Lieberman, Ryan & Forrest, L.L.C.
Somerset County
Hunterdon County

What is a vicious dog?

If you are a New Jersey resident who has been bitten by a vicious dog, no one need tell you what a vicious dog is. You already know. He snarls; he growls; he lunges at you without warning; he attacks; he bites.

Everyone knows a vicious dog when they see one. It seems self-evident. However, it is not that simple. The Consolidated Dog Laws of New Jersey define a vicious dog as one that has been declared vicious by a municipal court.

Impounding a vicious dog

A New Jersey animal control officer has the authority to seize and impound any dog when the officer has reasonable cause to believe one of the following four things:

  1. The dog attacked someone, causing serious bodily injury or death.
  2. The dog made an unprovoked attack on someone causing bodily injury and poses a serious threat to additional people and/or animals.
  3. The dog participated in dog fighting activities.
  4. The dog was trained to make unprovoked attacks against people or animals by means of badgering, baiting, tormenting or otherwise encouraging him to do so.

Making the vicious dog determination

Any dog so impounded remains there until final disposition of the court case and any subsequent appeal. In order to declare the dog vicious, the court must have clear and convincing evidence that the dog killed someone or caused him or her serious bodily injury. There also must be clear and convincing evidence that the dog was not provoked by the victim or by any other person. The municipality has the burden of proof to make these showings.

If the court declares the dog to be vicious, the owner can appeal that decision. If (s)he loses the appeal or makes no appeal, the dog will be humanely destroyed. This information is only intended to educate. It should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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