Local Breed-Specific Dog Bans Now Need a Good Behavior Exception
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” — Andy Rooney
“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Washington State law defines and makes a distinction between “dangerous dogs,” which are to be regulated under state law and the provisions of Ch. 16.08 RCW, and “potentially dangerous dogs,” which are regulated by locally adopted ordinances. Breed-specific prohibitions are a type of locally adopted “potentially dangerous dog” regulations.
Effective January 1, 2020, Washington state law, HB 1026 (codified at RCW 16.08.110), requires municipalities with ordinances regulating or prohibiting particular breeds of dogs to also provide a good behavior exception for such dogs. This exception allows residents to possess dogs of otherwise-prohibited breeds if the dog has passed the American Kennel Club (AKC) canine good citizen test “or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test.”
Legislative intent set forth in the new law includes that “a dog’s breed is not inherently indicative of whether or not a dog is dangerous and that the criteria for determining whether or not a dog is dangerous or potentially dangerous should be focused on the dog’s behavior.” HB 1026 also states:
The legislature further finds that breed-specific ordinances fail to address the factors that cause dogs to become aggressive and place an undue hardship on responsible dog owners who provide proper socialization and training. The legislature intends to encourage local jurisdictions to more effectively and fairly control dangerous dogs and enhance public safety by focusing on dogs' behavior rather than their breeds.
Breed-specific legislation is a type of dangerous or potentially dangerous dog law typically passed by local governments in the form of an ordinance or policy that pertains to a specific dog breed or several breeds but does not apply to any others. Pit bull breeds are usually the primary focus of such laws, but the ban may also include Rottweilers, Dobermans, or Bulldogs. Proponents of breed-specific prohibitions and regulations seek to limit public exposure to dogs of particular breeds believed to be more dangerous than others. Opponents of such laws seek to allow possession of dogs of all breeds and instead focus on the behavior of specific dogs and their owners.
What Does RCW 16.08.110 Do?
Washington’s new law regarding local breed-specific dog regulations prevents outright prohibition of certain breeds unless four conditions are met. RCW 16.08.110(1) provides:
(1) A city or county may not prohibit the possession of a dog based upon its breed, impose requirements specific to possession of a dog based upon its breed, or declare a dog dangerous or potentially dangerous based on its breed unless all of the following conditions are met:
(a) The city or county has established and maintains a reasonable process for exempting any dog from breed-based regulations or a breed ban if the dog passes the American kennel club canine good citizen test or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test as determined by the city or county;
(b) Dogs that pass the American kennel club canine good citizen test or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test are exempt from breed-based regulations for a period of at least two years;
(c) Dogs that pass the American kennel club canine good citizen test or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test are given the opportunity to retest to maintain their exemption from breed-based regulations; and
(d) Dogs that fail the American kennel club canine good citizen test or a reasonably equivalent canine behavioral test are given the opportunity to retest within a reasonable period of time, as determined by the city or county.
AKC Canine Good Citizen Test
To regulate certain breeds of dogs (e.g., pit bulls), local governments must now establish and maintain a process to exempt dogs when the dog passes the AKC canine good citizen test or a reasonably equivalent behavior test as determined by the city or county. The city or county is not required to provide the AKC (or similar) tests, and dog owners are responsible for the cost of the testing.
Once a local government approves an exemption, it must be in effect for at least two years, with regular retesting to maintain the exemption. In addition, if a dog fails the AKC canine good citizen test, then the local government must allow for the animal to retest within a reasonable time.
Service Animals and Guide Dogs
The Washington State Human Rights Commission has consistently recommended that language be included in breed-specific dangerous dog ordinances that provides exceptions, exemptions, or waivers for trained guide dogs and service animals used by people with disabilities (see Ch. 49.60 RCW, specifically RCW 49.60.215.) Prohibiting specific breeds could be considered too limiting for people with disabilities. For more information regarding guide dogs and service animals, see the Washington State Human Rights Commission's Guide to Service Animals.
Jurisdictions with breed-specific dog regulations need to review their current ordinances and comply with RCW 16.08.110 by including an exemption process if they wish to maintain such regulations and prohibitions. Some jurisdictions have already chosen to remove breed-specific regulations and prohibitions from their local code altogether. Some local jurisdictions may be considering adopting breed-specific regulations, but in doing so, will need to ensure that any new regulations are in compliance with state law.
- MRSC: Dangerous Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, and Dog-Hybrids — Provides a basic overview of the regulation of dangerous dogs, potentially dangerous dogs, wolves, and wolf hybrids.
- American Kennel Club: Canine Good Citizen — Describes the program and test requirements, and offers links to training resources.
- Dogsbite.org – The website for a nonprofit dog bite victims’ group.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.