Dangerous Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, and Dog-Hybrids
This page provides a basic overview of the regulation of dangerous dogs, potentially dangerous dogs, wolves, and wolf hybrids (wolf-dogs) in Washington State, including examples of local regulations and exceptions for good behavior and service dogs.
It is part of MRSC's series on Animal Control.
Washington State regulates "dangerous dogs" and imposes requirements and restrictions on the owners of such dogs under Ch. 16.08 RCW. 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.
In some jurisdictions, wolf-hybrids are defined as exotic or dangerous animals and prohibited. Other jurisdictions define wolf-hybrids as "dangerous dogs" and regulate accordingly. In adopting ordinances based upon Ch. 16.08 RCW, some jurisdictions 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. However, in 2019 legislation added RCW 16.08.110 to the statute, prohibiting breed-based regulations: As of January 1, 2020, cities and towns that ban entire breeds of dogs or define them as potentially dangerous must create a “reasonable” process for exempting a well-behaved dog.
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 this page carefully so that this issue doesn't come back to bite you!
Chapter 16.08 contains statutes that relate specifically to a municipality’s ability to regulate dangerous dogs. In particular, see:
- RCW 16.08.070(1) — Defines a "potentially dangerous dog" while (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(1) — 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 while (2) specifically recognizes that local governments will regulate potentially dangerous dogs and that state law does not limit those regulations.
- RCW 16.08.100 — Addresses penalties and defenses
- RCW 16.08.110 — Requires breed-specific regulations to include an exemption for dogs that pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test or a “reasonable equivalent.”
Dangerous Wild Animals
Chapter 16.30 contains statutes that relate specifically to a municipality’s ability to identify and regulate wild animals. In particular, see:
- RCW 16.30.010 — Defines "potentially dangerous wild animals" and includes wolves but excludes wolf-hybrids. Several measures have been proposed to include wolf-hybrids as potentially dangerous wild animals, but none have 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.
Breed-Specific Regulations and Good Behavior Exemption
Some cities, in adopting ordinances based upon chapter 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. 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. Effective January 1, 2020, jurisdictions with a breed-specific regulations need to provide a good behavior exception for such dogs (RCW 16.08.110) or they will be unable to enforce that ban until the local regulation is amended to be in compliance.
This exception allows residents to possess dogs of otherwise-prohibited breeds if the dog has passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test. Dogs that pass this test are exempt from the breed-based regulations for a period of at least two years. Dogs that fail the test are required to be given the opportunity to re-test.
Service Dogs: 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 animals used by people with disabilities (see chapter 49.60 RCW, specifically RCW 49.60.215.) Prohibiting specific breeds could be considered too limiting for people with disabilities. A trained guide dog or service animal does have to be safe and under the control of the user.
For more information regarding guide dogs or service animals used by people with disabilities, see the Washington State Human Rights Commission's Guide to Service Animals.
Selected Court Decisions
Morawek v. City of Bonney Lake, 184 Wn. App. 487 (2014)
Morawek’s dog killed the neighbor’s cat, but no one saw how the fight started. The city’s regulation defined a “dangerous dog” as any dog that “has killed a domestic animal without provocation…” The city hearing examiner declared the dog to be dangerous and the county superior court affirmed. The court of appeals reversed, finding that there was not substantial evidence that the cat was killed “without provocation.”
Gorman v. Pierce County, 176 Wn. App. 63 (2013)
Gorman was seriously injured when some dogs entered her home and attacked her and her dogs. 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. While other complaints had been made about the dogs that attacked Gorman, the county hadn't considered whether the dogs were potentially dangerous. The public duty doctrine does provide for immunity in many cases, although 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 behaving in such a manner. Despite earlier complaints, the county failed to decide regarding the dangerousness of the dog, and its failure to enforce its ordinance removed the county from immunity under the public duty doctrine.
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 that 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.
Mansour v. King County, 131 Wn. App. 255 (2006)
Mansour’s dog got out of the backyard and attacked a neighbor’s cat, which had to be euthanized. County animal control issued a removal order declaring the dog to be a “vicious animal” running at large. The order required that the dog be microchipped and removed from the county. On administrative appeal, Mansour’s requests for production of documents and to subpoena witnesses were denied. The order was upheld by the county board of appeals and the county superior court. The court of appeals reversed on several grounds. The court noted that the county rules did not specify the applicable standard of proof and that, at a minimum, county animal control was required to prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence. The court also ruled that, under the circumstances, due process required that Mansour be able to subpoena witnesses and records. Finally, the court stated that the removal order was unclear as to the code provision that Mansour violated and therefore did not provide proper notice of the charges.
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 his/her animal(s) should not be destroyed.
There are some commonalities among the ordinances provided. Most require specialized licensing and certificate of registration for the keeping of dangerous dogs. Some require dangerous dogs to be kept under human control at all times (such as on a chain, muzzled and/or within a defined enclosure), some define behavior that makes a dog dangerous (such as causing injury to humans, another domestic animal, or livestock), and some define the conditions under which the owner of a dangerous dog would be penalized (e.g., biting, attacking, or running loose) and/or the animal may be impounded. Some ordinances require that a dangerous dog be microchipped and the owner post signs warning the public about the dog, or the owner purchases surety bonds and/or liability insurance.
In many cases, police dogs are exempted from the dangerous dog designation. Most municipalities will also not declare a dog dangerous if that dog has attacked a person who is trespassing on the private property of the dog owner, or who had been tormenting, abusing, or otherwise provoking the dog
Sample City Ordinances
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 6.35 — Section 6.35.020(C) offers a possible permit exemption for potentially dangerous dogs that have completed AKC's Canine Good Citizen program. Also requires dangerous dogs to be leashed, muzzled, and walked by someone over the age of 16 when outside of a kennel.
- Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 7.08 — Sections .130-.180 cover dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs. Sec .170 requires dogs outside of an enclosure be muzzled, restrained by a leash, and under the control of someone over 18 years of age; Also requires an annual, specialized fee of $100 per location.
- Sec. 7.12.070 — Requires wolves and wolf-hybrids be subject to the same restrictions, rules, regulations, and penalties that govern dangerous dogs pursuant to BMC 7.08.170.
- Des Moines Municipal Code Ch. 8.16 — Requires dangerous dogs and potentially dangerous dogs to wear a bright orange collar, not less than two inches in width, at all times
- Eatonville Ordinance No. 2015-6 — Removes breed-specific language in favor of expanding definition to dangerous animals that inflicts severe injury or kills an animal or human without provocation, including when two or more animals participate in an attack. Offers a provocation exemption for animals that enter private property without owner/occupant consent and bites or chases human/animal or otherwise acts in menacing fashion without having been provoked.
- Enumclaw Municipal Code Ch. 7.08 — Includes a breed-specific ban on pit bulls
- Ordinance No. 2659 (2019) — Keep the ban on pit bulls intact but adds Section .020, which exempts dogs that complete the AKC Canine Good Citizen program
- Everett Municipal Code Ch. 6.08
- Ordinance Amending Municipal Code Chapter 6.08 (2019) — Removes the breed-specific ban on pit bulls
- Lakewood Municipal Code 6.10 — Sec. 025 provides a specific description of the required dog enclosure.
- Ordinance No. 577 (2014) — Amends the code in several ways, including requiring dangerous dogs be microchipped and a sign be conspicuously displayed near the animal’s pen noting the dangerous dog designation
- Mill Creek Municipal Code Ch. 6.08 — Provides that a dog will not be deemed dangerous if it threatens, injures, or bites a person who was at the time committing a willful trespass on the owner’s property, committing or attempting to commit a crime, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, or who had been observed or reported to have tormented, abused, or assaulted the dog in the past, specifically exempts police dogs
- Potentially Dangerous Dog Declaration — Warning served to owners with a dog found to be potentially dangerous
- Dangerous Dog Declaration — Ticket for owners with a dog found to be dangerous. Explains requirements, hearing, and appeal process.
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 7.32 — Section .160 equates keeping of dangerous dog a public nuisance, subject to standard abatement procedures
- Pasco Municipal Code Sec. 6.05.330 (6) — Offers a permit exemption for potentially dangerous animals (defined in 6.05.010 ) that have completed AKC's Canine Good Citizen program, requires biannual retesting
- SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 6.05 — Sections 110-130 address dangerous dogs and section .135 addresses regulation of wolves and wolf-hybrids (subject to same regulation as dangerous dogs)
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 17.04 — Requires an annual inspection of the enclosure/pen of any dog deemed potentially dangerous, plus payment of an annual and 1-time registration fee
- Waterville Municipal Code Ch. 6.24 — Automatically defines a number of animals as dangerous, including wolf, coyote, wolf-dog, or coyote-dog hybrid, large felines, any member of the crocodilian family, or poisonous reptiles.
- Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 6.20.130 — 6.20.130 defines three levels of increasingly aggressive behavior exhibited by dangerous dogs.
Sample County Ordinances
- Clark County Code Ch. 8.18 — Allows animal control to impound a dog if it is not licensed, is not maintained inside a proper enclosure, is found outside the owner’s property, and/or the owner does not have liability insurance
- San Juan County Ch. 6.08 — Sections .091-130 defines a dangerous dog, the owner’s responsibility/requirements, and the process for addressing violations. In particular, section 110 notes that if a dog has killed or injured a domestic animal or livestock, the dog owner is liable for damages up to the estimated values listed in the code.
- American Kennel Club: Canine Good Citizen Program — Dogs that complete this program can receive an exemption from a breed-specific dangerous dog designation
- International Wolf Center: Wolf-Dog Hybrids — This webpage describes a wolf-hybrid and addressed some myths surrounding hybrids