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Dangerous Dog Bites and Attacks in Virginia


Even though dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend, dog bites and attacks can have vicious repercussions. Once a canine or canine crossbreed engages in any such aggressive behavior in Virginia, dangerous dog laws protect people from harm or injury.  The owner of a dangerous dog has many requirements under the law and can face criminal penalties for violating certain rules and regulations.

Definition of a Dangerous Dog

The definition of a dangerous dog appears in Code of Virginia Section 3.2-6540.

There are two different categories of dangerous dogs under Virginia law.

Under the first category, a dangerous dog is one that bites, attacks, injures or kills another companion animal. The law only applies to companion animals that are dogs or cats. That being said, Section 3.2-6540 does not apply if law enforcement determines that:

  • The dog did not inflict a severe physical injury;
  • Both animals belong to the same owner; or
  • The attack happened on the attacking dog owner’s property.

Under the second category, a dangerous dog is one that bites, attacks or injures a human person. But Section 3.2-6540 does not apply if law enforcement determines that the dog bite was a mere nip, resulting only in a scratch or other minor injury.

Requirements for a Dangerous Dog

If a canine or canine crossbreed is determined to be a dangerous dog under Section 3.2-6540, there are several legal requirements that come into play. Specifically, the dangerous dog owner must notify the animal control authority if:

  • The dangerous dog is loose or unconfined;
  • The dangerous dog bites a human person or attacks a companion animal; or
  • The dangerous dog dies or transfers possession through sale or gift.

Furthermore, Section 3.2-6540 requires the dangerous dog owner to notify the animal control authority upon relocation to a new address. The owner has a maximum of 10 days to provide written notice of their new address.

Penalties for Dangerous Dog Violations

Section 3.2-6540 outlines several criminal penalties for violations of dangerous dog laws. The level of offense and corresponding penalties change based on the circumstances of the offense. For example:

  • Class 2 Misdemeanor — Applies if the dangerous dog attacks and injures or kills another companion animal that is a dog or a cat. The potential penalties include six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
  • Class 1 Misdemeanor — Applies if the dangerous dog bites or attacks a human person and causes a severe physical injury. The potential penalties include 12 months in jail and $2,500 in fines.
  • Class 6 Felony — Applies if the owner demonstrates reckless indifference in failing to control their animal, and the dangerous dog attacks and injures a human person. The potential penalties include one to five years in prison and $2,500 in fines.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about dog bites or dangerous dogs in Virginia, it can be exceedingly useful to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. The attorneys at Simms Showers LLP can help you navigate the legal implications of dog bites and dangerous dogs in Virginia, from both personal injury and criminal defense standpoints. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.


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Simms Showers LLP is conveniently located next to the Loudoun County Courthouse and other courthouses. Our criminal defense firm offers a free phone consultation for criminal or personal injury cases. Se habla español. Call Simms Showers LLP for quality legal counsel today at 703-771-4671 or contact us online.

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