Checklist: Do's and Don'ts for Dangerous Dog Accusations
If your dog is accused of being dangerous, potentially dangerous, vicious, or aggressive (depending on your local municipality's phrasing, or whether you're charged with the STATE dangerous dog statute), here are a few things to do and NOT do...
DO separate the dogs as quickly as possible;
DO take pictures of your dog and the other dog immediately after the incident - if possible. If the other person is worked up and yelling and screaming, pictures might not be possible and might escalate the incident;
DO stay calm! People who get into fights after their dogs get into altercations can end up making responding law enforcement even angrier and they will most definitely take it out on the person they issue the citation to;
DO cooperate with animal control or the police (who shows up depends on where you live)
DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT TO LAW ENFORCEMENT! They are not interested in your side of the story. If you are being handed a summons, DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT! It is your 5TH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT! EXERCISE IT!
DO NOT offer to pay any vet bills; this can be handled, later, when everyone is calm;
DO NOT make any comments about your dog to the other person, including things like, "Spot's never done this before!" and especially, "well, Spot doesn't really get along with other dogs." The other party will tell the law enforcement officer and you'll be stuck with that statement for the duration of the case;
DO NOT PLEAD GUILTY WITHOUT GETTING DISCOVERY AND CONSULTING WITH AN ATTORNEY! So many people come to me after they've already pled guilty and there is nothing I, or any other attorney, can do at that point. You are stuck with the sentence and recommendations of some crazy, court-appointed behaviorist who has no incentive to honestly evaluate your dog. If the court-appointed behaviorist recommends forfeiture (relinquishment), then there is a nearly 100% chance that is what the court will ask for when you are sentenced.
DO talk to an attorney; DO hire an experienced trainer or behaviorist to evaluate your dog. My office works with a handful of people to help you get honest, well-founded, and educated advice and training for your dog.
DO NOT think you can handle this yourself. Your dog's life may be at stake!
DO NOT expect to just "pay a fine" and move on. Check my blog on the dangerous dog statutes for the potential penalties and consequences of owning a dangerous dog (if the state or city doesn't try to take your dog from you, that is).
DO NOT think the prosecutor is there to help you or give you legal advice. They do not care about you or your dog. They just want to get a guilty plea and close the case.
DO NOT think you can just "plea this down". Aggressive/Dangerous dog charges are very rarely ever pled down because it imposes liability on the city or state to let dogs accused of being dangerous "off the hook." Serious cases almost always go to trial.
Be smart. Be safe. You can always "get another dog." But your dog only has you. Protect him/her. Set him/her up for success. You are the human. You are the pack leader. Act like it and take the lead whenever you are outside with your dog.