“Beware of Dog”

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

As a dog owner, you may have considered posting a beware of dog sign, either as a warning that your dog truly poses a threat or possibly just to dissuade potential thieves or trespassers. There are certainly some pros to posting such a sign but there are some legal angels on the matter one might consider before posting such a sign.

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Generally speaking, pet owners are considered to be responsible for their pets and their actions. In the case of dogs, this could include preventing their dogs from injuring people or damaging property. For bites specifically, the laws regarding the specific circumstances regarding a bite can affect whether the owner is liable or not.

These circumstances that determine liability are where we should consider the issue of beware of dogs signs. For example, in some states, such as California, there is a “strict liability” law. This means that in nearly all cases of a dog biting someone, the owner can be held both criminally and financially liable. In other words, one cannot claim the defense that they were not negligent or that they were unaware that the dog was potentially dangerous. Pay attention to that last part; “unaware that they were potentially dangerous”. In fact, a court can order, after legally determining a dog to be “potentially dangerous”, that an owner take precautionary measures to prevent any attacks in the future. One such measure could be placing a warning sign on the premises.

It then follows that, the beware of dog sign could be represented as an acknowledgment and awareness of the dangerous nature of a dog. This becomes a very relevant consideration where pet owner liability isn't a blanket “strict liability” but instead considers the history of the animal in question. For example, in Alaska, one of the determining factors for whether an owner is financially responsible for the damages after their dog bites someone. If an Alaskan resident`s dog attacked someone, that person could potentially be a major hole in a plea of ignorance.

On the other hand, one could feasibly argue that a bite occurring without the presence of an appropriate warning sign upon entering the premises could be considered negligence. However, this author would like to suggest an alternative; a “No Trespassing” sign. With such a sign, the pet owner can both avoid the potential legal implications of neglecting to warn those that enter the property and avoid any admission that their dog is dangerous. Additionally, in many states, whether the victim of a bite was trespassing is one of the defenses against being held liable. So a “No Trespassing’ sign is a well advised option for protecting yourself from liability issues.


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