If your dog bit another person in self-defense, it means that your dog was provoked one way or another. In most states, if a dog bit another person after getting provoked, its owner may not be found liable for the resulting injuries. Provocation of a dog includes both intentional actions, such as poking or kicking it, and unintentional ones, such stepping on a dog you didn’t notice was there. This means that provocation may be used by dog owners as a defense against liability.

In applying the provocation defense, factors such as the dog’s breed and past behaviour will be considered to establish whether the dog has been provoked or not under the circumstances. For example, patting the head of a pit bull, a breed known to be aggressive, may qualify in court as provocation. On the other hand, if the owner has knowledge that his or her pet is unusually aggressive for its breed, he has the duty to take precautions for the dog not to harm others. In this case, failure to take reasonable precaution would weaken the provocation defense and the dog owner may be held liable for the injury.

In California where dog owners are strictly liable for dog bites, the provocation defense applies, and provoking a dog may prevent a victim from receiving recovery from the owner. Provocation counts as a fact of the case and hence cannot be excluded in determining liability for a dog bite injury.

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