“Dangerous Dog” Law in New York State: The Basics Explained by NY Dog Attack Lawyer

Angry-DogSad to say, but over the years I have handled way too many cases on behalf of people who have been badly injured when mauled in a dog attack or dog bite case.

I am a dog lover myself (and a former Board member of our local SPCA), but the fact remains: not all dogs are safe or fit to be around people.

In this post, I want to explain the basics of dog bite and dog attack law in New York. Of course, because I’m just covering the basics here, I welcome your questions about dog bite law in NY. You can post a comment below or e-mail me directly at [email protected].

NY’s Dog Laws

New York State Agriculture and Markets Law Section 121 imposes penalties and controls on the owners of dogs who have attacked or threatened to attack.

Penalties for Owners

By statute, the penalties on the owner of a pet who has attacked can range from a fine to the possibility of one year in jail.

The penalty depends on what happened during an attack and whether the pet had ever been declared “dangerous” before. For example, if a dog attacked a person or caused physical injury or serious physical injury to a guide dog, the owner may be fined. However, if the attacking dog was declared dangerous in the past and attacked again, the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail.

Penalties/Controls on the Pet: A Dangerous Dog

If a dog attacks or threatens to attack people or other pets, there can be a hearing in court on whether the dog is a “dangerous dog.” Finding a dog “dangerous” allows the court to force the owners to take action to attempt to make sure the dog interacts safely with others.

The court can request a variety of actions for the pet including:

  • Requesting that the dog to be leashed or muzzled at all times in a public area,
  • requesting the owners to confine the pet (by fencing it, etc.) for a specific amount of time,
  • having the dog trained,
  • maintaining an insurance policy on the dog in case of future attack, and,
  • in very serious cases, euthanasia (putting the dog down) or permanent confinement.

Euthanasia or permanent confinement can not be mandated unless the dog caused serious physical injury or death while attacking a person, had attacked a person in the past, OR caused serious physical injury to another animal after being declared dangerous for the same behavior in the past.

What Can I Do if I Believe that a Dog is Dangerous?

First, if you have been attacked or witnessed a dog attack or threatened attack on a person or another animal, you should to make a complaint to an animal control officer as soon as possible.

(If you live in our area of Upstate New York, the link to the Horseheads and Elmira Animal Control Officers are below. If you are out of these areas, contact the police or call the animal control officers in your area.)

After an animal control officer receives a report of a witnessed or threatened attack, he or she will likely start a Dangerous Dog Proceeding with the court system. If the court feels that it is possible that the dog is a danger then the dog will be seized for the safety of the public until a hearing on the matter. Usually a hearing occurs within five days.

To find a dog a “dangerous dog” in a hearing, the animal control officer or person who brought the proceeding must prove that the dog is dangerous by showing that it is “more likely than not that the dog attacked or threatened to attack.” This is called the “burden of proof” and the burden is on the party bringing the dangerous dog complaint to prove that the dog did attack or threatened to attack. To satisfy this burden of proof you must bring witnesses that have first-hand knowledge (eyewitnesses) of the attack, or other proof of the attack (for example, pictures or videos).

The court will consider all the facts of the incident including if the dog was justified in its behavior. To make sure the dog’s dangerous tendencies can be proven, you may have to testify about what you observed.

If the court finds a dog to be dangerous, they will decide between the various penalties discussed above ranging from training to muzzling in public. Generally, euthanasia is not a penalty on the first complaint unless the situation is very serious, as discussed above.

What Do “Dangerous Dogs” and Statutory Penalties Have to Do with Dog Attack Liability?

I recently wrote about an important related topic – DOG ATTACK LIABILITY – in the post “When Dogs Attack: “Vicious Propensities” and Owner Liability Under New York State Law here on the NY Injury Law Blog. Under New York state law, the penalties against the owners and the finding of a dangerous dog are separate from the liability I discussed in the post. This means that – if you were attacked by a dog, your case may proceed in both ways.

Why? Because the owner’s liability and the dog’s “dangerous” designation deal with different things. For example, dog attack liability does not have any control over the actions the owner may have to take with the pet and cannot require fines; the dangerous dog sections usually do not compensate a dog attack victim for anything besides his or her expenses as a result of the attack.

However, although is generally separate, sometimes a “Dangerous Dog” finding can be useful in a civil trial by helping to prove vicious propensities.

Last Thoughts and Sources of Help

Please call your local animal control or police if you have been attacked or witnessed an attack by a dog. Also, if you are concerned about a dog’s aggressive behavior, even if they have not attacked or threatened to attack, PLEASE give the authorities a call. It may save you or someone else from a terrifying, painful or even deadly experience.

Who to Call: Upstate NY Animal Control Officers

The area code for the following phone numbers is 607 unless noted.


The Chemung County Humane Society & SPCA has animal control contracts with nine of the municipalities in the county. Their website is www.chemungspca.org.

Caton, N.Y. Dog Control Officer – David Scouten, (607) 524-8411

Elmira, N.Y. Dog Control: www.cityofelmira.net/shelter/animal_control.html

Elmira City Animal Control Officer, 737-5807

Horseheads, N.Y. Dog Control: www.horseheads.org/index.php?n=Govt.Town#toc2


Addison: Robert Revis, 359-2034

Avoca/Howard: Betty Walden, 776-2453

Bath: Carl and Ruth Tuttle, 583-2229

Bradford: Edward Machuga, 583-2430

Cameron: Darrell Hoad, 776-7070

Campbell: Harold Austin, 527-8183

Canisteo: Gary Hadsell, 698-4350

Caton: David Scouten Sr., 524-8411

Cohocton/Wayland: Deb Breese, (716) 384-5499

Corning City: Linda Holmes, day 936-8422; night 527-8763

Corning Town: Jay Josephson, 524-6603

Dansville: Mary Lackey, 728-2999

Erwin: Jay Josephson, 524-6603

Freemont: John DuPont, 324-0002

Greenwood: John and Annette Jacobs, 478-5314

Hartsville: Michael D. Henry, 689-2677

Hornby: Gardiner Bills, 962-0882

Hornesville: Hornell Humane Society, 324-1270

Jasper/Woodhull: Richard Harrison, 458-5724

Lindley: Douglas Taft, 523-7779

Prattsburgh/Wheeler: Donald Gifford, 776-6058

Pulteney: John and Sherri Ballam, 522-5030

Rathbone: Jerry Aldrich, 359-2908

South Corning Village: Jay Josephson, 524-6603

Thurston: Gregory Crans, 776-2678

Troupsburg: John Space, 525-6354

Tuscarora: Paulena Webester, 350-3604

Wayne/Urbana: Marvin Rethmel, 569-3737

West Union: Alice Delill and Doris Williams, 225-4483


Town of Ulysses: Chris Austin, Dog Control Officer, 387-9598

Towns of Lansing and Groton: Country Acres Pet Services, 749-2734, cell 423-2888

Town of Dryden: Richard and Gena Leonard, 844-3641, cell (for emergencies only) 351-2144

The City of Ithaca and the Towns of Danby, Caroline, Newfield, Enfield and Ithaca receive animal control services from the SPCA: 319-5067, emergency/off hours 592-6773

If there is not an animal control officer in your community, call your local police department or, in case of emergency, 911 to make sure they are informed of a dangerous animal!

We hope you found this information helpful. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog attack or dog bite please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected] or call 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529) to discuss your legal options.



James B. Reed
NY & PA Dog Bite Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Phone: (607) 733-8866 Fax: (607) 732-6062
Toll-free: (800)-943-3529
mailto:[email protected] www.zifflaw.com


When Dogs Attack

12 thoughts on ““Dangerous Dog” Law in New York State: The Basics Explained by NY Dog Attack Lawyer

  1. I have an invisible fence for my dogs and my neighbors dogs always cross the road to start attacking my dogs and myself. Can I legally shoot my neighbors attacking dogs and if not what can I do. I already called animal control so many times its rediculous and they do NOTHING because their is no leash law here.

  2. Even though the law (pasted below) says that you can destroy an attacking dog under certain circumstances, I am sorry but I don’t think shooting your neighbor’s dog is a good idea and I certainly couldn’t recommend that course of action.

    My recommendation is that you pursue assistance through the courts. Normally, I recommend that you start with the police or local animal control officer who usually are helpful and can quickly resolve this type of neighborhood issue. However, if that hasn’t worked I would recommend you personally file a Dangerous Dog Complaint. You can read about how to file a Dangerous Dog Complaint here: http://goo.gl/ps9Jj. Long story short, you can personally file a Complaint with your local court.

    I truly wish you the best of luck.

    Jim Reed, NY Dog Attack Lawyer

    NY Agricultural and Market Law, § 123-a. Exemption from civil liability. 1. If any dog shall, without
    justification, attack a person, or behaves in a manner which a
    reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent
    threat of serious physical injury to a person, when such person is
    peaceably conducting himself in a place where he may lawfully be, such
    person or any other person witnessing the attack or threatened attack
    may destroy such dog while so attacking, and no liability in damages or
    otherwise shall be incurred on account of such destruction.
    2. If any dog shall, without justification, attack a companion animal,
    farm animal or domestic animal, or shall behave in a manner which a
    reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent
    threat of serious physical injury or death to a companion animal, farm
    animal or domestic animal, where such animal is in any place where it
    may lawfully be, the owner or caretaker of such animal, or any other
    person witnessing the attack, may destroy such dog, and no liability in
    damages or otherwise shall be incurred on account of such destruction.

  3. My dog was attacked by the couple’s dog downstairs yesterday. We have to always be careful that he is not out when our dogs want to go out. We had to go to the vet for the trauma their pit bull did to our american bulldog. He now has no hearing in his left ear, and we were left with a 400$ invoice. I know the easiest solution is to move. But I am wondering who should be responsible for the bill?

  4. My best suggestion is that you take the dog owner to Small Claims Court for payment of the medical bills.

    Good luck!

    Jim Reed
    NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer

  5. A lady said my dog attacked her when he got out of the back yard. He did jump up on her and she had a small hole in her sweatshirt, but that’s it. He never attacked before and he’s great with my kids. She has been attacked before and called animal control. What should I expect and what can I do?

  6. Because we represent dog attack victims, not the owners of the dogs who allegedly attacked, I am not the best person to ask what you should expect but I can offer a couple suggestions.

    First, you should report this incident to your homeowner’s insurance carrier because if this turns out to be more than you currently believe, you will want to make sure you have insurance coverage. One of the requirements of most insurance agreements is that the homeowner promptly report all incidents that might result in a claim. You sure don’t want your insurance carrier disclaiming coverage just because you did’t tell them about this incident.

    Second, you may want to consult with a lawyer who defends dog attack cases to see if they have any recommendations on how you should proceed.

    Good luck!

    Jim Reed
    NY & PA Dog Attack Lawyer

  7. Hi Jim,
    (1) If I was attacked by my friend’s pitbull in her parents’ home, with no provocation on my part, would my friend’s parents and/or their homeowner’s insurance be liable for my medical cost? (2) Is there a loophole that you are aware of that may allow the insurance co. to avoid paying medical costs? (3) If insurance refuses to pay and I decide to sue for medical costs, would it be best to first bring a dangerous dog proceeding and have the dog designated as dangerous first prior to bringing a civil suit for damages? (4) If this was the dog’s first bite, are my damages limited to medical costs? Are there are damages I can recover for emotional harm/inability to leave the house?

    Thanks in advance!

  8. Clair:

    Sorry but the answer to your question is “it depends” on the exact type of homeowner’s coverage that your friends’ parents have. If they have a policy that includes “med pay”, then there insurance covers medical expenses for any injury sustained on the insured’s premises regardless of whether the homeowner was negligent or not. This is a type of coverage I recommend all property owners have because it provides coverage (usually $5-10,000 but the more the better) regardless of fault. On the other hand, some policies do NOT have med pay coverage so the insurance carrier is only liable if you can prove that the homeowner was negligent in keeping a dog with known vicious propensities.

    As to a dangerous dog complaint, a successful prosecution of a dangerous dog complaint can definitely assist in any claim against the insurance carrier.

    If it was the dog’s first vicious act of any kind, you are correct that you would not be able to bring a negligence/liability action and you would be limited to medical expenses (assuming of course that they have med pay coverage).

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

    Jim Reed, NY & PA Dog Bite Lawyer

  9. Sorry but I am not aware of any place on the NYSDOH website where you can search for reports of prior dog bites although that would be an EXCELLENT idea! When I am handling dog bite cases, my investigation includes filing Freedom of Information requests with the county DOH, the local dog control officer, the local ASPCA, etc. In addition, my investigator interviews neighbors, the mailman, UPS driver, Fed Ex driver, etc. Essentially we do A LOT of digging to try to find any evidence we can of prior dog bites (or other vicious behavior). After 28+ years of handling dog attack cases, I have learned that you can’t just rely on one resource for investigating these cases as you never know where helpful information might turn up. Good luck!
    Jim Reed, NY Dog Bite Lawyer

  10. I have a question pertaining to not just dog bites, but a dog “attack” in general. Given any severity of a dog attack, how many attacks, or strikes if you will, is a dog allowed before they are stereotyped as dangerous and therefore need to be euthanized? Also if a case goes to court, who makes that decision, a judge, an animal control officer, or another party?
    I know of a dog who didn’t aggressively attack someone, but the person startled the dog and the dog had never met that person before. The dog, which is a pit bull, jumped at the person and tho she didn’t bite them, when they fell, the dog scratched the persons lip to where they had to go to the hospital. The dogs owner insists that if the dog attacks again, no matter the severity of the attack, they will be put down because they were told (by whom I don’t know) the dog will be put down. (I don’t know if this would qualify as local or NYS law and does jurisdiction come into any affect?)
    Also, does a police report get filed if a dog causes injury to an individual who requires medical attention, even tho that individual doesn’t want to take legal action or involve the police?

  11. The Judge who hears the Dangerous Dog complaint makes the decision about what constitutes a “dangerous dog” and what the appropriate remedy is to deal with that dog. The judge has a wide range of discretion and can order anything from a simple warning, to a “contain at all times” order, to a “euthanize the dangerous dog” order.

    Usually a police report is not filed unless the police are called either to the scene or to the hospital. I always recommend that all dog attacks be reported to the police so there is a documented report of the attack.

    Jim Reed, N.Y. Dog Bite Attorney

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