Generally, it is only legal to shoot an attacking dog in defense of livestock. Since pet dogs are not livestock, one cannot legally defend them if attacked by another dog.

The definition of "livestock" is ambiguous, referring to "farm animals", such as cattle, horses, and mules.

Here is a case where "livestock" could encompass dogs (in a kennel): http://nsglc.olemiss.edu/SandBar/SandBar7/7.3livestock.htm

Is it possible for someone to get their "pet" dog legally re-classified as a livestock and therefore make it legal to defend it from other dogs? Perhaps they can claim the dog is for food or breeding or special needs or whatever.

  • 2
    In what jurisdiction is there a law allowing one to shoot a dog that is attacking livestock, specifically? Is the term "livestock" defined explicitly in that statute? Otherwise, the exception might flow from some other legal principle, such as a right to use violence to protect property. In any event, if a dog could be considered livestock for this purpose, it wouldn't normally be necessary to have that recognized beforehand; one would simply present the defense in court after the fact.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    Yes, please specify the jurisdiction that you want to ask about (and add the appropriate tag). If, as in the link, you're interested in the US, then please specify a state, as this would be state law, not federal. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 17:33
  • Arizona revised statute (azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/3/…) defines livestock as cattle, equine, sheep, goats and swine, except feral pigs. The statute (azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/3/…) also allows a person to pursue and kill a dog that has killed, wounded or chased livestock. A person may also kill a dog under circumstances which show conclusively that it has recently killed or chased livestock.
    – Dave D
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 22:51
  • I don't believe that is generally true.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 15:42
  • This absolutely needs a jurisdiction to back up the first sentence. Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


In the lower court ruling behind US v. Park, the court recites various interpretive truisms:

The legal effect of an unambiguous written document must be decided by the trial court as a question of law. If, however, the instrument of conveyance is ambiguous, interpretation of the instrument is a matter of fact for the trier of fact. Benninger v. Derifield, 142 Idaho 486...

In interpreting and construing deeds of conveyance, the primary goal is to seek and give effect to the real intention of the parties... If the language of a deed is plain and unambiguous, the intention of the parties must be ascertained from the deed itself and extrinsic evidence is not admissible. Uncertainties should be treated as ambiguities; such ambiguities are subject to being cleared up by resort to the intention of the parties as gathered from the deed, from the circumstances attending and leading up to its execution, from the subject matter, and from the situation of the parties at the time Neider v. Shaw, 138 Idaho 503.

The court then decides

The easement terms in question here are unambiguous. Clause 2(c)'s term "general crop and livestock farming" cannot be reasonably interpreted to include dog breeding, boarding, and training. Regardless of how broadly one defines livestock farming, the Parks' activities do not fall within its terms.

The support for this derives in part from Partello v. Stipa, 115 Idaho 522, where it is concluded that with respect to an agricultural exception to workman's comp, raising and sale of hunting dogs is not within the traditional definition of agriculture. Partello relies on legislative intent, which seems to run afoul of the Park district court thinking that it is unambiguous. The court notes this, saying

But it is equally clear that the legislature did not use the term in its generic sense, so as to include the raising of all domestic animals,. . . ."). The Government's citation to Idaho case law and Idaho statutes referencing livestock and similar regulations, which do not appear to include domestic dogs, further yield support for its interpretation. The Parks argument that these cases and statutes are limited to their particular legislative schemes or area of regulation ignores the last words of Clause 2(c) which references "applicable State and local regulations".

So since there is some statutory basis for concluding that dog raising is not livestock raising, and because of the end of clause 2(c), "the Court concludes that they provide persuasive support for the Government's interpretation of the easement" (but that support is not dispositive).

In the appeal, the court cited a case of an easement for "swimming and boating", which are not defined in the easement, which the Idaho Supreme Court found to be ambiguous (Mountainview Landowners Coop. Ass'n, 86 P.3d), relying on dictionary comparisons. The Park court then found similar uncertainty in the definition of "livestock", and indeed case law Levine v. Conner, 540 F.Supp.2d 1113 stating that

the scope of domestic animals used or raised on a farm can potentially extend to guinea pigs, cats, dogs, fish, ants, and bees.

And yet, "we recognize that “livestock” has been used to describe a more limited set of animals such as cattle, horses, and pigs". Various competing statutory definitions of "livestock" are cited. The court also finds that "[t]he language in the easement does not provide us with any more clarity on the meaning of the term". Idaho statutory definitions are beside the point:

But, even though we apply Idaho law to interpret an instrument of conveyance, see Benninger, 129 P.3d at 1238, it does not follow that the definitions of the terms of the easement will be the same as the definitions given in the Idaho Code.

And thus the court concludes that "livestock" is ambiguous, and summary judgment was premature.

There is no general solution to the problem of ambiguity of "livestock" under contractual interpretation; a court could rule that the term is unambiguous, or that it is ambiguous.

The Idaho shooting statute 25-2806 does not say whether dogs are livestock, though the government in the Park case presumed that dogs are excluded from the class "livestock" (though I don't see that: the statute is vague). The cases cited w.r.t. dogs as livestock are in different parts of the Idaho statutes, and there does not seem to be any case law that has discovered legislative intent behind this particular law. The only way to know for sure is assume that dogs are livestock, rely on 25-2806, and take your chances at trial (if it's not clear, that would be a bad thing to do).

  • 1
    It might be a good idea to note that the premise of the question("only legal to shoot an attacking dog in defense of livestock") may be faulty. There could be another reason why shooting a dog is lawful. For example, if a dog is about to kill a person, it's probably lawful to shoot the dog, even though a person is clearly not "livestock." What if the dog is about to deprive someone of (non-livestock) property?
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 19:01

Generally, it is only legal to shoot an attacking dog in defense of livestock.

This is not a general rule, although it is the rule in Idaho.

Both the dog and the livestock are property, and the general rule is that you can use deadly force against a person in defense of self or others, and can use non-deadly force against a person or damage property, in defense of property when if the use of force is proportionate.

A livestock specific rule would be the exception and not the typical or general rule.

The link in question doesn't even involve a statute, it involves an easement whose meaning needs to be interpreted.

Is it possible for someone to get their "pet" dog legally re-classified as a livestock and therefore make it legal to defend it from other dogs? Perhaps they can claim the dog is for food or breeding or special needs or whatever.

Specific animals aren't "classified" as livestock or non-livestock.

Particular statutes using the term "livestock" are interpreted and applied to particular facts, in the context of a particular case. You can't interpret a statute like this prospectively.

This interpretation would depend upon all manner of factors particular to the statute in question such as legislative history, case law, and the overall structure of the statute, and an analysis of the interests which the drafters appeared to want to protect, as well as the fine details of the relevant facts.

The decision as summarized in the link reflects this need for a fact rich decision:

The Ninth Circuit reversed the order of the Idaho District Court and remanded the case for further proceedings at the trial level. Since there is no uniform definition of “livestock” or any guidance within the four corners of the document, the Ninth Circuit held that the term “livestock” is ambiguous. The District Court’s granting of summary judgment, based on an unambiguous definition of “livestock,” was therefore premature. It is important to note that the Ninth Circuit did not decide the question of whether the term “livestock” does encompass dogs. The Court merely held that the term “livestock” could encompass dogs. The Idaho District Court is now charged with answering that question.

For what it is worth, I think it is a real stretch to classify a "pet" dog as livestock.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .