Breed-specific legislation, or BSL, can be a wide-ranging set of laws that prevent or restrict dog ownership based on systemic bias against people and unfounded stereotypes about a variety of dogs.
Being faced with having to give up your family pet because of arbitrary, outdated laws can be scary. National Canine Research Council has put some tools together to get you started on ending BSL in your community.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL), also referred to as breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), is a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds. The most drastic form of BSL is a complete ban; but BSL also includes any laws or governmental regulations that impose separate requirements or limitations, including but not limited to: mandatory spay-neuter, mandatory muzzling, liability insurance requirements, special licensing and additional fees, mandatory microchipping or tattoos, owner / walker age requirements, property posting requirements, confinement and leash requirements, breed-specific pet limits, sale or transfer notification requirements, restrictions on access to certain public spaces with the dog [e.g.: public parks, school grounds], required town-issued items [e.g.: fluorescent collar; vest], training requirements, and requirement that photos of the dog and/or owner be kept on town file. BSL, in all of its forms, results in the destruction of many pet dogs.
BSL began in the 1980s as a direct response to the racist claim that a Black man with a “pit bull” dog is a drug dealer who uses that dog to intimidate and attack people. This stereotype was plastered all over magazines and used as an excuse to prevent diversity in communities.
Unfortunately, although breed-specific legislation is on the decline, some politicans still defend its use – some even saying the quiet part out loud and stating that it’s the dog owners they don’t want in their community, not the dogs themselves.
All of the following organizations do not endorse BSL:
American Animal Hospital Association, American Bar Association, American Dog Owner’s Association, American Humane Association, American Kennel Club, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Australian Veterinary Association, Best Friends Animal Society, British Veterinary Association, Canadian Kennel Club, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federation of Veterinarians in Europe, Humane Society of the United States, International Association of Canine Professionals, National Animal Control Association, National Animal Interest Alliance, National Association of Obedience Instructors, Pet Professional Guild, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (UK & Australia), United Kennel Club, and the White House Administration. In addition, many state and local-level veterinary medical associations and humane organizations oppose BSL.
An Irish study found that bites from dogs labeled as legislated breeds in the country were no more severe than those from dogs labeled as non-legislated, and neither group was more likely to deliver a bite that required greater medical attention than the other.
Additionally, in a multifactorial study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on the exceptionally rare events of dog bite-related fatalities, the researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors in these cases. Breed was not identified as a factor.
In addition to outright bans of dogs based on how they look, BSL can include:
Various breeds have been or currently are targeted by BSL. In the United States, jurisdictions have either banned or put discriminatory restrictions on one or all of the following (please note that names in quotes are not recognized breeds of dogs by the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club, yet they appear in municipal legislation as written):
Akita, “Alapaha Blue Blood Bull dog,” Alaskan Malamute, “Alsatian,” “Alsatian Wolf Dog,” “American Bandogge,” American Bulldog, American Bully, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, “Aussie Bull Dog,” Belgian Malinois, “Banter Bull Dog,” Boerboel, Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, “Ca de Bou,” “Canary Dog,” Cane Corso, “Catahoula Bull Dog,” Chihuahua, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, “Deerhound,” Doberman Pinscher, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, “Dorset Olde Tyme Bull Dog,” English Bulldog, “Fila Brasileiro,” French Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog, Great Dane, Kuvasz, “Malamute,” Mastiff, Miniature Bull Terrier, Neapolitan Mastiff, “Olde Boston Bull Dog,” “Old Country Bulldog,” “Pit bull,” “Pit bull terrier,” Perro de Presa Canario, “Presa Mallorquin,” Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Shar Pei, Siberian Husky, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, “Tosa Inu,” “Victorian Bull Dog,” “Valley Bull Dog,” “Wolfhound.” These ordinances also target dogs suspected of being mixes of one or more of the named breeds.
Breed-specific legislation is most often enforced by animal control officers visually identifying a dog’s breed or breed mix. This is an ineffective way of identifying a dog’s heritage. There is a large body of scientific research showing that visual identification is inaccurate.
It is our position that BSL is unconstitutional, violating the 5th and 14 amendments.
BSL is often vague, in large part due to the use of visual identifcation for enforcement.
And, whether we like it or not, pets are considered property. Property cannot be seized without due process. Taking a person’s pet away without fair enforcement procedures is a violation of a dog owner’s civil rights.
Read more about how we’re proving that BSL is unconstitutional.
Outside of the “pit bull” dog label, BSL has grown to include a variety of other breeds based on implications about who owns those “types” of dogs. Most recently, many Asian breeds are being added to breed restriction lists. This is undoubtedly tied to the racism Asian-Americans are currently experiencing in the United States.
No. BSL has not succeeded in reducing dog bite-related injuries wherever in the world it has been enacted.
•An evidence-based analysis published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association explains one reason that BSL could not be expected to work even if particular breeds could be identified as high risk. The authors calculated the absurdly large numbers of dogs of targeted breeds who would have to be completely removed from a community in order to prevent even one serious dog bite-related injury. For example, in order to prevent a single hospitalization resulting from a dog bite, the authors calculate that a city or town would have to remove more than 100,000 dogs of a targeted group. To prevent a second hospitalization, double that number.
•Prince George’s County, Maryland’s breed-specific law was assessed by a Task Force in 2003, which reported that “public safety is not improved as a result” of their BSL.
•A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, compared medically treated dog bites in Aragon, Spain for 5 years prior to and following enactment of Spain’s “Law on the legal treatment of the possession of dangerous animals” (sometimes referred to Spain’s Dangerous Animal Act) (2000). The results showed no significant effect in dog bite incidences when comparing before and after enactment of the BSL.
•The Netherlands repealed a 15-year-old breed ban in 2008 after commissioning a study of its effectiveness.
•The Province of Ontario in Canada enacted a breed ban in 2005. In 2010, based on a survey of municipalities across the Province, the Toronto Humane Society reported that, despite five years of BSL and the destruction of “countless” dogs, there had been no significant decrease in the number of dog bites.
•The Best Friends Fiscal Impact Calculator allows you to calculate an estimate of the additional expenses for a community (and its taxpayers) that would result from BSL (costs for enforcement, kenneling, euthanasia, and litigation, among others): http://bestfriends.guerrillaeconomics.net/
•In Prince George’s County, Maryland the 2003 Task Force assessment estimated that between 2001-2002 expenditures due to confiscations in the county due to BSL totaled approximately $560,000. That estimate did not include other expenses, such as utilities, manpower, or overtime, and did not include expenditures of the County or Municipal Police Departments, which also expend efforts with respect to the breed-specific law.
•The Department of Justice guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) state that it is contrary to the Act to deny a disabled person equal access to public facilities based upon the presumed breed of their service dog. This has exposed municipalities with BSL to litigation costs when they have attempted to deny such access based on the presumed breed of a person’s service dog.
There is a growing awareness that BSL does not improve community safety and penalizes responsible dog owners and their family companions. From January 2012-May 2014, more than seven times as many American communities have either considered and rejected a breed-specific ordinance, or repealed an existing one, as have enacted BSL. As of July 2017, twenty U.S. states have enacted state laws that prohibit their towns and counties from regulating dogs on the basis of breed.
The best ways to reduce dog bite-related incidents in a community are multifactorial approaches focusing on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of canine behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement  of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. Effective laws hold all dog owners responsible for the humane care, custody, and control of all dogs regardless of breed or type.
Breed labels assigned to dogs of unknown origin are often inaccurate, and observers don’t agree on visual breed identification.
See which areas across the U.S. have repealed or rejected breed-specific legislation and which ones still have it.
The goal of pet ownership laws and animal control ordinances should be to raise and maintain the standards of pet ownership from problematic to acceptable. Doing so protects the interests of people with pets, people without pets, and the entire community
We’re holding lawmakers accountable when they uphold laws that violate the constitutional rights of individuals.
If you need paper copies of any of our resources you can request them through the form linked below.
Help us collect data about the personal impact of breed restrictions, including BSL, by taking our survey.