"Mr. Phillips, I am a hiker. Dogs have tried to attack me. So far, I have not been hurt. But I need advice: what can I do to protect myself from them? I have asked police officers and gotten different answers. Can you tell me what the law says about my legal rights?"
Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips answered:
What you can do about a threatening dog is a function of
- how a variety of people will react to your actions,
- the specific details of your encounter with the threatening dog,
- the policies of law enforcement,
- the attitudes of the police officers you encounter and the prosecutors whom the officers report to,
- and then, at the end, the judge and jury.
I can't predict how the people involved in the incident would react. A rich and privileged dog owner might use his or her resources to get you prosecuted for wounding or killing the dog, while a less connected person might not.
If you shot a dog in the city, it would not be the same as doing so in a rural area. If it happened on a trail, the question would be whether many other hikers were present and exposed to possible injury.
In other words, there are too many variables for me to tell you the best course of action.
Having been a trial lawyer for decades, including a criminal defense attorney many years ago, I can say adamantly that your legal rights are one thing, but the more important thing is whether you might find yourself caught in the "system" because if that happens, you may lose your job, your savings, your family, your reputation, your freedom and sometimes even your life BEFORE YOU EVEN GO TO COURT.
The bottom line is this: I don't think the emphasis should be on your legal rights. You have to stay out of the "system."
My suggestion is to carry something safe and legal on you, and to use it carefully and only if you have to, for the protection of your family and yourself, not your dog or your car. I have a video about whether you can shoot a dog, below, and it gives more information about what might happen. I'm not in favor of shooting a dog if there is any other way to defend yourself, but look at the video.