AVSAB, a national association of veterinarians who are board-certified in the specialty of animal behavior, has just released a position statement expressing their opposition to breed-specific legislation. Their position paper notes that they are “concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans,” noting “that such legislation (BSL) – is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.”
“Dogs and owners must be evaluated individually,” the authors conclude, citing the wide range of findings across the literature regarding breeds and bite risk. And many such findings are called into question by the demonstrated unreliability of visual breed identification, particularly with regard to the estimated 46% of the US dog population that are of mixed breed ancestry.
In discussing why dogs bite, these behaviorists point out that while there are many motivations, most occur when the dog feels threatened in some way, and that uncovering the triggers specific to the individual dog and responding appropriately are key to prevention. Understanding the social needs of dogs is particularly important to bite prevention, ranging from appropriate socialization of puppies to including the dog in the family, providing daily, positive interactions with people. Dogs that are kept simply as resident on the property, without such social opportunities, are much more likely to feel threatened by humans and respond accordingly. And owners who teach their dogs, through harsh training methods, that people are indeed dangerous are more likely to evoke aggressive responses from their dogs.
The AVSAB stresses that breed alone is not predictive of the risk of aggressive behavior. Indeed, this recommendation is in line with a recent study of dog bite-related fatalities which reported that in 80.5% of cases, four or more potential risk factors were present. According to this national association of veterinarians who have specialized training in animal behavior, what does work is “responsible dog ownership and public education.” These “must be a primary focus of any dog bite prevention policy.”
The AVSAB also invites you to share this resource, “to discount common fallacies of ‘easy fixes’ that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.” The full position statement can be viewed here: https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Breed-Specific_Legislation_Position_Statement-FINAL.pdf