Self-defense against a dog

You’re right, knowing your laws is very important. Murder is illegal, self-defense isn’t. If you’re defending yourself against a lethal threat (which a dog attack may very well be) and can articulate why you did what you did, it could easily be considered self-defense.

Most animal cruelty laws make it a crime to kill or injure animals “unnecessarily” or “without justification.” The most obvious justification is self-defense or defending another person from harm. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that you can shoot a dog just because it’s growling or barking at you or it has bitten someone in the past. The general rule most courts follow: You must believe it’s necessary to kill or injure the animal in order to prevent an immediate threat of serious injury—and that belief must be reasonable. (See, for example, Grizzle v. State , 707 P.2d 1210 (Okla. Crim. App. 1985).) Some states, like Georgia, have explicitly included this rule in their laws (Ga. Code Ann. § 16-12-40).

Understanding your state laws is very important, but remember there are a lot of nuances to how laws are interpreted. I would suggest anyone with serious concerns about dog attacks talk to a local self-defense attorney for clarification on the laws in their state.

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It goes beyond the animal cruelty laws to reckless endangerment and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

If you get an animal rights activist prosecutor, judge, or jury even if you’re absolutely in the right morally you sill may well end up convicted.

As such you have to think ahead and make up your mind if it’s worth it.


A better question is “Is a shot possible”? When I was 7 years old I was attacked by a German Shepard. We were visiting friends of my parents and I went out in their backyard to retrieve my shoes. It was dark, I was a stranger in that yard and probably a lot of other factors caused the next door neighbors dog to go after me.

I never heard or saw that dog before it hit me and it never let me go once the attack started. The dog bit me in the side of the head somehow missing my eye, and ripped open my shoulder and was shaking and dragging me around. I was helpless against it, but my parents recognized my voice screaming in the backyard even though they were in the house. Mom arrived first and dove into the fight, she got bit on the arm, but got between me and the dog. Dad and one other were close behind and dove in and drove the dog off but were not bit. My head, neck, and shoulder were quickly wrapped in bathroom towels and I was rushed to the ER for stitches, staples and who knows what else. I spent the next 10 days nervously awaiting the results of the rabies test, thinking about getting shots in the stomach. The test came back negative, thank God.

I can tell you in the dark, with the dog in close contact there would have been no way a shot could have been safe. Pepper spray seems like it would be useful to prevent an attack but there is no way you could use it during the attack and only target the dog. From personal experience if you have to intervene in a dog attack you will need to jump in risking getting bit yourself and kick and punch till you drive that dog off.


I’m so glad your parents were there to get the dog off you, @Greg1! That must have been terrifying!

A shot at that close of quarters would be incredibly difficult especially with the movement. I have a German Shepherd who just turned one. I’ve seen what Chewie can do to a toy - stuffed toy and hard chew toy. Yet she is incredibly gentle, timid even, around my one year old granddaughter.

I’ve got two of the “scariest” dogs on the scary dog list. They are well trained and are like family. I trust them around my granddaughter. They put up with all of her poking and prodding with a lick and a nuzzle. We keep an eye on them because they are still animals and can react differently to different stimuli - and we want to keep them safe. But if they were sick or in pain, I’d be extremely cautious with them as they are animals and can be dangerous.

I do believe they’d fight to keep my granddaughter safe, so we make sure they’re never put in that position. Now if someone breaks into my home when my granddaughter is around… that’s on the criminal, not the dogs.


@Dawn I have had dogs my whole life and until that moment I never thought one would hurt me. As dog owners we have to be careful of the positions that we put them in like you mentioned. I never saw that dog while I was playing in the yard during the day, and then I wandered into its territory in the dark nothing good was going to come of that.

Regardless if it was a mean dog or a lap dog an hour ago, if it is attacking someone you care about you need to be prepared to wade into that fight and take some damage.


I’ve been playing fetch with the dogs and got between the ball and the dogs teeth and got bit - through no fault of the dog. It didn’t feel too good and as soon as I yelped, the dog backed off and you could see he felt bad. BUT, that was play.

I know my dogs are strong and I don’t want them cornered or threatened, but I will do what I need to do to protect my family. The dogs know that and I hope it never comes to them becoming that upset/aggressive.