If you were to be walking with your family down the street, and a kerfuffle with a stranger were to break out, risking the safety of yourself or your family, in both federal and state courts for just about any state in the Union a "self defense" defense would apply for any legal action resulting from the resulting mayhem, so long as a reasonable person could reasonably fear for your safety or that of your family as a result.

But what if the stranger threatened your dog? To be specific on jurisdiction, I'll mention the United States, as well as the states of New York and California. Let's assume this stranger very specifically did nothing to suggest physical harm to any humans present, but actively threatened harm to the fluffiest member of the family.

Does the "self defense" defense apply?

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    With some exceptions, the law usually treats animals like property, and it appears California recognizes a right to use reasonable force to protect property from imminent harm, justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/3400/3476. It would be similar if they threatened to smash your phone. Jul 28, 2020 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


In California, you may use reasonable force to protect property from imminent harm. The jury instruction on that point is here. The instruction regarding justifiable homicide and defense of property is more restricted, because it only applies to protection of property when the deceased enters a home. If a stranger attacks your dog on a walk, you can use force to defend your dog, but you cannot shoot to kill. If the attack is against a person and not property, then the attack does not have to be in a home in order to be justifiable.

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    It should probably be considered that, if while using reasonable (non-lethal) force to defend your property (pet), it's likely that the attacker would begin to target you instead - at which point using potentially lethal personal self-defense probably becomes much more justified.
    – brhans
    Oct 11, 2023 at 16:17

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