The Regina Humane Society (RHS) recognizes the serious public policy issue of inappropriate aggression by dogs. The Society’s goal is to create safe communities where humans and dogs co-exist and enrich each other’s lives. The RHS opposes breed specific legislation (or “breed bans”) as a strategy for addressing incidents of aggression and reducing dog bites.
While politically popular, breed-specific legislation does not reduce the incidence or severity of dog bites, penalizes responsible pet owners, destroys innocent dogs and are impossible to enforce. Instead, the Society endorses holistic and effective preventative and enforcement strategies that apply to all breeds and all dog owners. A community approach to responsible pet ownership, one that focuses on the behavior of the dog and the owner, is the best way to protect public safety and promote animal welfare.
Breed specific legislation (BSL) is legislation that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds . The most severe form of BSL is a complete ban; but BSL also includes regulations that impose separate requirements on a particular breed. BSL, in all of its forms, results in the destruction of many pet dogs.
Various breeds have been or currently are targeted by BSL, but most recently the regulations have typically been enforced against “Pit bull” types. In this case, most dogs commonly referred to as a pit bull are either a mix of other breeds or are pure-bred of a breed often misidentified as a pit bull. “Pit-bulls” are not a dog breed. Rather than a specific breed, pit bull is more of a generic term to describe a group of dogs with similar characteristics — much as are “hound” and “terrier” — and encompasses both mixes and pure-bred dogs of many breeds. Other dogs commonly affected by BSL include: Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Akita, “Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldogs”, Alaskan Malamute, “American Bandogge”, American Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Belgian Malinois, Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Doberman Pinscher, Dogo Argentino, “Fila Brasileiro”, Miniature Bull Terrier, Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario, Shar Pei, Siberian Husky, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, “Tosa Inu”, and wolf-hybrids. Chihuahuas and Labrador Retrievers have also been the subject of breed bans.
Intense focus on select and isolated incidents of serious dog bites incites fear and hysteria and this is not a sound basis for making effective public policy.
The following organizations do not endorse BSL: Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Canadian Kennel Club, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, Canadian Association of Pet Trainers, National Companion Animal Coalition, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Toronto Humane Society, American Animal Hospital Association, American Bar Association, American Dog Owner’s Association, American Humane Association, American Kennel Club, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Australian Veterinary
Association, Best Friends Animal Society, British Veterinary Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federation of Veterinarians in Europe, Humane Society of the United States, International Association of Canine Professionals, National Animal Control Association, National Animal Interest Alliance, National Association of Obedience Instructors, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (UK & Australia), United Kennel Club, and the White House Administration. In addition, many other provincial and local-level veterinary medical associations and humane organizations oppose BSL.
BSL is widely seen as ineffective public policy.
There is no evidence from studies of dog bites that one kind of dog is more likely to bite a human being than another kind of dog. A recent American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) survey covering 40 years and two continents concluded that no group of dogs should be considered disproportionately dangerous . Additionally, in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on rare events of dog bite-related fatalities, the researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors in these cases . Breed was not identified as a factor.
Breed specific legislation has not succeeded in reducing dog bite-related injuries wherever in the world it has been enacted. A survey of reported dog bite rates in 36 Canadian municipalities found no difference between jurisdictions with BSL and those without .
The Province of Ontario enacted a breed ban in 2005 targeting pit bull/American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire/American Staffordshire bull terriers and all dogs that look like them. In 2010, based on a survey of municipalities across the Province, the Toronto Humane Society reported that, despite five years of BSL and the destruction of “countless” dogs, there had been no significant decrease in the number of dog bites . In 2012, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association held BSL responsible for the unnecessary euthanasia of over 1,000 dogs and puppies, many with no history of violence against people or animals.
Winnipeg, Manitoba enacted a breed ban in 1990. Winnipeg’s rate of dog bite-injury hospitalizations is virtually unchanged from that day to this, and remains significantly higher than the rate in breed-neutral Calgary. Calgary, where responsible pet ownership is emphasized, saw a five-fold reduction over 20 years – from 10 bites per 10,000 people in 1986 to two per 10,000 people in 2006 .Rather than banning breeds, Calgary uses strong licensing and enforcement plus dog safety public education campaigns.
There are a range of factors which play a key role in canine aggression including;
- Inappropriate breed choice for owner lifestyle.
- Lack of appropriate training, socialization, medical care and adequate living conditions.
- Early experience: Puppies are more likely to be aggressive if they are raised by irresponsible breeders who do not provide them with proper socialization and who later sell or give them away to people without adequate matching of breed to owner or owner education .
- Genetic makeup as a result of inappropriate breeding practices or intentional breeding for aggressive traits. Fearful and aggressive dogs are more likely to have aggressive offspring than other dogs, regardless of the breed .
- Failure to spay or neuter. Un-neutered males are involved in 70-76 % of dog bite incidents. Un-spayed females encourage roaming and aggressive behavior in males, regardless of breed .
- Many dog bites are preventable, particularly with education concerning safe behavior of and towards dogs.
- Unaddressed pain, injury and disease.
BSL is difficult to enforce, costly, diverts resources, penalizes responsible pet owners, is open to challenge and demonstrably ineffective.
Breed specific legislation is problematic for many reasons:
- Dangerous dogs may exist in every breed and breed cross. Simply possessing the strength and body features to cause damage do not cause a dog to develop aggression or An individual dog’s temperament is determined by numerous factors, including breeding (genetics), amount and method of training and socialization and treatment by its owner or owners. The influence of humans on acts of canine aggression is frequently downplayed or ignored .
- It deprives owners of due process, with no objective method for establishing whether a mixed breed dog falls under the legislation’s breed definition. There are no efficient methods to determine a dog’s breed in a way that can withstand legal challenge or be a foolproof method for deciding whether an owner is in compliance or violation of laws. As dogs are considered to be the banned breed unless proven otherwise, the law is also open to abuse through false allegations .
- Focusing on breeds gives the public a false sense of security, as individual dogs may be dangerous, regardless of breed; and punishes many dogs that are not dangerous .
- It is costly to enforce, both for municipalities (through increased sheltering and enforcement costs) and the province (through lengthy, expensive and high profile court cases) . There is no reliable way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed in the canine population at any given time making financial planning for enforcement of breed legislation nearly impossible.
- Various jurisdictions have already found that BSL does not work because it targets specific breeds instead of irresponsible owners. Breed specific restrictions in bylaws do nothing to discourage irresponsible behavior by individuals who breed, train, sell or possess dangerous dogs not covered by the breed specific legislation. The Centers for Disease Control in the US noted that, not only is it virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds, but dogs of any breed can become dangerous if they are raised to be aggressive and individuals who exploit dogs will simply turn to another breed.
- This type of ban will result in exclusion of some dangerous dogs and inclusion of dogs that are not dangerous. This treads upon the rights of responsible dog owners who cherish a non-aggressive pet whose breed may fall under the legislation. Conversely, the owner of an aggressive pet whose breed does not fall within the legislation will not be subject to appropriate measures to address the aggressive behavior .
- Breed popularity changes over time — what is identified as a “dangerous breed” today, may be different tomorrow. Some countries with breed specific laws now have upwards of 30 breeds on record, all of which require enforcement .
- The incidence of dog bites has not been shown to be reduced by restricting the ownership of certain dog breeds .
The trend in prevention of dog bites continues to shift in favor of multifactorial approaches focusing on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. Effective laws hold all dog owners responsible for the humane care, custody and control of all dogs regardless of breed or type.
Successful models for dealing with canine aggression do exist. Rather than directing new funds to create and attempt the enforcement of politically charged, yet ineffective public policy, such funds should be directed towards efforts that truly make communities safer. Some recommendations for municipalities to consider regarding dangerous or vicious dogs include:
- Development and enforcement of harmonized animal control bylaws which:
- promote spaying and neutering
- make pet identification mandatory
- include confinement legislation such as leash laws, running at large laws and property confinement laws
- place the burden of responsibility for an animal’s actions on the owner, not the dog
- Creation of tougher animal protection laws to address the animal neglect that may contribute to canine aggression.
- Commitment to education on responsible pet ownership, canine behavior and dog bite prevention.
- Development of well-established guidelines for professional temperament assessment of a dog as dangerous or vicious.
- Registration of aggressive dogs through reporting by veterinarians, groomers, police, postal carriers, animal control officers, meter readers, and humane organizations.
- A protocol to deal with dogs that have been professionally assessed as dangerous or vicious including mandatory remediation by certified specialists for dogs reported as dangerous.
- Creation of resources for owners of dogs with aggression problems, including the identification and certification of specialists who can provide remedial measures for canine aggression.
- Creation of a centralized, accessible database that accurately records dog bite incidents.
- Breed Specific Legislation FAQ. National Canine Research Council. Retrieved from: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/public-policy/breed-specific-legislation-faq
- AVMA Animal Welfare Division. (2012). The Welfare Implications of The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Documents/dog_bite_risk_and_prevention_bgnd.pdf
- Patronek, Sacks, Delise, Cleary, & Marder. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(12), 1726-1736.
- Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Toronto Humane Society. Retrieved from: http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/pdfs/Breed_Specific_Legislation_Jan-14.pdf
- Peat, D. (2010, April 28). Pit bull ban fails to reduce dog bites. The Toronto Sun. Retrieved from: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/04/28/13753106.html
- National Canine Research Council. (2012). Winnipeg, Manitoba Far Behind Calgary in Community Safety. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/news/winnipeg-manitoba-far-behind-calgary-community-safety
- Dangerous Dogs & Public Safety. BCSPCA. Retrieved from: http://spca.bc.ca/programs-services/leaders-in-our-field/position-statements/position-statement-dangerous-dogs-public-safety/
- Dog Breed Restrictions. Edmonton Humane Society. Retrieved from: https://www.edmontonhumanesociety.com/sites/default/files/pdf-uploads/position_statement_dog_breed_restrictions.pdf
- National Canine Research Council. (2014). Breed-Specific Legislation is on the Decline. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/sites/default/files/Breed-specific-legislation-is-on-the-decline-2016.pdf
- The White House. (2013). Breed-Specific Legislation Is a Bad Idea. Retrieved from: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/ban-and-outlaw-breed-specific-legislation-bsl-united-states-america-federal-level/d1WR0qcl
- Voith, Trevejo, Dowling-Guyer , et al. (2013).Comparison of visual and DNA breed identification of dogs and inter-observer reliability. American Journal of Sociological Research, 3(2):17-29.
- Rosado, García-Belenguer, León, & Palacio. (2007). Spanish dangerous animals act: Effect on the epidemiology of dog bites. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2(5): 166-174.
- Cornelissen & Hopster. (2010). Dog bites in the Netherlands: a study of victims, injuries, circumstances and aggressors to support evaluation of breed specific legislation. Veterinary Journal, 186(3): 292-298.
- Patronek, Slater & Marder. (2010). Use of a number-needed-to-ban calculation to illustrate limitations of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the risk of dog bite-related injury. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 237(7): 788-792.