Why Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban Won’t Reduce Dog Bites

shutterstock_345982475Ignoring scientific evidence, and even what local residents wanted, Montreal recently enacted a ban on dogs called pit bulls.

As always occurs, a ban is a result of a knee-jerk response resulting from a dog attack. In this case, the ban was enacted about three months after a brutal dog attack claimed the life of Christiane Vadnais. Clearly, this was a tragedy. Her family pushed for the ban, and succeeded.

Montreal City Council voted September 27 in favor of changes to its animal control bylaw that included a ban on new ownership of pit bull and pit bull-type dogs. The final vote was 37-23 in favor of the ban.

Not only did the Vadnais’ family support the ban; so does the City’s Mayor. "My duty as Mayor of Montreal is making sure I am working for all Montrealers," said Denis Coderre. "And I am there to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe."

Supporters suggest Montreal will be safer from serious dog attacks because of the breed ban. However, it turns out that breed bans don’t decrease the number of serious dog attacks. I know this.

In 2014, I co-authored published study with Sagi Denenberg, DVM, DACVB, Dip. ECAWBM, MACVSc (Behaviour) to determine if breed bans achieve their purpose, to lessen the number of dog bites. In fact, breed bans have absolutely no impact on public safety.

So, how can serious dog attacks be decreased?

It turns out that thinking about breed is merely a distraction, and irrelevant.

Dogs targeted as pit bulls are, in fact, typically mixed breed dogs. Pit bull bans are nebulous since the community doesn't even really know what it is banning. It is NOT banning a breed, but instead banning dogs with a certain look or phenotype. A ban based on looks seems wrong any level, doesn't it?

Also, the ban assumes all dogs with “the look” are potentially dangerous based on the actions of one individual.

Making matters even worse, in this instance the genetic tests of the individual dog guilty of the attack weren’t even revealed when the breed ban was enacted.

Another way to prevent dog bites is simply to enforce dangerous dog laws that already exists (for any breed or mix of breeds), and not giving dangerous dogs a chance to attack a second time. For this individual dog in Montreal, it’s reportedly the third attack on a human. The crime is that this dog was allowed to attack three time, and that the response is to blame dogs who would never, as they say, hurt a fly.

Clearly public officials in Montreal assumed they know more about dogs than veterinarians and behavior experts who advised against the ban. These officials were driven by emotion and misinformation, combined with prejudices against dogs called pit bulls.

I am shocked that in a city as large and as cosmopolitan as Montreal, there are so many public officials who are so unwilling to listen and so dim-witted.

What follows is a version of a testimony which I offered in various communities considering breed specific legislation. Mostly, public officials who have heard (and read) my words, combined with the testimony of others understand dog bite prevention begins with responsible ownership:

Today, we know why there are serious dog attacks. They are (in no particular order) 2,3,4,5

  • Dogs involved in crime or used as accessories to crime.
  • Dogs involved in the particular crime of dog fighting.
  • Dogs purchased for the sole purpose of ‘protection.’
  • Dogs that are tethered or kept in yards and break out – and wander without adult supervision. Or dogs left in yards without supervision.
  • Unaltered male dogs – not because they are more aggressive – but because they want to meet, well, a “hot looking babe” – and they find ways over or under fences and roam neighborhoods, sometimes threatening people in the process.
  • Dogs that are not properly socialized
  • Public complaints about individual dogs not being acted upon by officials. These dogs typically have a previous history of dog bites and/or aggression.

Serious dog bites do happen, and so do fatalities. However, they are relatively rare events when considering there are 70 million dogs in the U.S6, 7.

I don’t ever make light of a dog bite. But it’s a fact; more people are treated in hospitals for falling out of bed than for dog bites6,. As for seriousness of dog bites, hospital emergency rooms report over 92 per cent to be “no injury,” and less than one percent “moderate to critical. 8

When monitoring dog bite related fatalities, the U.S. Center for Disease Control decided years ago to stop tracking the breed involved because many guess wrong about what the breed is, or mix….and what matters most anyway is what prompted a dog to attack, and the reasons for the attack (which I previously described the most common). The CDC and AVMA and HSUS said in one published report, breed – even if identified correctly – is irrelevant9.

Dogs with a certain look or phenotype are as a group called pit bulls. Today, a result of genetic testing, we know they are mostly merely mixed breed dogs10. And right or wrong, good or bad, there are an awful lot of them – arguably they are today’s All-American dog. It may be these dogs called pit bulls are the most common dogs in America. But you are considering banning or placing restrictions among dogs who share a certain look or type. Because a dog looks a certain way, it’s assumed that the dog may be dangerous – it’s an assumption based without a single shred evidence.

Also, maybe most important – breed bans don’t work to enhance public safety. Just last year I co-authored a position statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior on breed bans and their effectiveness11.

It turns out that breed bans do nothing to enhance public safety. So where there are breed restrictions and bans – bites happen anyway.

What seems to work is addressing those seven bullet points regarding why any dog of any breed or mix might attack, as well as public education – including information on avoiding dog bites.

At the end of day, simply put – a dog is a dog. And dogs are still man’s best friends.

Steve is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the author of several books, including ebooks “Good Cat!” and “Good Dog!” He’s a co-editor of “Decoding Your Dog” (by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists” which Victoria wrote the foreword. He’s the host of several radio shows, including nationally syndicated Steve Dale’s Pet World, and can be heard on WGN Radio, Chicago. He has a long list of TV credits., from Oprah to Animal Planet shows, including his current appearances on “HouseSmarts TV. He serves on several Boards, including Winn Feline Foundation.
His website/blog: www.stevedalepetworld.com.


1 Steve Dale: www.stevedale.tv

2 Gilchrist, J., Sacks JJ, White D, et al. Dog Bites; Still A Problem? Injury Prevention, 2008 14:296:30 doi: 10. 1136 p. 2007.

3 S Heath Why Do Dogs Bite? Eur J. Companion Animal Practice 2005: 15 (2) 29-32.

4 Serpell J., Jagoe J. Early Experience and the Develop of Behavior In. “The Domestic Dog: It’s Evolution, Behaviour and Interaction with People,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; 1995.

5 Patronek, G., Sacks JJ, Delise, KM et all Co-Corrance of Potentially Peventable Factors in 256 Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2013, 243-263 doi: 10. 1016/SOI 68-1591 (96) 011-24.

6 Delise, K. “The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression,” (Anubis Publishing, Arbor Books, Ramsey, N.J.), 2007.

7 American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Population Statistics, AVMA Sourcebook; https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-pet-ownership.aspx.

8 Langley, R.L., Animal-Related Injuries Resulting in Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations in the US., 2006-2008. Hum Wild L Interact 2012; 6 (1): 123-136.

9 Sacks J.J., Sinclair L., Gilchrist J., Golab. GC., Lockwood R.,
Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and         1998; Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol 217, No. 6, September 15, 2000, pp 836-840 http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

10 Voith, VL, Trevejo R, Dowing-Guyer, S. et al Comparison of Visual and DNABreed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability American Journal Sociological Responsibility 2013;3(2): 17-29. Doi: 10.5923 j: sociologiy 201300302.02.

11  Dale, S.; Denenberg, S. Position Statement: Breed Specific Legislation, American Veterinary Society Animal Behavior, 2015. http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/Breed-Specific_Legislation-download-_8-18-14.pdf.

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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


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