This page provides a basic overview of the regulation of dangerous dogs, potentially dangerous dogs, wolves, and wolf hybrids (wolf-dogs) in Washington State.
For most jurisdictions, wolf-hybrids are defined under exotic or dangerous animals and prohibited or in some instances grandfathered, if existing prior to the enactment of the prohibition, and are treated as dangerous dogs. A few are defined under the term "dangerous dog" and subject to the same regulations as a dangerous dog. A summary of legislation and court cases relating to dogs defined as "dangerous dogs" in the state of Washington is provided. Also included are links to articles and sample ordinance provisions.
Under Ch. 16.08 RCW the state regulates "dangerous dogs" and imposes requirements and restrictions on the owners of such dogs. This law defines and makes a distinction between "dangerous dogs," which are to be regulated under the provisions of Ch. 16.08 RCW, and "potentially dangerous dogs," which are to be regulated by locally-adopted ordinances.
Dangerous dog issues can be quite contentious, often because dog owners frequently have an emotional attachment to their pets that gives them a very different perspective than neighbors or others who feel threatened or have been injured. If a local government's regulations are not carefully crafted, litigation can result. You are encouraged to review the information on our dangerous dogs pages carefully, so that this issue doesn't come back to bite you!
- RCW 16.08.070(1) defines a "potentially dangerous dog"
- RCW 16.08.070(2) defines a "dangerous dog"
- RCW 16.08.080 sets forth the basic procedures that cities and counties must follow when dealing with dangerous dogs and places significant responsibilities on the owner of a dangerous dog. Local government jurisdictions can impose more restrictive conditions on owners of dangerous animals, and the provisions allow cities and counties to totally ban dangerous dogs from their jurisdiction.
- RCW 16.08.090 makes it unlawful for the owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside the proper enclosure unless it is muzzled and properly restrained. RCW 16.08.090(2) specifically recognizes that local governments will regulate potentially dangerous dogs and that state law does not limit those regulations.
- RCW 16.08.100 is the penalty section.
Dangerous Wild Animals
- RCW 16.30.010 defines "Potentially dangerous wild animals, includes wolves, but excludes wolf-hybrids. Several measures have been proposed to include wolf-hybrids as potentially dangerous wild animals, but they have not been passed.
- RCW 16.30.050 provides for adoption of local ordinances governing potentially dangerous wild animals that is more restrictive than this chapter. A city or county is not required to adopt an ordinance to be in compliance with this chapter.
Relevant Court Decisions
Downey v. Pierce County, 165 Wn. App. 152 (2011)
After a small dog was attacked by another dog and required euthanization, an investigation suggested that the Downey's dog was responsible for the attack. The county declared Downey's dog as "dangerous." Downey sought a hearing and, under the county code, had to post a fee of $50 for an informal hearing before the auditor. The auditor upheld the dangerous determination and Downey, after posting an additional $500 fee, had a hearing before a hearing examiner. The hearing examiner also upheld the determination, and Downey appealed arguing, among other things, that the required fee deprived her of due process and that the level of proof required to find the dog dangerous was inadequate. The court agreed. Requiring a fee for the first evidentiary hearing deprived Downey of due process. The same was true as to the $500 fee, since the hearing before the auditor had no record that could be reviewed on appeal. The required proof, essentially a finding of probable cause, was inadequate; it may have been enough for the initial action, but it was inadequate for the making of a final determination. The court determined that the county needed to prove its case by a preponderance of evidence.
Gorman v. Pierce County, 176 Wn. App. 63 (2013)
Gorman was injured when some dogs entered her home and attacked her. She sued the county, as well as the dog owners. Although the county argued the public duty doctrine, the trial court disagreed, finding an exception to the doctrine. The county appealed and the court affirmed. Other complaints had been made about the dogs that attacked. Nevertheless, the county did not consider whether the dogs were potentially dangerous. While the public duty doctrine does provide for immunity in many cases, there are exceptions, including "failure to enforce." The county's ordinance required that the county consider classifying a dog as potentially dangerous, if it received complaints of the dog being dangerous. Even though there had been complaints, the county failed to make a determination regarding the dangerousness of the dog. The county's failure to enforce its ordinance removed it from immunity under the public duty doctrine.
Rabon v. City of Seattle, 135 Wn.2d 278 (1998)
Seattle's animal control ordinances, which grant a municipal official the discretion to order the destruction of any animal determined by a court to be a "vicious" animal, are not preempted by state law. However, an owner is entitled to a hearing to present reasons why animals should not be destroyed.
Some cities, in adopting ordinances based upon Ch. 16.08 RCW, have modified the definition of "potentially dangerous dog" and/or "dangerous dog" to include reference to a specific breed such as the "pit bull terrier" breed. In these cities, the restrictions that apply to either "potentially dangerous dogs" or "dangerous dogs" are made to apply automatically to a specific breed.
A few cities have adopted ordinances that completely ban the ownership of particular breeds including pit bulls, wolf-hybrids, and others. The city of Yakima's ordinance banning pit bull terriers was challenged and upheld in American Dog Owners v. Yakima, 113 Wn.2d 213 (1989).
In the case of breed specific ordinances, local governments should be able to show that the breed has some unique traits and characteristics that pose a greater threat of serious injury or death to humans than other breeds. Breed-specific ordinances must also clearly define the particular breed being regulated so that owners or potential owners are given sufficient notice of requirements and violations.
Canine Good Citizen Certificate Exemption - Some cities are providing exemptions for potentially dangerous and breed specific dogs that receive a certificate from passing the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Program. Among them are Pasco and Auburn. See Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dog Ordinance Provisions.
Service Dog Exemption - The Washington State Human Rights Commission recommends that language be included in breed specific dangerous dog ordinances that provides exceptions, exemptions, or waivers for trained guide dogs or service dogs used by people with disabilities - see Ch. 49.60 RCW, specifically RCW 49.60.215. A trained guide dog or service animal does have to be safe and under the control of the user. Prohibiting specific breeds could be considered too limiting for people with disabilities. For more information regarding guide dogs or service animals used by disabled persons, see the Washington State Human Rights Commission's Service Animals Page.
Any ordinances adopted prior to 2002 may include wording from outdated statutes (such as the definition of "dangerous dog"). The definition was modified by Ch. 244, Laws of 2002 (RCW 16.08.070). We recommend that a jurisdiction carefully review the current statutes when drafting local regulations involving dangerous dogs or potentially dangerous dogs. Most jurisdictions prohibit keeping wolves and wolf-hybrids as pets; those that provide for them are noted.
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 6.35 - Dangerous Dogs - See 6.35.020(C) for provision on compliance with AKC's CGC program
- Bellingham Municipal Code
- Sec. 7.08.130 -.180 - Covers Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dogs
- Sec. 7.12.070 - Regulation of wolves and wolf hybrids - Wolves and wolf hybrids shall be subject to the same restrictions, rules, regulations, and penalties that govern dangerous dogs pursuant to BMC 7.08.170. In addition, hybrids shall be kept segregated from domestic dogs and cats.
- Clark County Code Ch. 8.18 - Dangerous Dogs
- Des Moines Municipal Code Ch. 8.16 - Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dogs
- Everett Municipal Code Ch. 6.08 - Dangerous Dogs
- Grandview Municipal Code Ch. 6.06 - Dangerous Dogs - Definition of "dangerous dogs" includes any dog known by the owner to be a wolf or wolf-hybrid.
- Lakewood Ordinance No. 577 - Amends dangerous dogs regulations, passed 02/03/2014
- Mill Creek
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 7.32 - Dangerous Dog and Potentially Dangerous Dog
- Pasco Municipal Code Sec. 8.02.320(6) - Potentially Dangerous and Dangerous Animals - Provides exemption for Canine Good Citizen Test (See (6) at bottom of page 16)
- SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 6.05 - Animal Control Regulations - See Section 110-135 Dangerous Dogs and Sec 6.05.135 - Regulation of wolves and wolf hybrids
- San Juan County Ch. 6.20 - Inherently Dangerous Mammals
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 17.04 - Dangerous Dogs and Potentially Dangerous Dogs
- Waterville Municipal Code Ch. 6.24 - Animal Registration and Control - Defines wolf, coyote, wolf-dog, or coyote-dog hybrid as a dangerous animal and requires registration
- Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 6.18 - Pit Bull Dogs
- Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 6.20.340 - Dangerous dogs - Registration requirements - Fee