attacks someone who is trespassing on your property.

Dog attack laws - Northern Territory

In Northern Territory, dog offences are treated the same as parking offences. That is, you’ll be issued a notice and asked to pay a penalty. (8) The maximum fine for a dog attack or injury is $5000.

Euthanising dogs is uncommon in Northern Territory and is seen as a last resort.

All reports must go through the local council

Dog attack laws - Tasmania

If your dog bites someone in Tasmania, you will likely be issued a fine first. However, an authorised vet can put your dog down if the court commands. (9) The person authorised to euthanise your dog can even enter your home to do so.

Dog attacks are handled by your local council under the Dog Control Act 2000. (10)

Dog attack laws - Australian Capital Territory

Dog attack laws in ACT are handled under the Domestic Animals Act 2000 and are investigated by the Domestic Animal Services (DAS) Rangers and Investigators. (11)

The investigators may carry out behavioural assessments to determine whether your dog is a threat to society or not.

If they declare your dog too dangerous and uncontrollable to exist harmoniously in the community, they may authorise a vet to put your dog down.

However, most offences are handled with fines and compensation.


How to Prevent Your Dog from Biting Other People?

So dog attack laws can be quite severe, if not costly! So how to we avoid this whole mess in the first place?

The best way to avoid the unfortunate scenario of your dog biting someone is through prevention and responsible pet ownership. Here are a few tips to help you keep your furry friend and others safe:

1. Socialise your dog from an early age, exposing them to various people, animals, and environments.

The better your dog is socialised, the less likely your pup is to be reactive to people around them. 

2. Train your dog to obey basic commands, including "sit," "stay," and "leave it."

A well-trained dog can avoid so many issues. These commands may seem basic but they are the foundation for moulding your dog into a model member of canine society!

3. Keep your dog leashed in public areas, especially where leash laws are in effect.

Dog leashes are vital for keeping your dog under control in public spaces. If you break leash laws and your dog attacks someone, you could be facing prison time and a hefty fine.

4. Be mindful of your dog's behaviour and body language, and address any signs of aggression promptly.

Know the signs of canine aggression so you can detect when your dog is distressed by a situation or person. Common clues your dog may be ready to bite someone include (12):

  • Intense eyes with fixed eye contact (showing white)
  • Tense body
  • Hair standing on end (piloerection)
  • Growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Snarling
  • Air snapping

5. Consider professional obedience training or behaviour modification if your dog exhibits concerning behaviour.If you’ve tried everything and your dog is being aggressive towards others, it’s time to contact the professionals. A dog behaviourist or obedience trainer will have top-tier techniques and tools you can use to understand your dog and prevent any major issues.

A quick note on puppy biting

Dogs from three months to six months old often play-bite as part of their teething and teenage phase. This is the golden opportunity to teach your pup some manners!

Puppy biting is very rarely a sign of an aggressive temperament starting to form.

“It’s normal for puppies to use their teeth during play and exploration. Like human babies, it’s how they learn about the world, and it plays an important role in their socialisation.” - Dr Wailani Sung, PetMD (13)

That said, people in the public may not understand that it’s just a phase. So you should still train your pup to stop play biting sooner rather than later.


Final thoughts:  If my dog bites someone will it be put down?

Nobody wants their beloved canine companion to bite someone, but accidents happen. It's essential to be aware of the potential consequences and take steps to prevent such incidents in the first place.

By investing time in training, socialisation, and responsible ownership, we can reduce the likelihood of our pups finding themselves in such sticky situations. Remember, a well-behaved and happy dog makes for a happy and harmonious community!

FAQ

What happens if your dog bites someone attacking you?

If your dog bites someone who is attacking you, it’s a legal grey area. In theory, the attacker could countersue you for damage caused by the dog.

Will a vet put down an aggressive dog?

A vet will only put down an aggressive dog if it has been mandated by the state and the dog has severely attacked other people or animals. The amount of damage needed to qualify for euthanasia will depend on your local council laws.

References

  1. Lowrey, S. April 1, 2021. “Why Do Dogs Bite? Understanding the Reasons Why Dogs React”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-do-dogs-bite/ 
  2. “Dog Bites & Attacks: Compensation”. Claims Advice Australia. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://claimsadvice.com.au/dog-bites/
  3. “Dog Attack Reporting”. Office of Local Government NSW. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/public/dogs-cats/responsible-pet-ownership/dog-attack-reporting/ 
  4. “Dog attacks”. January 23, 2023. Animal Welfare Victoria. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/dogs/dog-attacks-dangerous-and-menacing-dogs/dog-attacks 
  5. “Regulated dogs”. December 6, 2021. Queensland Government. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.qld.gov.au/families/government/pets/regulated-dogs 
  6. “Issues with Dogs”. Citizen Advice Bureau WA. Retrieved June 11, 2023.  https://cabwa.com.au/help/issues-with-dogs/
  7. “Dog attacks”. Legal Services Commission South Australia. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.lawhandbook.sa.gov.au/ch31s11s11.php  
  8. “Facts about dogs”. Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.legalaid.nt.gov.au/legal-information/our-publications/neighbourhood/facts-about-dogs/
  9. “Dog ownership”. April 19, 2021. Tasmania Legal Aid. Retrieved June 11, 2023.  https://www.legalaid.tas.gov.au/factsheets/dog-ownership/ 
  10. “Dog control”. Tasmanian Government Department of Premier and Cabinet. Retrieved June 11, 2023.  https://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/local_government/legislation/current_legislation/dog_control
  11. “What happens after a dog attack?”. ACT Government. Retrieved June 11, 2023.  https://www.cityservices.act.gov.au/pets-and-wildlife/domestic-animals/dogs/dangerous-dogs/dog-attack-factsheet 
  12. Rakosky, E. August 19, 2020. “What Is Aggression? Dog Reactivity vs. Dog Aggression”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved June 11, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/reactivity-vs-aggression/
  13. Sung, W. July 31, 2020. “How to Stop Puppy Biting”. PetMD. Retrieved June 11, 2023.  https://www.petmd.com/dog/training/puppy-biting

Olivia De Santos


Olivia De Santos is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer and Video Content Creator.

Olivia has over 10 years of experience writing professionally and is a dog Mum to Pip, her Podengo and Blue, her Flat-coated Retriever. She loves writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners.

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