CVMA | Documents | Legislation Concerning Dangerous Dogs - Position Statement

Legislation Concerning Dangerous Dogs - Position Statement

January 21, 2016


“The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports dangerous dog legislation provided that it is not discriminatory of a specific breed. This legislation should be directed at fostering the safety and protection of the general public from dogs classified as “dangerous” or “vicious”. The CVMA encourages and supports a community approach to dog bite prevention, including responsible breeding, training, pet selection and pet ownership as well as education on animals in the community.”


  1. Aggression is a normal behaviour expressed by most species of vertebrates as well as some invertebrates, and evolved to increase an individual’s opportunity for survival, resources and reproduction.
  2. Aggression from any animal with potential to cause harm and living in close proximity to humans and other animals poses inherent risks to public and community health.
  3. A number of factors (1,2,3) contribute to the risk and severity of dog bite incidents including:
  1. Human factors such as young children at higher risk of serious injury; lack of supervision of children and dogs; increased risk of bite from a familiar dog; type of interaction (e.g. running or chasing);  lack of knowledge of dog behaviour and communication.
  2. Animal factors such as the size of the dog;  temperament of the dog; physical health (presence of painful conditions); gender and/or reproductive status; training and socialization;
  3. Environment factors such: level of enforcement of dog control; tethering of dog; geographic location; population density; level of reporting of dog bites; cultural factors (e.g. dogs living as community pets).
  1. Many dog aggressive incidents and therefore dog bite injuries could be prevented by increased effort to educate the community as a whole on dog bite prevention, responsible dog ownership, breeding, training and behaviour (2,3).

4.1 Dogs may show aggression that can be either appropriate or inappropriate. Appropriate aggression is a normal behaviour where an animal exhibits aggression that is in context with the degree of danger or threat to the dog. Dogs that show appropriate aggressive behaviour will exhibit a complete behavioural sequence or patterned response to environmental circumstance which includes in the following order:

4.1.1 Calming” signs (4,5) including but not limited to: lip licking; looking away from threat;  blinking;  turning head and/or body away from threat; tail tuck and/or body tuck; yawning; moving slowly

4.1.2 Increasingly overt warning signals such as growling, lip lifting, and/or barking;

4.1.3 A pause to observe the other individual’s response;

4.1.4 Action (snap or bite only if the dog has interpreted the situation/person as dangerous), and release.

If the dog does not interpret the situation/person as dangerous, or is reassured or is “in agreement” with the individual’s response to the warning, it could choose to end the aggressive sequence after the warning without further action (6).

  1. The meaning of "dangerous" as used in legislation can vary among jurisdictions however  it  usually refers to the risk of harm by any action of the dog, whether or not benign, such as biting, jumping, slamming against, grabbing, swiping with its paws, and over-friendliness that is expressed as jumping upon. For example, a dog that has the habit of running to a person and jumping enthusiastically upon him could be considered by some jurisdictions to be dangerous because of the risk of harm to an elderly pedestrian” (7).
  2. A “vicious” dog is classified as any dog that is inappropriately aggressive and when unprovoked, bites or attacks a human or another animal, either on public or private property. Dogs that show inappropriate aggressive behaviour will have an altered behaviour sequence (no warning prior to the bite; no release of the bite; warning and bite without a pause between the two events, etc.) (5). Other indications of inappropriate aggressive behaviour are:

6.1 The aggressive behaviour cannot be justified or explained given the circumstances (inappropriate for the context, for example, not related to perceived fear, threat, self-defence or because of pain or threat to the animal);

6.2 The frequency of aggressive events is excessive for the context;

6.2 The severity of the bite is excessive for the context.

  1. Municipalities and/or provinces may have various forms of “restricted”, “dangerous”, “vicious”, or “breed-specific” dog legislation (8,9).
  2. The CVMA recommends that municipal and provincial governments that are considering vicious dog legislation consult the model municipal bylaws proposed by the National Companion Animal Coalition (10).
  3. The CVMA recommends that dogs determined to be dangerous or vicious by a jurisdiction receive a complete physical and behavioural assessment by a veterinarian before euthanasia or other options are considered.


  1. AVMA Literature Review on the Welfare Implications of the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention. February 6, 2015. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  2. National Companion Animal Coalition. Reducing the Incidence of Dog Bites and Attacks: Do Breed Bans Work? 2004. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  3. AVMA Report of the Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions. JAVMA, Vol 218, No. 11, June 1, 2001. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  4. Rugaas, T. 2005. On talking terms with dogs: calming signals. A Dogwise Training Manual. Dogwise Publishing.
  5. Mariti, C. Falaschi, C., Zilocchi, M., Carlone, B. and Gazzano, A. (2014) Analysis of calming signals in domestic dogs: Are they signals and are they calming? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Vol 9, Issue 6, ppe1-e2.
  6. Overall K. (2013) Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Mosby-Year Book Inc., Missouri, USA.
  7. Dog Bite Law. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  8. Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General. Information in the Dog Owner’s Liability Act and Public Safety Related to Dogs Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  9. City of Edmonton. Restricted Dogs. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  10. National Companion Animal Coalition. Sample Municipal Bylaw Regulating the Keeping and Controlling of Companion Animals. 1999. Available from:  Last accessed October 6, 2015.


  1. AVMA State and Local Dog Bite Prevention/Breed-Specific Proposals.
  2. University of Alberta Libraries: Animal Law Research Guide.
  3. Michigan State University- Animal Legal and Historical Center.
  4. Overall K. (2013) Humane Behavioral Care for Dogs: Problem Prevention and Treatment DVD. Elsevier.

(Revised November 2015)