Why are We Still Talking About Dogs as Breeds?

Rottweiler dog If your city or county council is considering a ban on pit bulls or rottweilers, send them the recent study published in the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science. University of Pennsylvania researchers interviewed 6,000 dog owners.

The study involved more than 30 breeds; the dogs were adopted from a shelter. The owners were questioned about jumping, barking, house training, separation anxiety, and aggressive behavior including biting. Researchers evaluated aggression towards strangers, household members and other dogs.

Dachsunds, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell terriers topped the list for the most aggressive breeds.

The least aggressive breeds? Golden retrievers, Basset hounds, Labradors Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Brittany Spaniels, Greyhounds and Whippets, and Siberian huskies.

Pit bull type dogs and rottweilers were rated average or below in aggression or hostility towards strangers.

This is not the first study to establish many other breeds may bite more often than pit bull type dogs. It has been established over and over in studies and reviews of bite statistics in innumerable communities that pit bull type dogs or other so-called aggressive breeds are often not responsible for most bites.

But other than vindicating pit bulls type dogs and rottweilers, the usual targets of breed bans, is this study really relevant?  After all, it still makes breed the determining factor in aggressive behavior. 

Yet, targeting breeds doesn’t reduce incidents of dog bites. In a well known study researchers in the UK examined the frequency and severity of dog-bite injuries at a hospital accident and emergency department. The UK’s Dangerous Dog Act bans four breeds of dogs, the pit bull, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro, as well as mixes and dogs with the behavioral and physical characteristics of these breeds.  Under that law the Secretary of State can also ban any dog bred for fighting or which is of a "type bred for" fighting.

Researchers looked at a three month period before the breed bans and found there were 99 bites, 3% of which were by pit bull types. Two years after the ban was implemented, there were 99 dog bites in a 3 month period, and 5% were by pit bull type dogs. The percentage of bites involving "dangerous" dogs increased from 6% to11% following passage of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

The study also determined that the Act did not result in any decline in dog bite incidents with 73.9% before and 73.1% after enactment of the law. ("Does the dangerous dogs act protect against animal attacks: a prospective study of mammalian bites in the accident and emergency department", 1996, Klaassen B, Buckley JR, Esmail A., Department of Accident and Emergency, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, UK)

In fact, the UK Dangerous Dogs Act was declared a failure in 2007 when it was found numbers of dog bites had risen 10% in a year and 50% since 1998-1999.

A recent Spanish study compared dog bites during a four year period, 1995-1999, before BSL, and those from 2000-2004, following BSL. Breeds listed as dangerous were responsible for only a small percentage of bites both before and after the legislation. ("Spanish dangerous animals act: Effect on the epidemiology of dog bites", 2007, Belén Rosado DVM, MSc,, Sylvia García-Belenguer DVM, PhD, Marta León DVM, PhD and Jorge Palacio DVM, PhD, Animal Pathology Department, Faculty of Veterinary, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain; Merial Laboratorios, S.A., Tarragona, Barcelona, Spain)  
Another study in Germany from 2000-2002 tested several hundred dogs belonging to several breeds including those banned or deemed dangerous according to BSL. 95% of the dogs, regardless of breed, reacted appropriately during testing. 5% displayed excessive aggressive behavior in inappropriate situations. These instances were associated with the dogs’ fear or inappropriate handling by the owner.

The study found no significant difference between breeds and no indication of dangerousness in specific breeds. The study found no justification for the BSL. (Is breed specific legislation justified? Stud of the results of the temperament test of Lower Saxony, 2000-2002, Esther Schalke, DVM, Stefanie A. Off, DVM, Esther Schalke, DVM, Amelie M von Gaertner, DVM, Hansjoachim Hackbarth, DVM, PhD, Angela Mittmann, DVM, PhD, FTA; Institute for Animal Welfare and Behavior, University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, Hanover, Germany)

The results were then compared to tests done on a control group of golden retrievers. Again, no significant difference was found among the breeds in displays of aggressive behavior. There was no scientific basis for BSL. (Is there a difference? Comparison of golden retrievers and dogs affected by breed specific legislation regarding aggressive behavior, 2002, Stefanie A. Off, DVM, Esther Schalke, DVM, Amelie M von Gaertner, DVM, Hansjoachim Hackbarth, DVM, PhD, Institute for Animal Welfare and Behavior, University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, Hanover, Germany)

Basing its opinion on these studies, the Central Administration Court in Berlin, upheld a ruling that voided Lower Saxony’s ban on Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Pit bull Terriers and regulation of Rottweilers and Dobermans.

MastiffIn 2001, a task force on Canine Aggression and Canine-Human Interaction was formed by the American Veterinary Medical Association.  In its paper, "A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention", the task force concluded there is no evidence any breed of dog is more vicious or dangerous than the others.

As long ago as 1996, the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observed in a paper on fatal dog attacks that BSL does not address the reasons dogs bite.

Just last month, in June, 2008, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Gerda Verburg, announced to the parliament that the 15 year old rule banning pit bulls in The Netherlands would be lifted. A rule banning rottweilers that was instituted in 2000 will also be lifted. The reason? The breed specific  legislation failed to reduce incidents of dog bites.

These laws known as RAD or  "Arrangement for Aggressive Animals" exempted registered, purebred dogs. The American pit bull terrier is not recognized as a real breed in The Netherlands and could not be registered. RAD sought to eliminate non-registered dogs if their appearance was of the "pit bull type". The targeted characteristics included a powerful build, a square head, a pointed tail and a short coat.

Dogs meeting these characteristics that were not grandfathered in were confiscated at the age of 6 months and killed, and the owner was fined a minimum of 120 Euros, plus any costs.

After all this death, John Payne, president of The Netherland’s Institute of Animal Control Officers, told the committee that then recommended elimination of the BSL, that an American pit bull terrier could be an "extremely good animal" depending on the owner.

In her research, Dr. Cornelia Wagner, concluded aggression in dogs cannot be determined by appearance. She found no basis to conclude aggression beyond that found in all dogs is hereditary.  (Wagner, Cornelia, DVM, MS, "Are certain dog breeds more dangerous than others?", October 18; 2001; Wagner, Cornelia, DVM, MS, "Is it possible to identify dogs as members of a specific breed?", September 9, 2002.) Also, there are virtually no genetic differences between breeds. (Serpell, J, "The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour, and interactions with people", 2001, Cambridge University Press, pp 162-178).

Also, consider that many dogs involved in bite incidents are mis-identified as pit bulls. The media often mis-reports dogs involved in bites or attacks as pit bulls. Certainly the media fuels public misconceptions about these dogs by highlighting with extended coverage any bite incident involving a pit bull, leading everyone to believe they are maiming and killing people right and left. And, many statistics that attribute bites to pit bulls are actually combining many different breeds together. These statistics often fail to take into account the relative frequency of certain breeds in the particular population. In other words, the frequency of bites by a certain breed will often be a reflection of the percentage of the breed in the population and is not an indicator the breed is more or less dangerous than any other.  

If we know all this, why then are communities continuing to turn to BSL as a "solution" to the "pit bull problem"?  

Look at the bill pending in Ohio, H.B. 568, that would compel owners to surrender their pit bulls to be killed and ban all pit bull type dogs from the state. Wapato, Washington, population 4,575, recently banned pit bulls, "mastiffs", Rottweilers and American Bulldogs.  Worthington, Kentucky, population 1,673, just passed an ordinance banning bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshires, Rottweilers, chow chows, mixed breeds known as pit bulls, any mix of these dogs and also any dogs which have the appearance or characteristics predominantly of any of these breeds.

Osceola, Nebraska, population 931, passed a ban last month on 8 dog breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Chows, Dobermans, Rottweilers, American Bandage Mastiff, Neopolitan Mastiff and any dog with the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly one of the breeds. (Only one person is affected by the Osceola law.)

As if by banning more and more breeds of dogs, we’ll somehow be safer. Except the breed of a dog doesn’t cause it to bite.

It’s time to stop talking about breed and start addressing the real causes of bites. As Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council, http://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/ put it, "It’s the owner, not the dog."


Stop describing or even thinking about dogs in terms of breeds and more in terms of their own unique characteristics and personality.

Convince community decisionmakers that people are not safer unless they address the real reasons dogs bite:

     1. Pass an effective potentially dangerous dog ordinance that recognizes that any dog, regardless of breed, is potentially dangerous or considered dangerous if the dog has demonstrated aggressive behavior. The dangerous dog law should allow for different levels of aggressive behavior. The point is to protect the public by encouraging owners to take action to control and manage their dogs – through spay/neuter, training and pet owner responsibility classes – before their dogs’ behavior causes them to be classified at a higher level of aggression.

The law would assign dogs a level of potential danger, with restrictions and penalties for each level.

A potentially dangerous dog law would require spay/neuter, education and training to encourage owners to take responsibility before a serious injury or death occurs.

Dogs and owners can earn lower levels and dogs can even be declared no longer potentially dangerous. 

  1. Encourage spay/neuter and support funding for free or low cost spay/neuter.

90% of fatal dog attacks are by dogs that have not been spayed/neutered: There is not a single  case of a fatal dog attack by a spayed/neutered pit bull type dog (National Canine Research Council);     

81% of dogs involved in bite incidents were not spayed/neutered (Texas 2002 Severe Animal Attack and Bite Surveillance Summary)

Research cited in a 2000 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association study indicated unsterilized dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite.

   3. Mandate spay/neuter for:

Dogs adopted from shelters or rescues or sold by pet stores or online

Dogs impounded more than once after being found at-large or off-leash

Dogs declared potentially dangerous or dangerous

Dogs owned by felons

   4. Ban tethering or chaining and excessive caging or crating of dogs (also a popular technique by dog fighters to make the dogs more aggressive; the Centers for Disease Control has found tethered or chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite)

Lawrence County, Kansas, adopted an anti-tethering ordinance. From 2005 to 2006, the number of calls concerning cruelty and dog fighting dropped from 800 to 260. Officials attribute the decline in large part to the anti-tethering law.  

The USDA and even the AVMA has said tethering dogs is inhumane.

    5. Pass and enforce strong at large or leash laws or enforce such laws and encourage micro chipping

82% of dog bites occur as a result of dogs that are running loose (JAVMA, September 15, 2000)

After passing a leash law, the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, reported a 35% drop in dog bites.

    6. Address through strong laws and education the problem of animal cruelty

Well over half (61%) of fatal dog attacks are by dogs who were not humanely controlled, or who had in some way been abused or neglected (Delise, Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics))

   7. Offer free or low cost training and education about the importance of socializing dogs early and making them part of the family.

81% of dogs involved in fatal dog attacks were isolated and not part of the family (Delise, Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics))

   8. Pass and enforce strong dog fighting laws that make all aspects of dog fighting illegal and include bonding and forfeiture provisions; organize a dog fighting task force

   9. Require dog breeders to register or obtain licenses, limit breeding by age and numbers, ban training for aggression and fighting, ban the sale of dogs in pet stores and along roadsides, street corners or sidewalks; require inspections of breeders’ facilities and track sales of dogs by breeders.

  10. Help stop the cultural glorification of violence especially involving pit bull type dogs.

One thought on “Why are We Still Talking About Dogs as Breeds?”

  1. Word from Rep Daniels office is that this bill has received such an overwhelming negative response that it will not be brought before even a committee hearing. Thank you Rep Daniels!

    Stay vigilant though and make sure your state represenatives know how you feel about breed bans.

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