Texas Dangerous Dog Law

Attorney Eric Torberson Interview

There are several ways a dog can get in hot water. The law at the state level has statutes that cover Texas. Many municipalities have also made their own ordinances to punish dogs accused of scaring, attacking or biting people or other animals.

For questions or representation take a look at http://erictorberson.com/texas-animal-lawyer and contact me.

What is the Statewide Dangerous Dog Law?

The Texas Health and Safety Code contains dog attack statutes. It divides dogs bites or attacks into 2 categories: bodily injury and serious bodily injury. A bodily injury attack is usually anything that causes pain. A serious bodily attack is defined as “severe bite wounds or severe ripping and tearing of muscle that would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek treatment from a medical professional and would require hospitalization without regard to whether the person actually sought medical treatment.”

Use the contact form to purchase my ebook for a bodily injury case where your dog has not been seized click the link below. This not be as helpful for a dog case where the dog is seized and accused of serious bodily injury. An ebook will be published for serious bodily injury soon

A 3rd way a dog can be deemed dangerous, is a situation where a dog did not bite or attack anyone. The dog “commits unprovoked acts in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person.”

What Happens After My Dog Bites Someone?

If it is a bite that causes bodily injury, the victim may decide to complain to animal control. It is not a violation against the dog unless the dog is out of an enclosure that the dog is kept. The dog bite must also not be provoked by any means whether in or out of an enclosure. Provocation is a defense for a dog who bites or attacks .

For a bite that causes serious bodily injury, a dog within its enclosure is protected. If a person is under 8 years of age and the enclosure is reasonable certain to keep to keep a child 8 or under out than the dog has not violated the statute.

A dog causing serious bodily injury to a person 8 or older is protected if that person is trespassing in the dog’s enclosure.

Also a dog is protected if causing serious bodily injury while under a police officer’s control. Or a dog is alright protecting a person from assault. A dog protecting property from theft or damage is also protected from the statute.

What is Serious Bodily Injury?

The Texas Health and Safety Code defines serious bodily injury (SBI) as severe ripping and tearing of muscle that would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek treatment from a medical professional. It would also require hospitalization, even if the person did not did not seek treatment.

This is a vague area. So what is hospitalization. Healthcare.gov defines it as inpatient, and usually requires an overnight stay. So a day trip to the hospital to get stitches would not be serious bodily injury.

It really becomes a subjective standard and the definition gets ignored unless animal control officers stay familiar with the rules and ordinances. It can be lost on dog owners who represent themselves or who hire an attorney who does not look carefully at the law.

What is the Dog Facing in a Serious Bodily Injury Hearing?

It is critical for an attorney to investigate whether a dog bite is really serious bodily injury. The dog’s fate in a hearing could be a death sentence. It is heartbreaking to lose a case and have the judge order a death sentence. Especially if the dog had never bitten a person before. Sometimes judges will error on the side of caution or appease a complaining witness by sentencing a dog to death.

If a person is trespassing in the dog’s enclosure, a serious bodily injury attack is justified. It is based on fairness to the dog’s and as well as the homeowners rights. In our society trespassing is frowned upon.

What if a Dog is Accused of Killing Someone?

In Texas the law requires a dog to be killed if he or she kills someone no matter the reason. There is no discretion in the Health and Safety Code for a dog’s life. A criminal could be murdering the dog’s owner and burning their house down, but if the dog kills the murderer, the dog SHALL be ordered destroyed. Texas law is surprisingly contradictory with regard to protection of people and property. A person can be justified in killing to protect life and property but not with a dog. I guess it will require a violent hypothetical like described above to encourage a smart lawmaker to change the law.

Why Do Cities Have Animal Ordinances if we Have State Law?

The Texas State Constitution allows municipalities of 5,000 or more to become a home-rule city. A city can create a municipal charter that allows a city to create ordinances. Many cities have animal ordinances included in their code. However “no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”

This is a troubling area for animals in Texas. I have read several different city ordinances that contain death sentences for dogs accused of minor actions or none at all. These death penalty ordinances run the risk of being inconsistent with state law.

The state law requiring a dog deemed dangerous for a bite causing bodily injury or scaring someone does not allow the dog to be killed. Many cities have ordinances that allow the death penalty for a dog. For instance, a city in southern Texas, Nixon, has a vicious dog ordinance allowing death for a dog that may have a propensity to attack or has a dangerous disposition in their opinion.

Killeen Texas has an ordinance allowing the police or animal control to kill an animal with fierce, dangerous or vicious propensities that has not even bitten or attacked anyone. According to the Killeen Aggressive Dog Ordinance a dog can also be ordered euthanized by a judge “when unprovoked, chases or approaches a person upon the streets, sidewalks or any public or private property in a menacing fashion or displaying an apparent attitude of attack.”

Also, a Killeen judge can order a dog deemed aggressive to be permanently removed from the city limits within 10 business days.

This would mean that all those dogs that chased me on my bicycle as a kid could be ordered to be euthanized. It is in a dogs nature to chase things. An ordinance like this directly contradicts state law which does not allow euthanasia except in death or SBI cases.

What are the Texas Dangerous Dog Requirements?

Section 822.042 lists the requirements for the owner of a dangerous dog. In no later than 30 days the owner needs to accomplish some tasks as follows:

  • Register the dangerous dog with the animal control authority.
  • Restrain the dog on a leash in a person’s control or in a secure enclosure.
  • Obtain insurance or show financial responsibility in the amount of $100,000 to cover damages for a potential attack by the dangerous dog on a person. Show the proof to the animal control authority.
  • Comply with applicable municipal and county regulations, requirements or restrictions on dangerous dogs.

If a person does not fulfill the above by the 30th day, the dog is subject to being seized and impounded at a shelter at the owner’s expense. According to the Health and Safety Code, the judge SHALL order the dog killed ELEVEN days after delivery of the dog to the shelter, or the dog’s seizure, for failure to fulfill the dangerous dog requirements.

Shall means the judge HAS to have the dog killed. For someone in poverty or renting this can be a serious problem. The dog by then won’t even know why he or she is being put to death.

How is a Dog Determined Dangerous?

The Health and Safety Code says that if a person reports a dog bite that animal control may investigate the incident. The animal control will then receive sworn statements from witnesses. At that time the AC officer will determine if a dog is dangerous. The AC officer is required to let the dog owner know in writing.

The owner once notified in writing, has 15 days to appeal the dangerous dog determination of the animal control authority to a justice, county or a municipal court. The appeal requirements are as follows:

  • File a notice of appeal to one of the courts listed above.
  • Attach a copy of the determination from the Animal Control Authority.
  • Mail a copy of the notice of appeal to the Animal Control Authority.

If the appeal of the Animal Control Authority is filed in the justice court or municipal court, the dog owner may appeal to the county court after an adverse ruling about their dog. The dog owner is then entitled to a jury trial at the county court level under Health and Safety Code 822.0424.

A jury trial is vitally important in our judicial system. Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 quote sums it up pretty well:

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”


For a dog, to be considered dangerous, it is no small matter. It places the dog’s life in jeopardy in the future. It can unfairly result in a dogs execution at the local shelter. Many times the whole situation is based on a lie or the exaggeration of a person who is offended. It is critical that the dog owner give his or her dog a fighting chance to avoid a dangerous dog designation in court. If possible, hire someone with experience to defend your dog properly. Dogs don’t ask to be put in many of the situations we humans put them in. Dogs deserve due process.

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“Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty.”

John Adams (1774)

Author: Eric Torberson

Eric Torberson is a licensed attorney in Texas as well as licensed in the federal courts of the southern and western districts of Texas.