Where’s the proof that Breed Specific Legislation works?

September 18, 2007


Kellie Snider

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst

Co-Developer of the Constructional Aggression Treatment for Dogs




For the past 2.5 years I have been at work with Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz developing an effective behavior change procedure for the treatment of aggression in dogs in the natural settings where the dogs live. In the course of our work the procedure has been painstakingly evaluated. Data is collected each step of the way, compared to earlier data, and examined in the current environment. When something did not work, we went back to the drawing board, took a closer look, and either adjusted the treatment or eliminated the component that was either detrimental or useless. If it did not work or did not produce a meaningful change, it did not stay in the procedure.


Breed specific legislation (BSL) has not been subjected to this kind of scrutiny.  If it has the data are not seeing the light of day. BSL is an attempt by the legal system to resolve the canine aggression problem. Unfortunately, the data cited to determine whether breed specific legislation is justified is the wrong data. The question researchers need to ask to validate BSL is, “Are there fewer dog attacks per capita after BLS was enacted than before it was enacted?” They might even add the question, “Are the attacks less severe?” Instead, the data typically cited to defend BSL involves the number of people attacked by a specific breed of dog (Nelson, 2005). There is little or no data other than anecdote available to the public about whether eliminating specific breeds of dogs from a community actually reduces the numbers of dog bites, attacks or dog-related fatalities. If they are not making the data public either they are not collecting the data, which is unacceptable, or there is something they don’t want us to see.


Dogs of any breed obtained for the purpose of fighting, guarding and protection are high on the list of dogs that attack and kill. Dogs of any breed kept in the yard on a chain or in a pen outside are among the dogs most likely to kill. Dogs of any breed that are allowed to roam loose or that are abused or neglected are more likely to kill than other dogs. Unneutered male dogs are frequently counted among those dogs that bite. (Delise, 2002)


If you take all the pit bulls out of a community, the people likely to harbor dangerous dogs will keep another large, powerful breed. The people who kept a pit bull outside on a chain will keep another breed outside on a chain. The people who abused or neglected a pit bull will abuse and neglect another breed of dog. The people who let their pit bull roam will let the dog that replaces their pit bull roam. Families that owned unneutered-male pit bulls are likely to obtain and keep intact another breed of dog. When children are allowed to interact unattended with unfamiliar dogs, chained dogs, penned dogs and family pets with histories of unresolved aggression it can be a recipe for disaster no matter what the breed. Getting rid of a breed without changing how people care for and manage their dogs will not solve any dog attack problems. 


Before another community enacts breed specific legislation statistical comparisons must be made between the before and after picture in those communities where BSL has already been enacted. To determine whether BSL is valid we do not need more proof that pit bulls are strong, powerful dogs. Everyone already knows that. But people who spend time around dogs also know that many pit bulls are friendly, gentle animals despite their strength. If communities are going to enact BSL someone needs to demonstrate that it works. So far I have not seen the data.


With pit bulls out of the picture there will still be dog attacks. Denver, Colorado banned pit bulls in 1989, and in a 1994 study Chow Chows and German Shepherds had taken their place as the dogs most likely to bite (Gershman, Sacks & Wright, 1994). Can you imagine the outcry if a community tried to ban German Shepherds? Without data showing that BSL results in a statistically significant decrease in dog attacks, legislators are misleading their community’s citizens if they claim that the knowledge that pit bulls are strong and powerful necessarily means that eliminating them will eliminate the problem of dangerous dog attacks.


Where is the data?  Until there are valid data to compare the numbers of attacks before and after enactment of BSL no one can claim that it will do anything more than cause dissention among proponents and opponents of breed specific legislation. For that we have plenty of proof.



Delise, K.A. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: The stories behind the statistics. Slanesville, WV.

Gershman KA, Sacks JJ, Wright JC. (1994). Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors.     Pediatrics 93:913-7.

Nelson, K.A. (2005) One City’s Experience: Why pit bulls are more dangerous and breed specific        legislation is justified. Municipal Lawyer. 406-6.

© Kellie Snider, 2007


3 Responses to “Where’s the proof that Breed Specific Legislation works?”

  1. mike glass Says:

    Something even more insidious than BSL is non-coverage of “dangerous” breeds by insurance companies. With BSL there is at least public hearings on the subject. Insurance companies can change your coverage or decide which dog breeds are not acceptable at their whim. I just recently learned about this. Many breeds are being excluded including Pits, GSDs, Rotties, Dobermans, etc. I have not checked with my insurance company yet.

  2. Pres.DLCC Says:

    BSL does rely on genetics being the primary determining factor behind why dogs bite.It is nothing more than canine profiling.Your data cited is correct and refreshing to read it in such a forum.Hats off to you!

  3. Carol McEver Says:

    I, too think it is very unfair and wrong that homeowner’s insurance should be affected by what pet you own or do not own. Maybe if you have a dog that has a record as being a biter AND the insurance company finds that you do not have the dog in a very secure place 24/7, it could be an issue. But not just because you have a dog that is being made a monster in the press at the moment, or because you have 2 or 3 large dogs they think “might” get out of your home or yard and “might” attack someone. Insurance should work the way it always has, the more claims filed against it, the higher the premiums and/or possibility of being dropped as an insured. They should not be able to deny coverage or make you pay exhorbitant premiums because of something horrible that may or may not ever happen that they might have to cover you for. The world is getting crazier all the time. It seems it is all about money. Getting more, losing less, higher prices for consumers and lots less for those higher prices.

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