Breed-Specific Legislation

a failure in the United States in the United Kingdom in Spain in Denmark in Italy in the Netherlands in Ireland worldwide 

Targets looks, not behavior
Doesn't prevent incidents
Ignores individual behavior
Creates false sense of safety

Efforts have been made to evaluate the effect of BSL in various countries where it has been implemented in an attempt to decrease injurious dog bites. Such research has shown BSL to have failed to enhance public safety in every case.

The Reseach

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) has been tried in various counties but found to be ineffective. Different methods were used to assess its impact, including examining hospital injury records, bites reported to authorities, and surveys of dog owners. Some studies focused on identifying changes after implementing BSL, while others compared communities with and without restrictions. Across various cultures and perspectives, the findings remain remarkably consistent. 

Given the latest research from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which has discovered little connection between dog breeds and behavior, it’s not surprising that BSL has proven to be ineffective globally.

United Kingdom

Medical researchers in the UK began looking for effects of the Dangerous Dog Act, the earliest national BSL legislation in 1991, 2 years after the legislation was enacted. They found “little impact on rate of attendances for such injuries [dog bites] since the introduction of the 1991 Act. If legislation aims to reduce and prevent injury from animal bites,” the authors continued, “in its present form it does little to protect the public” (Klassen et al, 1991).


Scientists in Denmark concluded that “Despite using more credible and sound methods [than previous
research on the topic], this study supports previous studies showing that breed-specific legislation seems to have no effect on dog bite injuries. In order to minimize dog bite injuries in the future, it would seem that other interventions or non-breed-specific legislation should be considered as the primary option (Nilson, et al, 2018).


A group of researchers commissioned by the Dutch government to assess BSL in the Netherlands concluded that the number of bites delivered by dogs of a particular breed was primarily driven simply by how many dogs there were of that breed. “8/10 of the most popular breeds were the most common biters (including the highly polymorphic group of mixed breed/mongrel).” “Removing the most common
biters would also imply removing the most common breeds.” It should be noted that these researchers
designed made efforts to mitigate the usual weakness of breed identification in such studies. Thefindings led to the abolition of BSL in the Netherlands (Cornelissen and Hopster, 2010).


Researchers in Ireland found no “evidence of any differences between legislated and non-legislated for
the medical treatment to victims required following the bite, and the type of bite inflicted.” Dogs identified as dangerous according to Irish BSL were no more likely to deliver injurious bites than dogs who were not restricted. (Creedon, 2017)


Researchers in Florence, Italy, found that “Italian breed-specific legislation on dangerous dogs did not lead to remarkable changes in the trend of dog bites nor in the canine breeds involved” (Mariti et al, 2015).


Researchers in Spain found that, “dogs in the dangerous breeds list . . . , were involved in a small proportion of the incidents both before and after the introduction of legislation. The present results suggest the implementation of the Spanish legislation exerted little impact on the epidemiology of dog
bites. Besides the scarce effectiveness, the results suggest that the criteria to regulate only so-called DB were unsuitable and unjustified” (Rosado et al, 2007).

The United States

Twenty-two states in the United States have laws that prevent local governments from creating legislation specific to breeds of dogs.

Researchers in Missouri concluded that “no association was found between emergency department visits for dog bite injuries and whether the municipality enacted Breed-Specific Legislation.” The authors stated that “breed discriminatory laws have not reduced the risk of emergency department visits for injury from dog bites in Missouri” (Wyker and Gupta, 2023). In the US, BSL legislation is a community by community issue, although some states have prohibited such local regulations altogether. As a result of this localized approach, there have been few attempts to study the effects of such legislation. In Missouri, however, many communities have enacted BSL, so it was possible to compare dog bite injury rates between communities with and without such legislation, matched according to population characteristics, estimates of dog ownership rates, and housing factors. More than a dozen Missouri communities have rescinded their BSL regulations as it has become clear that they have no impact on public safety. (Wyker, B. and Gupta, M., 2024)

Additionally, approximately half the population of dogs in the United States are not a member of any breed at all. 


Klaassen B, Buckley JR, Esmail A. Does the Dangerous Dogs Act protect against animal attacks: a prospective study of mammalian bites in the Accident and Emergency Department. Injury 1996;27:89–91

Nilson, F., Damsager, J., Lauritsen, J. and Bonander, C., 2018. The effect of breed-specific dog legislation on hospital treated dog bites in Odense, Denmark—A time series intervention study. PloS one13(12), p.e0208393

Cornelissen, J.M. and Hopster, H., 2010. Dog bites in The Netherlands: a study of victims, injuries, circumstances and aggressors to support evaluation of breed specific legislation. The Veterinary Journal186(3), pp.292-298. 

Creedon N, Ó’Súilleabháin PS. Dog bite injuries to humans and the use of breedspecific legislation: a comparison of bites from legislated and non-legislated dog breeds. Ir Vet J 2017;70:23.

Mariti, C., Ciceroni, C. and Sighieri, C., 2015. Italian breed-specific legislation on potentially dangerous dogs (2003): assessment of its effects in the city of Florence (Italy). Dog Behavior1(2), pp.25-31.

Rosado, B., García-Belenguer, S., León, M. and Palacio, J., 2007. Spanish dangerous animals act: effect on the epidemiology of dog bites. Journal of Veterinary Behavior2(5), pp.166-174.

Wyker, B. and Gupta, M., 2024. Emergency department visits for dog bite injuries in Missouri municipalities with and without breed-specific legislation: a propensity score-matched analysis. Frontiers in public health, 12, p.1354698

Villalbí, J.R., Cleries, M., Bouis, S., Peracho, V., Duran, J. and Casas, C., 2010. Decline in hospitalisations due to dog bite injuries in Catalonia, 1997–2008. An effect of government regulation?. Injury prevention, 16(6), pp.408-410.

Raghavan, M., Martens, P.J., Chateau, D. and Burchill, C., 2013. Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog-bite injury hospitalisations in people in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Injury prevention, 19(3), pp.177-183.

Other studies to note:

Another Spanish study (done in Catalonia) is sometimes misrepresented as showing a decrease in dog bites as a result of BSL. This is not what the researchers found. They found a decrease in hospitalizations for dog bite injuries primarily in rural areas of the community after new regulations requiring responsible pet ownership including licensing, confinement, and control. Several years later, BSL restrictions were added, but injuries did not decline further (Villabi, 2016).

A puzzling study from Manitoba, Canada, is the only exception to the consensus in the scientific literature on BSL and dog bite injuries. The authors claim that BSL resulted in reduced dog bite hospitalizations. The findings, however, do not stand up to any scrutiny of the study’s own data. The most robust result involving a total of 475/838 (56.7%) of hospitalizations showed no significant difference in rates post- vs. pre-BSL but this is not mentioned in the Abstract, the place where the most important results are always described. More specifically, the claim of a “province wide” reduction in hospitalizations post BSL implementation ignores the fact that the reduction, which did not reach the level of statistical significance, occurred only in communities without BSL; the ones with BSL saw no improvement. The other primary claim that hospitalizations decreased more in Winnipeg than in Brandon, a town 1/14 its size, is equally baffling in that no statistically significant decrease was actually found in either location. (Raghavan, 2013)

Here is where you can dive deeper

The National Canine Research Council has an extensive library of resources demonstrating how and why Breed-Specific Legislation fails to ensure the safety of communities.