In a word, “no.”  Many localities across the U.S. have enacted laws that regulate or ban specific breeds of dogs.  Many more localities currently consider following suit.  In the name of public safety, such legislation has targeted American pit bull terriers, bull terriers, Rottweilers, Dalmatians, chows, German shepherds, Doberman pinchers, and any mix of these breeds.  The data used to ban these breeds is unreliable.  While there is no evidence that “breed specific legislation” improves public safety, there is evidence that it does not.  It is likely that the problem with pit bulls has more to do with humans than it does with the dogs.

The Statistics on Dog Attacks: Bull-types, Rottweilers, German shepherds, and huskies are the breeds most often associated with dog bites and dog attack fatalities.  From 1979 to 1998, “bull-type” dogs were implicated in 27% of the 284 recorded dog-bite fatalities.  The five categories of dogs listed above together receive the blame for 59% of dog-bite-fatalities.

Breeds involved in human dog-bite-related fatalities between 1979 and 1998:
bite statistics
Source: Journal of the America Veterinary Association, Vol 217, No. 6: Sept 2000; p. 838.

Do dogs pose a high risk to you?  Statistically speaking, you are 893 times more likely to be killed by accidental exposure to electricity than you are to be killed by a dog.  No, realistically speaking, dogs pose very little risk to people.

Breed Statistics Unreliable: Even though JAVMA is a credible source, the data itself is highly unreliable.  In this study, as with others, untrained people were identifying the breeds.  Breed identification is very difficult.  See for yourself.  Follow the link below to 25 pictures of AKC recognized pure breed dogs.  One is an American pit bull terrier.  How many tries will it take you to identify the pit bull?  Note that a bull terrier is not a pit bull terrier.

Find the pit bull: www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html

Law Found Ineffective: We could find no evidence of a breed banning law actually improving public safety.  However, a task force formed in 2003 did evaluate the effectiveness of the pit bull ban in Prince George County, Maryland.  Even though the county spent roughly $250,000 per year enforcing the ban, the commission concluded that the ban did not reduce dog incidents or improve public safety.  They noted that, as with most localities, there is no transgression committed by animal or owner that is not covered by other laws (vicious animals, nuisance animals, leash laws, etc).  The task force recommended repeal of the expensive and ineffective ban.

Why did the law not work?  One popular theory, supported by the CDC, is that the problem never was with the pit bull.  Rather, the pit bull serves as the dog of choice for people who encourage aggressive behavior from their dogs.  When government removes the pit bull as an option, the same people simply switch to other powerful dogs.  This problem was encountered in Australia.  They started by banning pit bulls.  When that did not achieve the desired effect, they banned German shepherds, bull terriers, and Rottweilers.  When that did not work, they banned all dogs greater than 20 cm in height.

Considering that you are 143 times more likely to be hit by a train than to be killed by a dog, does it really make sense to place such severe restrictions on pet ownership?  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), states that breed banning laws only distract law enforcement agents from more productive endeavors.  The ASPCA supports laws based more on known behaviors and owner responsibility.

What Makes a Dog Dangerous: Experience with humans, socialization, training, and reproductive status serve as reliable predictors of dog behavior.  More than 70% of all dog bites involve intact dogs – dogs that have not been neutered.  Timely neutering of dogs minimizes aggressive behaviors.  In addition, a chained or tied dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than an untied dog.  Dogs often feel trapped by their chains and are more likely to respond aggressively to perceived threats.  Consider fencing or the Invisible Fence to restrain unsociable dogs.  The freedom that the fence provides may give the dog more peace of mind, and an actual fence helps separate strangers from scared dogs.  Most importantly, realize that owners should not allow their dogs to be aggressive.  Training involving much positive reinforcement can rehabilitate many dogs.  Mildly aggressive dogs can benefit from socialization at dog training classes hosted by Healing Springs (click here for information on dog training).

Given these facts, breed-neutral laws and laws focusing on actual bad behavior seem to be the more reasonable approach.  Laws requiring the neutering of aggressive dogs and laws encouraging neutering in general may help prevent the handful of incidents that occur nationwide.  Holding the owners responsible for unprovoked injuries will discourage owners from allowing aggressive behavior.

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