There is no doubt our dogs are our best friends. They are loyal, protective and the most excited to welcome you home. However, not all furry friends are welcoming to strange faces. If this is your pet, what happens if your dog attacks a person or animal on your next walk to the park? Are you only required to pay for vet bills, or do you have a greater legal obligation? Let’s find out.


Pursuant to section 16 of the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) (the ‘Act’ here thereafter), if a dog rushes at, attacks, bites or chases any person or animal, the owner of the dog or the person in charge of the dog at the time (above the age of 16) is guilty of a criminal offence. It is important to note that an injury does not have to occur so long as one of the above actions can be established.

It is also a criminal offence to encourage a dog to attack. Section 17 states that a person must not urge or persuade a dog to attack another animal or person. So, the next time you see your neighbour who steals your dog’s frisbee, think twice before whispering something in your dog’s ear!


The maximum penalty for this offence is a $11,000 fine. The fine significantly increases if the dog is classified as dangerous, menacing or restricted In this case, the maximum penalty is a $44,000 fine. This concept is also applied for persons charged under section 17. Those found guilty for encouraging a dog to attack may face a $22,000 fine whereas the owner of a dangerous, menacing or restricted dog may face a fine of $77,000 or 5 years imprisonment (or both).


Pursuant to section 55, restricted dogs in New South Wales include the following:

1.   American pit bull terrier or pit bull terrier;

2.   Japanese tosa;

3.   Dogo Argentino;

4.   Perro de Presa Canario or Presa Canario; and

5.   Fila Brasileiro.

For the purpose of this Act, restricted dogs also refer to a breed, kind or description whose importation into Australia is prohibited under the Customs Act 1901 (Cth). An authorised officer of a council under Division 6 of this Part may also declare that particular breeds are restricted.

If you are the owner of a dangerous dog, a menacing dog or a restricted dog, you must also comply with requirements under section 51 and section 56 of the Act. These refer to the specific requirements of a dog’s enclosure, distinctive collar and preserving their attachment to a lead. If an owner is found guilty of non-compliance with these requirements, the maximum penalty is a $77,000 fine or 5 years imprisonment (or both). Also, a conviction for an offence under this subsection means that a person will be permanently disqualified from owning a dog or being in charge of a dog in a public place. Is it really worth the risk?


Section 16(2) of the Act provides a list of defences available for persons charged with this offence. Defences are available if the incident occurred:

1.   As a result of the dog being teased, mistreated, attacked or otherwise provoked;

2.   As a result of the person or animal trespassing on the property on which the dog was being kept;

3.   As a result of the dog acting in reasonable defence of a person or property;

4.   In the course of lawful hunting; or

5.   In the course of the working of stock by the dog or the training of the dog in the working of stock.


Numerous cases of dog attacks have resulted in serious injury or death. This has led to a continued discussion on whether the limits of criminal negligence should be extended in relation to dog owners. Keep in mind, these attacks are not only directed at strangers. There have been many instances where beloved pet dogs have attacked their owners. Reasons for this change in behaviour include environmental factors that cause pain or fear. This was witnessed in September 2019 where an American Staffordshire Terrier killed the male occupant of the home and injured the wife who was later taken to Royal Melbourne Hospital.


It is crucial that dog owners understand the behavioural traits of their dog. When it comes to signs of aggression, it is important to understand what characteristics your dog displays and how you can best manage any risk factors. In addition to protecting persons, this will also protect the rights of dogs by making sure that dogs are not led down the path of being put down. For information on how to respond to your dog’s behaviour and eliminate potential risks, click here.


If you have been charged with a dangerous dog offence, there may be more than one option available for your matter. To discuss your options with a Senior Defence Lawyer guarantee, click here to contact National Criminal Lawyers®.

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