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What makes a dog "dangerous"?

Several dog breeds have a reputation for being dangerous, like American pit bulls, Rottweilers or Doberman Pinschers. Many landlords prohibit tenants from owning such "junk-yard dogs" because, according to popular belief anyway, these dogs have a propensity to be aggressive.

However, according to the ASPCA, there is "no credible evidence that breed determines or predicts dangerousness." Instead, aggression in dogs is most often linked to a lack of proper training and socialization, animal cruelty or encouragement on the part of their owners to act aggressively. Any dog of any size can attack someone, especially if it is provoked or feels threatened. As pack animals, dogs may also react negatively to someone they feel threatens their owner, or "pack leader."

Understanding Knoxville's dangerous dog laws

In addition to state laws, the city of Knoxville has its own ordinances that define in more detail what constitutes a dangerous dog. Under these ordinances, a dog can be classed as a "level one" or "level two" dangerous dog when it attacks a person or domestic animal unprovoked. A level one dangerous dog means that the dog has done any of the following:

  • Attacked a person on its owner's property at least twice
  • Attacked someone while off the owner's property within the last two years
  • Caused minor injury to a person or domestic animal while off its owner's property

A dog becomes a level two dangerous dog if any of the following are true:

  • The dog has attacked someone unprovoked on three or more separate occasions while on its owner's property.
  • It attacked someone unprovoked while off of the owner's property two or more times within a two-year period.
  • It caused severe injury to a person or domestic animal.
  • The dog's owner hasn't complied with restrictions made by the municipal court at the time the dog was declared a level one dangerous dog.
  • The dog was trained and kept for illegal dog fighting, a violation of Tennessee state laws.

At both levels, provocation is a key issue. Knoxville's ordinances give dogs the right to defend themselves or their "pack" members (the owner or owner's family), or the owner's property if someone was trespassing or attempting to commit a crime. So, a dog that bites because it is being abused, assaulted or tormented -- or perceives that one of its pack is being threatened -- will not be considered a dangerous animal.

What happens if a dog is deemed "dangerous"?

Once a dog has been designated a dangerous dog, the municipal court will impose restrictions on the dog's owner, such as keeping the dog properly and humanely restrained or locked up when visitors come over, prohibiting the dog from visiting public dog parks or other areas, attending dog obedience classes, or completing an American Kennel Club canine good citizenship course. A failure to follow these restrictions could lead to having the dog taken away or even having the dog put down.

This issue underscores the importance of proper education on dog behavior and animal care, especially after the holidays, a time when many families add a new canine member to their "pack." Those who do not take care to properly train and socialize their dogs could be held liable for the injuries and harm they cause.

If a dog attacks you or your child, an attorney will be your best ally in determining whether the dog qualifies as "dangerous" according to Knoxville's laws, as well as state laws. He or she can also help you pursue compensation for the injuries and trauma you may have suffered as a result.

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Garza Law Firm PLLC
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