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What Is BSL? (Breed Specific Legislation): Vet-Approved Explanation

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on April 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

akita dog standing on the lawn

What Is BSL? (Breed Specific Legislation): Vet-Approved Explanation


Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo


Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dog bites and attacks must be taken seriously. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),1 about 4.5 million dog attacks occur in a year, with about 800,000 of them requiring medical attention. One way that the public has addressed dog attacks was to advocate for and create breed-specific legislation (BSL). These types of legislation allow states and cities to ban the possession of specific dog breeds.

Regardless of personal opinions, it’s important to know about BSL and what your rights are as a dog owner. Being well-informed about state laws regarding dog breed bans can help you avoid preventable incidents and be a better advocate for dogs.

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How Does It Work?

BSL is a law that either restricts or completely bans the possession of specific dog breeds. The idea of BSL became more popular in the 1980s due to media attention around Pit Bull attacks. This led to interest in researching whether certain dog breeds were inherently aggressive, which led to the creation of breed lists that states could use to establish BSL.

BSL quickly became controversial and had both supporters and critics. Some states adopted BSL, while others preemptively created legislation that would outlaw regulations and dog breed restrictions solely based on breed. BSL may be carried out at the state, county or city level.

a pitbull dog standing outdoors
Image Credit: Sophia Tr, Shutterstock

What Dog Breeds Are in BSL?

States with BSL will have slightly differing lists of banned dog breeds. The most common dog breeds to be listed in BSL are Pit Bull breeds. Here is a list of common dog breeds that are typically found in BSL:

rottweiler standing on grass
Image Credit: Shedara Weinsberg, Shutterstock

BSL typically includes any mixed-breed dogs that have any of the restricted breeds in their lineage. The exception to BSL is service dogs. Service dogs are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and are allowed to accompany their handlers in public spaces,2 even if their breed is listed in a state or city’s BSL.

According to the ADA, municipalities must make exceptions for service dogs of a prohibited breed. Municipalities may determine a service dog’s exclusion based on an investigation of the dog’s behavior and history. However, they may not exclude a service dog simply based on fears, generalizations, or assumptions.

Where Is BSL Applicable?

Each state with BSL will have differing rules and regulations for enforcing BSL. Some states will have home-rule exceptions, which means that the state may have some prohibitions on BSL at a state level. However, cities and local municipalities can enact and enforce their own BSL.

The consequences of violating BSL will depend on each state or local municipality’s laws. Owners found in possession of a banned dog breed can face fines, legal fees, and even the loss of their dog. Therefore, it’s important to look into a municipality’s BSL to know your rights.

BSL can significantly limit your dog’s access to dog parks, grooming salons, veterinary care, and other important pet care services. It’s also important to note that home and property insurance companies can place dog breed restrictions and bans in their insurance policies. The argument for supporting dog breed restrictions is that a significant amount of insurance claims are related to dog-related incidents. In 2022 only, dog-related incidents cost insurers about $1 billion.

Dog breed restrictions on home and property insurance can make it very difficult for dog owners to find a new home. Many apartments and rental homes already have pet policies that either have weight limits or ban dogs entirely. Adding dog breed restrictions to the already limited selection of housing options can cause a great deal of stress for dog owners and restrict their access to adequate and affordable housing.

chow chow
Image Credit: Marius-Kristensen, Pixabay

Advantages of BSL

There are mixed opinions of BSL. Those who are in support of it see it as a way to prevent dog bites and injuries. It’s important to remember that some dog breeds are more challenging to train and are best reserved for experienced dog owners. Dogs that aren’t socialized or trained properly can end up becoming aggressive when they feel unsafe or threatened. BSLs can help prevent beginner dog owners from getting dog breeds that require more attention to training.

Disadvantages of BSL

Animal rights activists and organizations are strongly opposed to BSL. BSL can stigmatize certain dog breeds and place them at a significant disadvantage. Pet shops, grooming salons, dog parks, and other pet services can refuse entry for dog breeds listed under BSL. Many breeds, such as Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers, can also face more difficulty getting adopted because of negative assumptions based on their breed.

There are also many responsible dog owners who have well-trained dogs that are under BSL lists. These dogs are still susceptible to unfair treatment simply because of their breed, and people can still refuse to service them, no matter how well-behaved they are. It can even make finding a place to live difficult because renters can place bans on their properties.

german shepherd dog lying on grass outdoors
Image Credit: JenniMack, Shutterstock

BSL in the US

BSL-Enforced States States With Home-Rule Exemptions States With No BSL
Alabama Arizona Alaska
Arkansas California Connecticut
Idaho Colorado Delaware
Indiana Florida Hawaii
Iowa Georgia Maine
Kansas Illinois Massachusetts
Kentucky Minnesota Nevada
Louisiana Montana New Hampshire
Maryland New Jersey Oklahoma
Michigan New York Pennsylvania
Mississippi North Carolina Rhode Island
Missouri Oregon South Dakota
Nebraska Texas
New Mexico Utah
North Dakota Vermont
Ohio Virginia
South Carolina
West Virginia
dog looking up to its owner while getting pet
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How effective is BSL?

The vast majority of dog experts and advocates state that BSL is ineffective and is causing more problems in the long run. It’s also difficult to find any research that supports the effectiveness of BSL. However, there are several studies that indicate that BSL isn’t the most effective way to address and prevent dog attacks and bites. A 2018 study in Denmark saw that BSL didn’t have a significant effect on the total number of dog bites.

Rather than banning dogs based on breed, experts and advocates are in support of more general, breed-neutral legislation that discourages irresponsible dog ownership and promotes education on interacting with dogs appropriately. The argument is that any dog can bite, regardless of breed, and it’s important to treat dogs respectfully and leave them unprovoked.

a siberian husky out in the woods
Image Credit: Anastasiia Cherniavskaia, Shutterstock

Can I move to a state with BSL if I own a dog that’s on the breed list?

There isn’t always a straightforward answer when it comes to moving to a new city or town if you have a dog that’s commonly listed on BSL. It’s best to contact the local municipality to see if it enforces BSL. Since the situation can get complicated, it’s recommended to contact an animal law attorney who practices in the state. An animal law attorney can help you determine if your dog can live with you and let you know your rights as a dog owner.

How likely is it for states to change or remove BSL?

Many animal rights organizations and dog owners are actively advocating for the removal of BSL. Legislation can change on both the local and state levels, and many local communities in states with home-ruled exemptions have repealed BSL in recent years.

Research and studies that disprove the need for BSL are vital in changing locally enforced BSL. It’s also important to find solutions that are proven to be much more effective than BSL. Dog owners can help by participating in surveys and studies around the effects of BSL.

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BSL is a controversial type of legislation. While dog bites and attacks must be taken seriously and addressed properly to keep people and other pets safe, BSL isn’t approved by most animal rights activists and researchers. It can place significant disadvantages on the lives of certain dog breeds and responsible dog owners of breeds often found in BSL lists.

BSL doesn’t just vary from state to state. Different cities and towns in the same state can have differing laws. Therefore, it’s important to check with a local municipality if you want the most accurate information on BSL in the area. If you’re ever facing any challenges or have questions about BSL, you can always speak with an animal law attorney or your local animal rescue for the latest information.

Featured Image Credit: Kseniia Kolesnikova, Shutterstock

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