AVSAB Position Statement on BSL


Photo by J. Nichole Smith | www.mylittleandlarge.com

Communities seeking to enhance community safety, deter dog bites and dog attacks sometimes believe than an “easy fix” is to ban specific breeds. It turns out this strategy never works, according to a new position statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)

Breed specific legislation or BSL occurs when communities ban specific dog breeds. Pit bull-type dogs are always at the top of the list – sometimes the only dogs on the list.

The position statement, co-authored by myself and veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sagi Denenberg of Ontario Canada begins, “AVSAB is concerned about the propensity of various communities reliance on BSL as a tool to decrease the risk of dog bites to humans…AVSAB’s position is that such legislation is ineffective. “

It all begins when public officials and concerned citizens look to point blame after a serious dog bite occurs, or worse if someone is killed as a result of a dog bite. It’s a tragedy. But is there really an epidemic of dog bites in America as some maintain. In other words, is there really a problem?

According to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, there are 83.3 million dogs in America, and according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) about 4.5 million dog bites a year.

Looking at those numbers more carefully, most dog bites occur within families (and mostly to children), and experts agree with adult supervision and appropriate socialization of dogs to children, most bites could have been prevented. Just over two percent of all bites require any hospital stay (according to a study on injuries resulting in hospital visits) ,

While between 1999 and 2006, an average of 27 people (in the U.S.) died annually as a result of a dog attack – a number which ideally would be lower, of course.

Still, it turns out that people are far more dangerous to people than dogs are to people. Over 1,500 children died of child abuse and/or neglect within their own families in 2010 (according to the Administration for Children and Families), and there were over 16,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2010 (according to the CDC). Sadly, in some major U.S. cities more than 27 people can die of homicides in a month.

A common refrain is, “everyone knows that when dogs do attack, it’s a pit bull responsible.” Actually, the CDC stopped tracking alleged breeds responsible for serious dog attacks many years ago for two reasons: The CDC felt what’s most important was what led individual dogs to attack in the first place. But no matter, breeds were likely being misidentified.

It turns out cutting edge genetic testing has proved that the CDC was right. Various studies utilizing modern genetic testing confirm that dogs with a “pit bull look” are mostly merely mixed breed dogs, often with no real pit bull in them.

How a dog looks (phenotype) doesn’t necessarily match up with what a dog is genetically (genotype).

So where BSL exists, dogs who happened to match a profile consistent with what officials believe looks like a pit bull can be removed from a family, and even euthanized, though that dog has done nothing wrong.

And that’s another issue – the reality is that there are a whole lot of dogs in America with a profile that matches what many would call a pit bull. Arguably, dogs with this general look might be described as the All-American dog because there are so many of them. The overwhelming majority are great family pets, who have no history of dog bites.

Besides, data indicates that BSL doesn’t improve community safety.

  • In 2008, the Dutch government repealed a 15-year nationwide pit bull ban after a government study demonstrated that the ban was ineffective.
  • A year later, Italy repealed their ban, with both countries instead concentrating on supporting responsible ownership.
  • Closer to home, Denver enacted their ban in 1989. Since then, the rate of hospitalizations in Denver due to dog bite related injuries has been higher than nearby breed neutral Boulder, CO.
  • In 2013, a national study in Canada found that BSL wasn’t an effective tool to lower dog attacks. However, public education, and dog owners taking responsibility for their pets has proved extremely effective.
  • For example, in Calgary proactive public education programs resulted in a 50 percent decrease in reports of dog aggression. An important focus of these programs is humane education in schools.

Often dangerous dogs are intertwined with socio-economic issues. Perhaps, it’s those issues which public officials need to focus, not a dog breed.

The position statement is free to download at http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements.

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is www.stevedale.tv


5 thoughts on “AVSAB Position Statement on BSL

  1. Karen

    The purpose of breed bans and restrictions is not to prevent "dog bites" but to prevent and eliminate the fatal and disabling dog maulings. To that extent, BSL has been extremely effective. Dog "bites" cannot serve as the gauge of effectiveness. Denver serves as a model to other cities around the country and they have withstood countless attacks on their ban by the pit bull advocacy movement. Over 700 municipalities in the US have bans or restrictions and others are considering them. When is the last time someone was fatally mauled or disabled by a dog attack in Germany? Or Denmark? Or Denver?

  2. Karen

    Unfortunately, the ban doesn't include Staffordshire Terriers which are the same as pit bulls. Here in the US, owners used to be able to double register them - as American Pit Bull Terriers in the UKC and American Staffordshire Terriers in the AKC. I know you could still do it up to just a few years ago and perhaps you still can. Regardless of how they are registered in the UK, they are still pit bulls (as are Bull Mastiffs). Little Milley Ann Hemley had her foot torn off by the family's Staffordshire terrier a couple years ago right before Christmas. I believe the UK has had around 20 dog fatalities since 2005 (I had difficulty finding a firm number). We've had more than that this year!

  3. mattbl

    Most dog attacks I see coming from the UK are not Staffordshire Terriers (or APBTs).

    How do you call a Bull Mastiff a pit bull? What are you defining a pit bull as? From what I can tell, you're dubbing any dog from the Molosser line a "pit bull," which is just silly. However, it explains how DBO comes up with their numbers.

    I should also clarify that when I initially said the UK has a "definite problem," I mean within the scope of dog bite related fatalities and in relation to other countries. If you're looking at DBRFs per capita, not a single country in the world has a statistically significant "problem." 20-30 deaths a year in the US is statistically insignificant.

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