I am lucky to live in an area with laws that focus more on the act a dog commits and not judging a dog as dangerous based solely on breed.
However, in many areas there are active calls to enact breed-specific legislations.
BSL can be anything from requiring special licensing to a complete ban on specific breeds or types of dogs.
All dogs have inherited traits, and specific breeds were developed for various jobs. Therefore, a border collie is behaviorally what a border collie is and not behaviorally a border terrier.
Over the decades I have worked with many breeds of dogs targeted in BSL. Many of them were great dogs from responsible, knowledgeable sources and living with responsible, knowledgeable owners.
The key words here are “responsible” and “knowledgeable.” Responsible, knowledgeable sources and owners help reduce the risk of incidents from any type of dog.
When an incident happens, how it is reported for statistics varies area to area.
Let’s look at three bite situations.
A young puppy is trying to grab a toy that a child pulled too close to his face. The pup caught skin when he grabbed for the toy.
A child intentionally jumped off furniture and onto the family dog. After several times, the dog bit the child.
A dog with a known bite history jumped a low fence to attack a pedestrian across the street.
In some jurisdictions, each of these would be reported as the same for statistical purposes, even though each situation is vastly different.
Other communities may report the cause of the incident in their data. Additionally, people are more likely to report bites from certain types of dogs. This can skew data and make it look like more bites come from specific types of dogs.
Often the descriptions used in BSL proposals are vague. What type of dog do you think of when you read the following?
Strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function… Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform as an efficient... The most distinguishing characteristics of the XYZ are its short, dense, weather-resistant coat… a clean-cut head with broad back skull and moderate stop; powerful jaws…
The above was taken from the American Kennel Club standard for the Labrador retriever.
I attended a BSL education lecture in a region calling for BSL. In preparation for the talk, one of the lecturers asked the animal control officer for that city to look at pictures and show the pit bulls.
The officer called every dog a pit or pit cross. The pictures included a Labrador retriever, bullmastiff, boxer, Rottweiler, bulldog and mastiff.
All the dogs were purebred show dogs. There were no pictures of pit bulls presented to the officer. Could this person be trusted to identify dogs?
Those who are pro-BSL claim the procedure will reduce dog bites. There is evidence contrary to this assumption going back years, such as “Will breed-specific legislation reduce dog bites?” JH Bandow, Canadian Veterinary Journal. 1996 Aug; 37(8): 478–481.
Fair laws, enforcement of laws and public education go further to reduce dog-related incidents than bans of specific types of dogs.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.