Scott A. McKay Attorney

Rights and Responsibilities of Dog Owners

I have five Australian Shepherds.  I believe dogs enrich our lives.  They are loyal companions who brighten our day and expect nothing in return.  However, sometimes accidents happen and dogs cause injuries.  As such, it is important everyone knows the rights and responsibilities that come with dog ownership.  Below is a brief summary on Arizona’s dog bite laws.

Common Law Liability

Under Arizona common law, when a dog owner knows or should know his dog has abnormally dangerous propensities, he is responsible for harm caused by that dog.  For example, in Schleier for Alter v. Alter, a family owned a German shorthaired pointer named Misty.  Though the family bought Misty as a puppy, Misty began to show resentment toward children: Misty bit the family’s three-year-old niece at a family gathering, and bit a toddler on two separate occasions.  When Misty bit one of the children again, the court held that because the parents knew of the dog’s dangerous history, the parents (i.e., the dog owners) may be liable for the harm caused by the dog to their daughter.  See Schleier for Alter v. Alter 767 P. 2d 1187, 159 Ariz. 397 (Ariz. App. 1989).

Statutory Strict Liability

Arizona statutes hold dog owners strictly liable for damages caused by dog bites.  For example, Mulcahy v. Damron is a case where a husband and wife left their dog Zeke at a pet hospital while they went on vacation.  At the pet hospital, Zeke bit one of the groomers when the groomer tried to give Zeke a bath.  In that case, the court held that the owners may be responsible for damages caused by the bite.  The difference between a common law claim and a statutory claim is that under a statutory claim, the plaintiff does not need to show the defendant knew or should have known the dog had abnormally dangerous propensities.  However, unlike in Schleier, this statute does not apply to child victims who reside in the same house as the owner and who were bitten at the family home.  See A.R.S. § 11-1025.  See also Mulcahy v. Damron, 816 P. 2d 270 (Ariz. App. 1991); Spirlong v. Browne, 336 P. 3d 779 (Ariz. App. 2014).

Dogs at Large

A.R.S § 11-1020 holds dog owners responsible for harm caused to any person or property by a dog at large.  A dog is “at large” when it is neither confined by an enclosure nor physically restrained by a leash.  Many cities require you to keep your dogs on a leash.  For example, Phoenix City Code 8-14(A) provides, “No dog shall be permitted at large.  Each dog shall be confined within an enclosure on the owner’s or custodian’s property, secured so that the dog is confined entirely to the owner’s or custodian’s property, or on a leash not to exceed six feet in length and directly under the owner’s or custodian’s control when not on the owner’s or custodian’s property…”  Play it safe and keep your dog on a leash at all times.

Statute of Limitations

There is a one-year statute of limitations on statutory strict liability for dog bites and a two-year statute of limitations on common law dog bite claims.  This means if you do not file your claim within one year (for strict liability) or two years (for common law liability) then your claim will be forever barred.  See A.R.S. § 12-541. See also Murdock v. Balle, 696 P.2d 230 (Ariz. App. 1985).


As a dog owner, you are a virtual insurer of your dog’s conduct.  Have your dog on a leash and be sure that your homeowner’s insurance does not have an exclusion for dog bite liability.  If your dog has a history of aggressive behavior or if you have any reason to suspect your dog might be a danger to others, be extra careful in supervising your dog. Keep all of your gates locked and your dog on a leash at all times.  If they get a bit rowdy around new people, separate them and let them slowly get acquainted with people they have never met before. Please also keep in mind that your new k-9 pet will need a balanced diet, current vaccinations and periodic trips to your veterinarian.  Exercise is also important on a daily basis for your dog as well as yourself.  If they need some obedience training, try to provide it for them.  Give them a safe and secure place to thrive and be by your side. 

Scott A. McKay Attorney

7601 North 22nd Place
Phoenix, Arizona 85020

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