Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Animal behavior expert on dog bite attacks

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Expert advice on dangerous dog hearing for an Akita in Los Angeles, CA

My husband and I are heading to a Los Angeles dangerous dog hearing after our 2 year-old American Akita killed our neighbor’s 14 year-old Poodle last Sunday. We had unidentified termite damage in our fence gate which he was able to break. The Poodle was on a 25 ft. retractable leash being walked by his owner, and has commonly been off leash aggressively (yet foolishly) antagonizing Kuma.

We are devastated by this unfortunate accident, yet we do not want our dog taken away from us! We are more than willing to pursue training, wear the orange identifying collar, and even take out an additional insurance policy. The animal control officer who visited our home Wednesday regulated that Kuma could not be confined to the front yard. This light sentence angered the neighbor who repeatedly visited and called Animal Care with his displeasure. He is petitioning neighbors and is claiming to have a video of the incident.

Animal Control called yesterday and said that they need to impound Kuma until the hearing since this man has been so emotional and persistent.

Can you help us? Animal Control has kindly given us time to find a licensed shelter. I appreciate the advice on your website, but are you available to evaluate Kuma before he is impounded? We are thankful for any advice or help you can provide!

SR, San Fernando Valley, California

Reply from Dr. Polsky

Animal control has the legal obligation to protect the public from dangerous dogs. In order to fulfill this responsibility, many municipalities throughout the USA have “dangerous dog hearings” in order to determine if any given dog presents a danger to public safety.

Dangerous dog hearings in Los Angeles most often are conducted by a single individual. The individual, usually an animal control officer who has moved-up through the ranks, supposedly has received training to objectively determine whether any individual dog poses a danger to the public. The competence and the impartiality of these hearing officers nevertheless varies tremendously, however. The hearing in itself is informal – nothing like the formality found in a court of law. Usually the hearing officer transcribes all testimony given with a voice recorder for later reference or transcription. Hearings usually last about 3 hours but this depends on the complexity of the information brought before the hearing officer and the number of witnesses called to testify.

Given the above, here is what you need to understand: First and foremost, your job will be to convince the hearing officer that under reasonable circumstances your Akita poses minimal or ideally no danger to public safety. However, also present at the hearing will be the complaining individuals, usually the victim but in your case the owner of the poodle that was killed along with others who may have had a negative incident with your dog. The testimony these people render usually will be to the effect that your dog is inherently dangerous and therefore should never be allowed to return to your home.

Here is a short list of suggestions in preparation for your Los Angeles dangerous dog hearing:

1. Become knowledgeable of animal behavior factors which might motivate your Akita to attack another dog, particularly small dogs. These could include lack of familiarity or socialization with other dogs and the extent to which you allow your dog to act aggressively towards other dogs who pass your property.

2. Initiate behavioral training procedures that ideally eliminate or make negligible your Akita’s aggressive reactivity towards unfamiliar dogs passing your property. There are different ways to accomplish this goal, some more effective than others. You would probably best be served to retain the services of a competent animal behaviorist or trainer. Given how this incident happened, it is unlikely that simply taking your dog to a dog park for “socialization” and interaction with other dogs will be sufficient to ameliorate his aggressive tendencies towards other dogs in the context of your property. After the training is complete, and assumedly successful, you will need to bring a video to the hearing to show the hearing officer that your Akita has been successfully “rehabilitated”.

3. You might solicit others to attend the hearing to testify that your Akita has absolutely no aggressive tendencies towards humans, particularly children. However, the hearing officer probably understands that this is a dog-dog issue and therefore such testimony may not be that meaningful. The hearing officer most likely understands that dog-dog aggression in certain circumstances also poses a danger to nearby humans.

4. Repair your fence and make escape-proof all possible escape routes from your property. This includes the front doorway and side gates. Gardeners, pool service people, etc. need to be instructed to make sure all gates are closed when they leave the property. In some instances, it may be beneficial to supplement conventional fencing with an electronic fence.

A favorable outcome may depend of the following: (a) careful follow-through with the the above-mentioned suggestions; (b) your presentation to the hearing officer is coherent and well-organized; (c) the hearing officer has no biases and shows the willingness to listen carefully; and (d) the hearing officer has a good understanding of animal behavior.

More about dangerous dogs hearings in Los Angeles can be found elsewhere on this website.

If the above points a-d happen, then the hearing officer should rule in Kuma’s favor by allowing him to return to your home, but probably with restrictions.

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