Breed-specific discrimination and the restrictive laws inspired by it profoundly impact innocent dogs and responsible pet guardians. Simply because of a dog’s appearance, he may be labeled as aggressive and dangerous by an apartment complex, a local neighborhood, or even an entire city. His caretaker is then met with a difficult ultimatum: Relocate immediately or rehome your pet who has not acted as an aggressive animal in any way, but has still been arbitrarily labeled as such.
We see feverish opinions about specific breeds and the dangers associated with them daily in the media and on our personal feeds, but current research confirms that these are just opinions and not facts. The American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, concluded in a peer-reviewed study that no dog breeds were found to be “disproportionately dangerous” and that “it has not been demonstrated that introducing a breed-specific ban will reduce the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community.”
Since neither science nor statistical information supports breed-specific discrimination, major health and animal organizations are unified in their staunch opposition to it. The Humane Society of the United States, American Bar Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more have all insisted that breed-specific legislation (BSL) is ineffective.
Despite there being no rational basis in viewing particular kinds of dogs as inherently more dangerous, these sentiments continue to influence the thoughts and behaviors of others. If you are walking a German Shepherd or an American Bulldog down the street, more people will avoid you than if you were walking a Golden Retriever. Families visiting animal shelters overlook these breeds and their mixes because of perceived threat levels, which results in more of these dogs being euthanized each year. And of course, many pet guardians are forced to relinquish their dogs at these shelters because of living restrictions imposed by baseless fear tactics.
If a community is aiming to reduce dog bite incidents, it needs to ensure that pet guardians develop a better understanding of canine behavior, that children are educated regarding safety around animals, and that ordinances against guardians who have had aggressive dog incidents are enforced. This places the responsibility back where it belongs: on the humans who choose to live and interact with companion animals. While certain kinds of dogs do have more physical power and energy than others, it is the pet guardian’s obligation to train and adequately socialize the animal so that those power and energy levels do not transform into habits that impact others negatively. If a pet guardian neglects his or her duties, the dog has an increased chance of developing temperament issues, whether he is a Chihuahua or a Rottweiler.
Dogs and their guardians must be evaluated individually–this is the only way to ensure fairness and honor the findings studies on breed discrimination offer us. As a general rule, we should hold all dog guardians responsible for the humane care, custody, and control of all dogs, regardless of their breed or type, and not impose universal rules on animals that appear intimidating. Stereotyping is harmful to pets, their guardians, and the larger, collective goals many of us have in mind for a society that treats all animals with compassion.