Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”


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Guidelines for qualifications as an expert witness in animal behavior

Retaining the services of a testifying animal behavior expert witness may make the difference in whether an attorney wins their case for a dog bite victim.  However, dog bite attorneys need to realize that not all animal behavior expert witnesses are created equal.  There are vast differences in the qualifications between individuals promoting themselves to attorneys as having expertise in animal behavior.

Attorneys need to realize that those with expertise in dog obedience training does not equate to having knowledge and expertise in animal behavior. For example, dog trainers possess various degrees of skill in teaching a dog how to do something (e.g. sit on command).  In contrast, the animal behaviorist has the depth of understanding to explain why a dog acts in the way it does. And in nearly all dog bite litigation, juries need an explanation of why the dog acted the way it did (e.g. was the dog provoked a bite?) rather than knowing how it was trained, if it was trained at all.

Attorneys need to realize that anyone can promote themselves as having expertise in animal behavior, even in the absence of a degree in this field.  I know of one very successful dog bite expert who for years has bamboozled attorneys into thinking that he is a qualified “animal behavior expert”.  Nonetheless, this individual has never taken a single course in animal behavior at the university level, nor does this person have any certification from any professional society dealing with animal behavior or dog behavior! Experts like this are likely to proffer opinions ( to support the opinion of the retaining counsel) that will be recognized as being strange or even unbelievable by jurors familiar with the behavior of dogs.

The attorney should note that the science of animal behavior as it applies to dogs is a discipline that is taught in most major universities (usually in the Department of psychology or  University departments dealing with the biological sciences) and the veterinary profession has expanded to include veterinarians specializing in dog behavior. On other parts of this website, I have elaborated upon the role of the animal behavior expert witness in dog bite cases.

Below I present sites relevant that provide a general overview and guidelines to expert witness qualification, but note that the information on these sites is not specific to the qualifications consistent with expertise in the science of animal behavior.