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I'm curious to understand better the details of the Aggressive Animals Prohibited charge. I found a relevant discussion here: How accountable are dog owners for their animals' actions?, but I'd like to dig deeper here, in the areas described below.

In a hypothetical scenario, a dog bites a stranger who tries to pet the dog without asking permission (no verbal communication with the owner). The dog at the moment is on a short, non-retractable leash with about 3 feet of slack (half of the standard 6ft. leash). At the same time, the stranger: 1) approached the dog too quickly, 2) quickly extended the arm towards the dog's head, 3) did not communicate the intent to the owner, 4) when doing this, the stranger blocked the path of walking for the owner and the dog. It is entirely possible that the dog acted defensively in such situation, trying to protect the owner and itself.

For the local jurisdiction (Boulder County, Colorado, USA), the county's relevant statue is available here: https://library.municode.com/co/boulder/codes/municipal_code?nodeId=TIT6HESASA_CH1AN_6-1-20AGANPR

Below is the beginning of 6-1-20. - Aggressive Animals Prohibited.:

Aggressive Animals Prohibited.

(a) No person shall own or keep any aggressive animal. An aggressive animal is one that bites, claws, or attempts to bite or claw any person; bites, injures, or attacks another animal;
or in a vicious or terrorizing manner approaches any person or domestic animal in an apparent attitude of attack, whether or not the attack is consummated or capable of being consummated.

(b) It is a specific defense to the charge of owning or keeping an aggressive animal that the person who was bitten, clawed, injured, or approached by the aggressive animal was:

(1) Attacking the aggressive animal or intentionally provoking the aggressive animal;

How can one show that this incident includes elements of intentional provocation? I understand that this might be border-line with "negligent behavior" from the victim of the bite, but what is the difference between the two in legal terms? The statue referenced above does not include a formal definition of "provocation" -- how can the court decide on it then and what will it use for definitive guidance on this?

One more note on this: provocation in human terms is different than provocation in animal/dog psychology. Can the court consider the situation from this perspective and, for instance, take seriously a letter from a dog trainer/behaviorist stating that the dog was triggered by such sudden and expected behavior of a stranger?

Another procedural question here is whether a deferred prosecution is possible or not in such case. What would that include and imply? What can be expected in such a case with a dog that has no history of aggression and an excellent record of training (certificates of course completion, letters from trainers, etc.)?

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  • "the dog was triggered by such sudden and expected behavior of a stranger?" - did you mean unexpected? The change is too small to edit it myself.
    – vsz
    Oct 11, 2022 at 19:40

2 Answers 2

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The answer does ultimately reduce to the specifics of local law, which could be state, county or city. Ordinarily, the person who acted negligently would bear some element of responsibility for his actions, but local states can change that. The person did not intentionally provoke the dog, he was negligent, and they are not the same thing. So you need to get an attorney to take care of your particular problem.

Municipalities are typically intolerant of dogs that bite humans. In Washington, the owner is strictly liable for any damage caused by a dog biting a human, except in the case of a person illegally trespassing, or when the attack was provoked. A dog can then be declared to be dangerous, which can have significant insurance consequences, or worse.

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    Note that bites by police dogs in thw line of service are also exempt. Nov 10, 2021 at 23:17
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    Thanks for the comments here. I've updated the question and I would like to hear more on the difference between negligent behavior and provocation, as I asked in the text. Would you please be so kind to comment on it when you get a chance? Thanks! Nov 11, 2021 at 18:00
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    There are generally 2 types of police dogs: Search (drugs, explosives, corpses, living beings) and protection/apprehension (those the trainer can order to attack with a word). The Search group is often slit into SAR, the substances sought and then there are dogs that are pretty much between the search and combat role, which is often the type that joins a patrol officer: trail tacking and the set of the apprehension orders are trained there, but not substance search.
    – Trish
    Nov 18, 2021 at 10:12
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In a hypothetical scenario, a dog bites a stranger who tries to pet the dog without asking permission (no verbal communication with the owner). The dog at the moment is on a short, non-retractable leash with about 3 feet of slack (half of the standard 6ft. leash). At the same time, the stranger: 1) approached the dog too quickly, 2) quickly extended the arm towards the dog's head, 3) did not communicate the intent to the owner, 4) when doing this, the stranger blocked the path of walking for the owner and the dog. It is entirely possible that the dog acted defensively in such situation, trying to protect the owner and itself.

This is not intentional provocation. Intentional provocation is an action of the person bitten intended by the person bitten to cause the animal to try to make the animal act aggressively. In the hypothetical, that didn't happen, and the intentional provocation defense doesn't apply.

Another procedural question here is whether a deferred prosecution is possible or not in such case. What would that include and imply?

Deferred prosecution is only available in the discretion of the prosecution. It can't be imposed by a judge without a request from a prosecutor to do so. The conditions of a deferred prosecution would be laid out in the agreement to this plea bargain.

What can be expected in such a case with a dog that has no history of aggression and an excellent record of training (certificates of course completion, letters from trainers, etc.)?

Some aggressive animal statutes have a "one free bite" rule that forgives an isolated act of aggression from an animal with a history of good behavior. It does not appear that the Boulder, Colorado statute quoted contains such an exception.

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  • In this case basically all or almost all dogs would be declared "aggressive". Most dogs do have a high chance to bite if being touched too suddenly and unexpectedly by a stranger, especially if they don't notice that stranger in time. If you're lucky, they will first bark or growl aggressively before they bite, but if the stranger is too stupid to notice those signs and keeps pressuring the dog...
    – vsz
    Oct 11, 2022 at 19:45
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    @vsz If dogs instead of humans wrote the ordinances of the City of Boulder, no doubt the law would be drafted in a way more favorable to the dogs.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 11, 2022 at 20:17

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