Myths About Canine Aggression: Part XI
I had little idea when I started writing this series that we'd enter into a third week of discussing aggression myths. We will be wrapping the topic up this week and heading into other topics next week. For now, let's examine myth #18 together.
AGGRESSION MYTH #18: BSL PROTECTS COMMUNITIES FROM DOG BITES
Luckily, the audience here at dogster tends to be a fairly dog savvy bunch. Many of you are probably aware of BSL, an acronym which stands for "Breed Specific Legislation." BSL has been implemented by many state and local governments and, depending on the municipality, attempts to ban or severely limit the ownership of breeds which are commonly viewed as "dangerous." Depending on the local laws, dogs on the BSL list are either a) euthanized or b) the owners must jump through incredible hoops to keep their dogs - restrictions may include requiring the dog to be muzzled at all time while in public, requiring all specimens of a certain breed or perceived breed mix to be neutered or spayed, requiring the owner to carry liability insurance policies, post the property with signs indicating a "dangerous dog" lives on the property, etc.
Aside from municipal bans, many insurance providers also will not cover or require substantial additional fees to cover households which include dogs on the "banned breed" lists.
Commonly, "Bully breeds" including various bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Staffordshire Terriers find themselves on BSL lists. BSL lists also frequently include guardian breeds and dogs which are commonly used for protection work, including but not limited to: Chows, Doberman Shepherds, Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois, etc. Often, giant breeds like Great Danes, Newfoundlands, various Mastiffs, Irish Wolfhounds, and my own beloved Saint Bernards are included.
You wipe your brow in relief. I don't own one of those dogs, I must be safe! You may be surprised to realize that in some places, the following breeds also make appearances on the BSL list: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, American Eskimo Dogs, and Pugs. Yes, I said it, pugs.
While the intent of BSL is to prevent dog bites, rarely do these laws serve such a function. There are a number of problematic and insidious elements of BSL which must be examined:
- What about mixed breed dogs? Some mixed breed dogs are so, um, "well-mixed" that ascribing one, two, or even three particular breeds is nigh impossible based on appearances. "Doggy DNA" tests are not terribly reliable. But what if we have a dog that is an obvious mix of two breeds, one of which is on the banned list and the other of which is not? If you live in an area where poodles are not on the list but Golden Retrievers are, what is to be done with the Goldendoodle?
- Who is doing the breed identification? Even "dog nerds" like me are not always able to correctly identify breeds. One day, a student entered my class with what appeared to be a small spaniel/sight hound mix of some sort. Only after her owner informed me did I learn that this dog was in fact a purebred Kooikerhondje. That happened again with a Podenco Andaluz I had in my classroom - I mistakenly took the dog for an Ibizan Hound x of some sort when in fact it was a purebred racing dog. Just for fun, take this test - can you find the "pit bull?"
- What do we do with dogs that actually are aggressive? BSL bans breeds and penalizes owners of these breeds, but what happens when a dog which is not on the list has a serious, established bite history? BSL criminalizes the innocent while failing to include any concrete solutions for those dogs who actually do present a danger to the community.
- BSL penalizes responsible dog owners - both of my dogs (Chow x and Saint Bernard, purebred) are on BSL lists in many areas. How is it fair that I may have to have my dogs euthanized (I wouldn't - I would actually move out of the area if it were required to keep my beasties) when I have probably spent more time training and socializing my dogs than many owners of breeds who are not on the list? Recently, the city of Denver, Colorado, refused an exemption which would allow pit bull service dogs to remain as working partners for their disabled handlers (Boo! Hiss!). I think a well-trained service dog of any breed is far less of a risk to public safety than an untrained dog of any other breed.
There is a fantastic website called stopbsl.com which lists a number of additional problems with BSL:
Why Is BSL Wrong?
* BSL does not improve public safety or prevent dog bites.
* BSL ignores the plight of victims and potential victims of non-targeted breeds.
* BSL is costly.
* BSL requires each and every dog to be identified as a breedsomething that has proven impossible to do accurately and objectively.
* BSL makes targeted breeds more desirable to irresponsible and criminal owners.
* BSL does nothing to make irresponsible dog owners accountable.
* BSL punishes responsible dog owners.
* Not a single canine welfare organization supports BSL.
I know I've referenced it a lot in this series, but Janis Bradley's book Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous also does a fantastic job of dismantling the logical fallacy of BSL - the fact is, BSL has more holes in logic than a well-played game of Jenga. Dangerous dog laws, which are not breed-specific are a far better alternative.