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What is the law on dangerous dogs in France?

The Local France
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What is the law on dangerous dogs in France?
A dog cools off in the Trocadero Fountain near the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Photo by Zakaria ABDELKAFI / AFP)

Whether you own or a dog or are worried about the behaviour of your neighbour's pet - here's what you need to know about the legal process and responsibilities around potentially dangerous dogs.

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France has a strong legislative framework for how animals should be cared for, as well as legal protections for people who find themselves faced with dangerous dogs.

If you own a dog

First and foremost - pet owners must be aware that they are required to have the animal under control at all times. This doesn't necessarily mean that it must be on a lead at all times in public, but you must still have control of your pet.

This can be classified as being within range of the owner's voice (or a whistle). If the dog is out of that range, or more than 100 metres from its owner or the person responsible for it, then it is considered to be out of supervision. 

The rules are a bit different for hunting dogs, but in general, a dog owner who lets their pet run off away from their supervision can be subject to a fine of €150 and could potentially lose custody of the animal.

Local authorities can also require behavioural assessments and training sessions if there is concern about the dog presenting a danger. 

Certain breeds of like American Staffordshire Terriers, are also listed as under 'categories' and depending on the breed are banned altogether or must conform to strict rules such as wearing a muzzle in public - full details here.

READ MORE: What you need to know about owning a dog in France

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If you are worried about a dog

If you are concerned that the dog is being abused or neglected, then you can get in contact with your local police office or gendarmerie. You can also reach out to the veterinary services of the 'Direction Départementale de Protection des Populations' (DDPP - contact info here), or an animal protection NGO/ association, like the SPA

If you are worried that the dog could be a danger to you or others you can also contact your local mairie

READ MORE: Préfecture v Mairie: French admin offices explained

The mayor has special powers when it comes to stray animals - they can pass a decree prohibiting people from letting their pets wander around, requiring owners to keep animals on a leash, and warning the public of any known stray animals in the area and that strays could be taken to the pound if captured.

In the case of a dog bite

First, you should clean the wound - disinfect it and dress it. If the wound is minor, you should still monitor it in the days following, as dog bites can lead to infections.

You should go to see a doctor if: your tetanus vaccination is not up to date; the wound is severe, large, or accompanied by any concerning symptoms like infection or pain; you are immunocompromised or suffer from diabetes; or the dog is from a foreign country and may carry rabies. It may be advised to seek medical attention even if you do not have a serious bite, for record-keeping purposes.

Next, you must report the bite to your local town hall (mairie). This can be done by the victim, owner or person supervising the dog. 

Dog owners are liable for any damage caused by the animal. As soon as a bite takes place, the owner should file a claim with their home insurance provider. It will then be the insurer who compensates the victim. To file a claim, you'll likely need photos, vet or doctor bills, and witness statements (if applicable).

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In only specific cases - like if the victim is proven to have provoked the animal's attack, then the owner is not liable. In contrast, if negligence is found to have played a part in the dog bite, then the victim can file a complaint against the owner.

If there is no identifiable owner, the victim can still take the matter to court to request personal injury compensation.

What dog owners should know 

If your dog has bitten someone, you will be required to have the dog's behaviour evaluated by a département veterinarian (list available on the préfecture website), and placed on a danger scale (ranked from 1 to 4), this inspection will be at your own expense. 

The veterinarian will then send the results of the assessment to the town hall, and depending on how it goes, the mairie may require that your dog undergo behaviour assessment and accident prevention training (also at your expense).

It is possible depending on the results of the assessment that the mayor or local authority could decide for the dog to be euthanised.

You will also need to submit your pet for health surveillance, even if they have been vaccinated against rabies.

This involves taking the animal to three visits with the same veterinarian over a 15-day period. The first visit must be within 24 hours of the bite, the second should be within 7 days, and the third should be within 15 days.

Throughout this period, vet will give you a certificate attesting as to whether or not the dog showed any symptoms that might suggest rabies. There will be five copies of each certificate you are given, with three of these copies given to you: one for yourself, one for the town hall, and one for the victim. 

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In the case of a fight between two dogs

Generally the same rule applies if your dog is bitten by or bites another dog: the owner is financially responsible for repairing any damaged caused.

However, according to animal rights group, Fonds Saint Bernard, when it comes to a fight between dogs, there is technically no obligation to report the bite to local authorities or to get the aggressor's behaviour assessed. 

That being said, the owner of the dog that was bitten can file a complaint against for financial compensation or damages (for instance, if the incident leads to the dog's death). They can also request that the mayor call for a behavioural assessment of the dog that did the biting. 

Keep in mind that under certain circumstances you can even be held liable if there is not physical contact. For example, if one dog chases the other and while fleeing the second dog is hit by a car, then the owner of the first dog could still be held responsible.

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