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Dog attacks

The law about dog attacks in Victoria.

If someone is attacked by a dog they should report the incident immediately to the police or local council where the attack took place.

Owners can be penalised if their dog attacks or bites a person or animal, or rushes at a person, however there is no penalty for a dog that rushes at or chases another animal. If another person has control of the dog at the time of the attack, both owner and the other person may be charged with an offence.

Councils may seize an animal if they reasonably believe that the animal has attacked a person or other animal. They may also seize and destroy dogs if they believes that a dog is likely to attack.

The owner or handler of a dog may be charged with an indictable offence under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) if they fail to control a dangerous, menacing or restricted breed dog and it kills or endangers the life of a person.

See If a person is killed.

Offences and penalties relating to dog attacks

The penalties depend on:

  • whether the dog has been declared by council to be a ‘dangerous, menacing or a restricted breed dog’
  • whether or not the injury is ‘serious’
  • if the attack results in the death of a person
  • whether the owner had set the dog upon the person who is attacked
  • whether the dog actually bites or just rushes at or chases a person.

What is a serious injury?

This is defined in the Act to be any injury that requires medical or veterinary attention due to:

  • a broken bone
  • a laceration
  • a partial or total loss of sensation or function in a part of the body
  • an injury requiring cosmetic surgery.

A laceration means a wound that is caused by:

  • tearing of body tissue
  • multiple punctures caused by more than one bite from a dog.

See s. 3(1)—Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic).

Penalties

The owner (and, if applicable, person with apparent control at the time of the attack) may be liable for the following maximum penalties:

  • if an undeclared dog attacks or bites and causes serious injury or death to a person or other animal—40 penalty units
  • if an undeclared dog attacks or bites and causes an injury that is not serious—10 penalty units
  • if a dog (whether dangerous or not) rushes at or chases any person—4 penalty units
  • if a dog that has been declared dangerous attacks or bites a person or animal (whether or not the injury is serious)—120 penalty units or 6 months jail.

When an infringement can be issued

If a person is found to be the owner of a dog that rushes at a person they can be issued with an infringement notice of 1 penalty unit.

If a person is found to be the owner of a dog that bites another animal or a person but the injury is not serious, they may be issued with an infringement notice of 2.5 penalty units.

Other dog attacks must be dealt with by charge and summons before a court.

See:

Exceptions

The penalties will not apply if the:

  • dog was being tormented or teased, abused or assaulted
  • person was trespassing on the property where the dog was kept (see Johnson v Buchanan case below)
  • dog was defending their property and another dog was trespassing
  • dog was taking part in an authorised hunt (this does not include a dangerous dog).

See s. 29(9)—Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic).

It is illegal to train a dog to attack

It is an offence:

  • to train a dog to attack another dog or animal
  • for an owner to command a dog to attack a person or other animal.

Exception

The exception is if the animal is registered and trained as part of an animal business that is permitted under the registration to train dogs for the business.

See s. 28A—Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic).

Court may order payment of compensation

If a dog is found guilty of an attack the court can order that the owner pays for damage that has been done by the dog. For example, if there was a vet bill.

Court may order the dog is destroyed

If convicted of an offence, the court may order that the dog is destroyed. This will be done by an authorised council officer.

Council may declare a dog to be a ‘dangerous’ or ‘menacing’ dog if the owner is convicted of the offence. The owner can be anyone who appears to have control of the dog at the time that it attacked.

See Can dog be saved?

Court may disqualify person from owning a dog

A person who has been convicted or found guilty of:

  • setting their dog to attack a person
  • allowing a dog declared dangerous or of restricted breed to attack a person or animal
  • allowing a dog to bite and seriously injure or cause the death of a person

may be disqualified by a court from owning or being in charge of a dog for up to 10 years. The court may also impose conditions on ownership or being in charge of a dog.

If one of these orders is made, a person may apply for the order to be revoked, suspended or varied, but they cannot apply to do this for at least 12 months after the original order is made. They can only make one application each year.

If court makes a further order disqualifying a person who is already disqualified from owning or controlling a dog, then those orders are to be served consecutively. This means that the second order does not take effect until the first order has been served.

Penalty for breach of the order is up to 240 penalty units or 2 years jail.

See ss. 84XA, 84XD, 84XF, 84G, 84XH—Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic).

More information

Legislation

Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic)

  • s. 3—defines rushing at as: to approach a person to a distance of less than 3 meters in a menacing manner displaying aggressive tendencies, that may include snarling, growling and raised hackles, defines serious injury and laceration
  • s. 28A—offence of training a dog to attack
  • s. 29—penalties and liability for attack by a dog
  • s. 29(9)—defences - where dog owner will not be found guilty
  • s. 29(7)—defines owner as person who appears to have responsibility for the dog at the time of the attack
  • s. 29(11)—court may also order the dog owner to pay for any damage caused by their dog
  • s. 29(12)—court may order that a dog be destroyed if a person is found guilty of an offence under s. 29
  • s. 34—council may declare a dog to be dangerous
  • s. 81—seizure of a dog that has attacked or has been trained or urged to attack
  • s. 84TA—power to destroy any unregistered dog where the owner can't be found if an attack is thought likely
  • s. 84TB—power to destroy a dog on the spot if council believes that there is an immanent threat
  • s. 84TC—power to destroy a dangerous dog that was seized because it was at large (exemption if the animal was at large due to an act by someone other than the owner)
  • s. 84XA—court may disqualify person from owning or being in charge or control of a dog
  • s. 84XD—person may apply for variation, suspension or revocation
  • s. 84XF—person may not make another application for variation, suspension or revocation for 12 months
  • s. 84XG—orders operate consecutively
  • s. 84XH—person must comply with order disqualifying them from owning or being in charge of a dog

See Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic).

Domestic Animals Regulations 2015 (Vic)

  • r. 50—explains how infringement penalties are to be calculated
  • Schedule 5—offences that can be dealt with as infringements

See Domestic Animals Regulations 2015 (Vic).

Case law

Facts: A small dog in a secure fenced area in the front yard bit a neighbour. The neighbour was leaning over the fence when bitten. The owner defended the matter, claiming that they were not guilty because the neighbour was trespassing.

This Supreme Court case upheld a magistrates' court decision, dismissing an application for judicial review of the original decision. Justice Bell confirmed that any entry into another person's property without consent is trespass. This includes airspace. The dog owner was not guilty under s. 29 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 because the neighbour was trespassing when the dog attacked. The dog was small, the fence high and the only way the neighbour could have been bitten by the dog was if they were leaning over into the dog owner's property.

See Johnson v Buchanan & Anor [2012] VSC 195 (11 May 2012).

The Victoria Law Foundation produces a booklet about dog attacks and owner responsibilities written for clients.

Note: This publication is now being maintained by Victoria Legal Aid.

See Victoria Law Foundation—Dogs, cats, neighbours & you.

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR)

The Victorian government site has information about preventing dog attacks in the community and at home (where most dog attacks actually happen).

See:

Updated