Pennsylvania, like many other states, has enacted a Dangerous Dog Law which governs the responsibilities and liabilities of owners and keepers of Dangerous Dogs.  This article will highlight the civil and criminal penalties contained in the Dangerous Dog Law.

What Qualifies as Harboring a Dangerous Dog?

To be considered guilty of harboring a “Dangerous Dog,” a dog must meet these two criteria:

  1. The dog has done one or more of the following:
    1. inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property
    2. killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal without provocation
    3. attacked a human being without provocation
    4. been used in the commission of a crime.


  2. The dog has either or both of the following:
    1. a history of attacking human beings without provocation
    2. a propensity to attack human beings and/or domestic animals without provocation.  A propensity to attack may be proven with a single incident of the conduct described above in paragraph 1.

The Dangerous Dog Law makes it clear that one single incident is enough to lead to liability for harboring a dangerous dog.

Who is Liable and What Are the Penalties?

The “owner” of the Dangerous Dog and the “keeper” can be held liable.  A “keeper” is defined as anyone who keeps the dog, has it in his care or permits it to remain on his property.  Harboring a Dangerous Dog is a minor criminal offense, a summary offense like a minor traffic ticket.

Committing the crime of Harboring a Dangerous Dog can lead to civil liability, that is responsibility to pay for any damages caused by the Dangerous Dog.  So, if you own or keep a dog that attacks someone without provocation and injures them, you can be sued and forced to compensate the injured person.

If a dog causes severe injury or death of a human being and it can be proven that the owner intended the dog to attack or was reckless or negligent, the owner can be convicted of a more serious criminal charge, a misdemeanor of the first degree.

Can I Keep a Dangerous Dog?

A dog that attacks and causes severe injury or death of a human being will be confiscated and humanely killed.  However, other dogs who are considered “dangerous” under the Dog Law but have not seriously injured or killed a human can be kept if certain requirements are followed.

What Are the Requirements for Keeping a Dangerous Dog?

A Dangerous Dog can be kept, but the owner must do the following:

  1. Pay a fee and register the dog with the State;
  2. Present evidence of a proper enclosure for the dog and display Dangerous Dog warning signs;
  3. Obtain a $50,000 bond or provide proof of liability insurance of at least $50,000 to cover injuries caused by the dog; and
  4. Sign an affidavit promising to maintain the insurance and to notify the Dog Warden and police within 24 hours if the dog is on the loose, has attacked, has died, or has been sold or donated.  If sold or donated, the new owner must be identified.

It is a criminal misdemeanor of the third degree not to comply with these requirements.

In addition, it is unlawful to allow a dog outside its enclosure unless it is muzzled and on a leash.

If a registered Dangerous Dog attacks again, it will be humanely killed.  If the attack was intended by the owner or due to recklessness or negligence, the owner is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor of the second degree.

Exceptions to the Dangerous Dog Law

The provisions of the law do not apply if someone was attacked while trespassing on the dog’s property, committing a crime, or abusing or tormenting the dog.

The Dangerous Dog Law does not apply to farmers who keep dogs, so long as the dog does not leave the farm to attack and the farm is posted with watch or guard dog signs.

The Pennsylvania Dangerous Dog Law is serious business.  There is both criminal and civil liability for both owners and keepers of Dangerous Dogs and one single incident can lead to liability.


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