Ingrid and her neighbor Fatima have a long standing dispute. One day Ingrid's dog bites Fatima.
Aside from civil liability, are there circumstances where Ingrid might face assault charges, including "deadly weapon" or "first degree" (depending on the state)?

Some potential facts to consider:

  1. Ingrid's dog has no history of biting or attacks.
  2. Ingrid negligently or perhaps intentionally did not restrain the dog.
  3. Ingrid may have specifically trained her dog to bite on command.
  4. Ingrid may have threatened Fatima with "I'll sic my dog on you."

I understand that it depends on what facts can be proved in court. My question is what set of facts might be necessary to rise to the level of assault (ADW)?

As this is a hypothetical question, feel free to pick the jurisdiction of your choice.

  • Point #2 is critical in determining what civil or criminal liability is present.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 15, 2021 at 1:42

2 Answers 2


Under the laws of Washington State, USA, a dog can be considered a deadly weapon. See State v. Hoeldt, 139 Wash. App. 225 (2007). Hoeldt allegedly released a dog which attacked a police officer, and was convicted of second degree assault with a deadly weapon. He appealed, claiming that a dog was not a weapon for purposes of the assault statute. The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction:

Because a dog is an instrument that can be used to cause death or substantial bodily harm, we hold that a dog can be a "deadly weapon" under RCW 9A.04.110(6).


There is no special crime "assault with a deadly weapon" in Washington state, but "deadly weapon" figures into the definition of 1st and 2nd degree assault. Third degree assault refers (as a possibility) to "weapon", and the relevant potentially applicable clause is in terms of an act that

With criminal negligence, causes bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm

Deadly weapon has a statutory definition, as

any explosive or loaded or unloaded firearm, and shall include any other weapon, device, instrument, article, or substance, including a "vehicle" as defined in this section, which, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or substantial bodily harm

which doesn't apply to a dog bite. You would have to load the dog with explosives in Washington for it to constitute a "deadly weapon". The definitions do not extend to simple "weapon", so the "ordinary" meaning of weapon would be applied (in the case of 3rd degree assault, where the thing is just "a weapon"). RCW 9.94A.825 stipulates a special verdict associated with deadly weapons, and a definition:

For purposes of this section, a deadly weapon is an implement or instrument which has the capacity to inflict death and from the manner in which it is used, is likely to produce or may easily and readily produce death. The following instruments are included in the term deadly weapon: Blackjack, sling shot, billy, sand club, sandbag, metal knuckles, any dirk, dagger, pistol, revolver, or any other firearm, any knife having a blade longer than three inches, any razor with an unguarded blade, any metal pipe or bar used or intended to be used as a club, any explosive, and any weapon containing poisonous or injurious gas.

(Note that Title 9A is different from title 9 so we get two different versions of "deadly weapon). A dog is not a thing described by this definition.

  • "You would have to load the dog with explosives in Washington for it to constitute a "deadly weapon"" I don't think this is true. Why couldn't "...Shall include any other weapon..." include an attack dog?
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 14, 2021 at 19:03
  • Since a dog is not a weapon, it is not a deadly weapon.
    – user6726
    Oct 14, 2021 at 19:26
  • 2
    The Washington Court of Appeals disagrees with you; see my answer. Taking the definition of "instrument" as "means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered", they found in State v. Hoeldt that a dog can be an instrument that is readily capable of causing death or substantial bodily harm, and therefore included in the definition of "deadly weapon" under RCW 9A.04.110(6). Oct 14, 2021 at 22:36

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