Skip to Content
dog barking

Virginia has some of the most unusual dangerous dog laws and this can complicate the process of deciding who is responsible when a dog bite occurs.

Here is a quick guide to Virginias laws.

What is a dangerous dog?

By Virginia’s laws, a dog is considered dangerous after they have displayed physically aggressive behavior. What does that mean? It means that a dog must have attacked someone at least once in order to be deemed dangerous. Then, the owner will become liable for any future damages.

Attacks include any behavior that is aggressive an injures a person. For example, if a dog jumps on and injures a person, this could be considered an attack.

This rule is not true in some cases though. If a person provokes or attacks a dog and is bitten, the judge may decide that the dog was only protecting itself. This would not meet Virginia’s dangerous dog requirements.

[Related: Dog Bite Injuries]

Dangerous Dog Requirements

Virginia code specifically lists the requirements and exceptions to the one bite rule below:

  • The bite must not have occurred at a lawful hunting or dog handling event.
  • The bite must have resulted in more than a “scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury.”
  • If the attack involved another animal, the dog is not considered dangerous if both animals are owned by the same person.
  • The victim must not have been abusing or otherwise provoking the dog.
  • The victim must not have been trespassing or committing a crime on the dog owner’s property.

Ultimately, it is up to the judge’s discretion to label a dog as dangerous. This decision is often based on the individual situation. It is important to note that Virginia las prohibits the government from deeming any dog as dangerous based solely on its breed.

Reporting a Dangerous Dog

In the event that you, or someone you know, is attacked by a dog, you should contact your municipal animal control department as soon as possible. You will want to be able to provide as much information about the attack as possible. Including:

  • Photographs of your injuries.
  • Location where the attack occurred
  • Name and address of the dog’s owner
  • A physical description of the dog

What Happens to a Dangerous Dog?

After animal control completes their investigation, your local court will decide on whether the dog is considered dangerous. If the court decides the dog is dangerous, the owner must register with the Virginia dangerous dog registry within 30 days.

This registration can be done through your local animal control officer. By registering, you agree that:

  • Your dog has been spayed, neutered, chipped, and vaccinated for rabies.
  • You have posted signs around your property warning that there are dangerous dogs on the property.
  • You always plan on keeping the dog in an enclosure, or on a leash in a fenced-in yard.
  • You will purchase a tag identifying the dog as dangerous. This tag must always remain affixed to the dog’s collar.
  • Your liability insurance covers dog bites to a value of $100,000 or more.
  • You will inform an animal control officer if your dog gets loose, if you sell it, or if it dies

Failure to comply with these regulations is a Class 1 Misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $2,500 or one year in jail. Also, if your dog attacks someone because of your failure to comply, you will face additional charges.

What If a Dangerous Dog Attacks Someone?

The owner may be held criminally liable if a dangerous dog attacks someone. The charges vary based on the circumstances.

For example, if the dog attacks and injures or kills a pet, it is considered a Class 2 Misdemeanor and can result in 6 months in jail or a $1,000 fine. If the dog attacks and injures a person, it is a Class 1 Misdemeanor and can result in a year in jail or a $2,500 fine.

In addition to these charges, if the judge decides the owner showed “reckless disregard for life” by failing to prevent the attack, the owner may be charged with a Class 6 Felony and face up to five years in jail or $2,500 fine.

Lastly, the owner may also be held responsible for civil damages like medical bills. However, it is difficult to win a civil dog bite case because of Virginia’s one bite rule and rules on contributory negligence.

[Related: Personal Injury Lawyer]

Contributory Negligence

Virginia has a very extreme approach to contributory negligence, meaning that the plaintiff in a personal injury case cannot be responsible, to any degree, for their own injury.

A contributory negligence claim can make your case very difficult, so it is best to be prepared for this before going to court.

Animal Bite History

In March, Virginia added a new dangerous dog law. It says:

“Any custodian of a releasing agency, animal control officer, law-enforcement officer, or human investigator, upon release of a dog or cat…shall disclose, if known, that the dog or cat has bitten a person or other animal, and the circumstances and date of such a bite.”

This law was meant to prevent shelters form adopting out dangerous dogs without disclosing their full history of behavior. A violation of this code can result in a Class 3 Misdemeanor.


It’s true that Virginia’s dangerous dog laws are unique and quite complicated, but to remain effect they rely on the citizens of Virginia.

You should always report dog attacks to your local department of animal control. This helps to keep your neighborhood safe as well as improves your chances of winning a personal injury suit. Likewise, being proactive will help to protect your pet if they should bite someone.

Whether you suffered an attack or are just trying to protect your dog, contact King, Campbell and Poretz law firm for help with your dangerous dog lawsuit.