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By: Murphy & Murphy Law Offices

Beware of Dog Signs

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You’re taking a walk in your neighborhood, and your neighbor’s dog is in the front yard, barking. You notice a sign that says, “Beware of Dog.” Does that mean their dog is aggressive? Does it mean that if you are injured by the dog, you are at fault for somehow not heeding the warning? What if the dog jumps the fence and bites you? Would you be at fault?

Liability Variations

The answer to “who lies at fault” depends greatly on the circumstances of the encounter and in which state the injury occurred. Important facts would include whether the encounter occurred in a public location or on private property, whether there was trespassing involved, and whether the dog has a history of aggressive behavior.

California Dog Bites

The state of California has strict liability laws. This means that if a dog bites someone, there are very few scenarios where the dog’s owner would not be held liable for damages. The injured person would need to prove that they were bitten by a dog in a place where they were allowed to be and not trespassing. There is no requirement for multiple bites in the dog’s history or a history of aggression.

This means that if a dog jumps a fence and bites someone, the dog’s owner would be liable regardless of the existence of a sign, number of previous offenses, breed of dog, or what the person was doing when they were attacked.

Nevada Dog Bites

The state of Nevada has a “one bite rule” but no strict liability laws. This means that if a dog has never bitten someone before, the owner would not automatically be liable for damages. All dog bites are required to be reported, however, and once a dog has bitten someone, it is deemed aggressive. The “one bite rule” would then indicate that the dog has a previous history of aggression, and the owner would be more likely held liable.

Liability in Nevada is mostly built around negligence, including proving that the dog was not properly watched, trained, restrained, or cared for. It also takes into account provocation.

More Helpful Than Harmful?

If California is a strict liability state and Nevada has a “one bite rule,” are “Beware of Dog” signs helpful? Could they potentially be more harmful than helpful? Could the sign be used as proof that the dog is known to be aggressive?

In California, the existence of a sign has no bearing on liability. If a dog bites someone, the owner is liable unless they can prove the person was trespassing. In Nevada, if the dog has never bitten anyone before, the sign couldn’t be used to prove that the dog is knowingly aggressive because there is no history marking the dog. A dog that has a history of aggression would already be marked in the state, and a sign would not change the liability outcome in that situation, either.


In both California and Nevada, trespassing is a solid defense for the dog’s owner. If a dog bites someone who was trespassing on private property, the bite could be deemed legally provoked. This means a “No Trespassing” sign or “Private Property” sign is more effective in dog-bite liability cases than a “Beware of Dog” sign. It’s important to note that trespassing would not be a valid defense in cases where a dog bites someone you’ve allowed onto your property, such as a plumber or a guest.

If you need more information or assistance with “Beware of Dog” or “Trespassing” signs, please call us at (805)330-3393 in California and (702)369-9696 in Nevada.