Think Twice Before Releasing the Hounds: Dog Bite Law in Ontario


The joy and happiness of dog ownership has been proven time and time again. However, with dog ownership also comes legal responsibly. After all, dog breeds of all shapes and sizes have the potential to inflict harm to other people or dogs and the legal consequences must be taken seriously.

In Ontario, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act R.S.O. 1990, Chapter D.16 (the “Act”) governs the law in relation to dog bites and attacks.

Defining Dog “Ownership”

The term “owner” is broadly defined in the Act to include:

            a person who possesses or harbours the dog.

This broad definition of owner may potentially include someone such as a dog sitter or dog walker who merely “harbours” or “possesses” a dog.

Establishing Fault of the Owner:

Section 2(1) of the Act states the following:

The owner of a dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the    dog on another person or domestic animal.

Section 2(3) of the Act states:

The liability of the owner does not depend upon knowledge of the propensity of the dog or fault or negligence on the part of the owner, but the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the damages

 Under the Act, the owner of the dog is responsible for any damages that it causes by biting or attacking another person or dog. It does not matter that the owner was careful with the dog, or did not know it might hurt somebody, or made best efforts to prevent it from causing injury.

For a dog bite victim to establish liability, all that he/she must prove is that the dog attack happened and the identity of the owner. Whether or not the owner acted reasonably is not a factor the court will look at when considering liability/fault.

Amount of Damages Payable:

 Once the court makes a finding of fault/liability on the owner, the next step is to assess the amount of damages that must be paid. This will vary on a case-by-case basis and will depend upon the severity of the injuries suffered.

The amount payable by the owner might also depend on the precautions taken if any to try and prevent or minimize the severity of the attack. For example, securing the dog on a leash.

Section 2(3) of the Act (as cited above) includes the wording:

…the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if  any, to which the fault or negligence  of the plaintiff caused or contributed to  the damages

This section deals with reducing the amount of damages payable by the owner to the same degree the victim contributed to their own harm. This might include taunting the dog, or provoking the dog before being attacked.

What to do if attacked by a dog?

If you are attacked or bitten by a dog, it is important to obtain the name and contact information of the owner.

It would also be wise to obtain any witness information in the event the dog owner denies the attack took place. Photographs of the injury and of the dog itself would also be useful information to obtain.

Of course getting the proper medical treatment is imperative following an attack.

If necessary, contact an experienced injury lawyer to assist you with commencing a claim.


Dogs are dogs and as much as we envision friendly wagging tails and happy licks, the reality is that bites and attacks are bound to happen. These injuries may result in permanent physical and psychological harm caused by dog breeds of all shapes and sizes.

Dog owners must be aware of their responsibilities and dog victims should be mindful of their legal rights in the event that such a bite or attack happens to them or a loved one.

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