Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL, is a term used to describe a law or group of laws that have been made to place any kind of restrictions upon the owners of a particular dog breed or breeds (or a general "type" of dog). In general, these laws ban or restrict the ownership of specific dog breeds or types without consideration of owner responsibility.
When communities introduce Breed Specific Legislation, it is intended to protect citizens. The goal is to minimize instances of dog aggression by eliminating so-called "dangerous" dog breeds.
Most often, BSL is focused upon breeds such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Mixes of these breeds and dogs that resemble these breeds are often included in the regulations.
The BSL Controversy
Breed Specific Legislation has its fair share of supporters and opponents, and each side tends to be quite passionate about its position.
Simply stated, BSL supporters reference various statistics involving dog attacks that resulted in injuries or even fatalities as a reason to ban or regulate particular breeds. There are numerous studies that appear to prove that certain dog breeds are more likely to attack. One of the more commonly cited studies was conducted by the CDC (view the PDF of this study). By banning or regulating the breeds that top the dog bite statistics, it is believed that dog attacks will decrease.
In general, BSL opponents believe that targeting particular dog breeds is not the solution, but that the focus should be placed upon prosecuting irresponsible owners and monitoring or destroying individually dangerous dogs. Examples of irresponsible dog ownership include factors known to increase the likelihood of a dog attack, such as allowing a dog to roam free (especially unneutered males), chaining up a dog, abusing/neglecting a dog (including dog fighting), failure to socialize a dog and more.
The Problem With BSL
Breed Specific Legislation will not solve the problem of dog attacks for several reasons. First of all, outlawing a breed will not stop irresponsible people from secretly obtaining banned breeds and subsequently turning them into dangerous dogs through mistreatment and poor breeding practices. The better choice is to educate the public about responsible dog ownership, spay/neuter and ethical breeding practices. Laws should ban irresponsible ownership, not specific breeds, and those laws should be strictly enforced.
Another argument against BSL is that it can create a false sense of security. Any dog can bite, regardless of breed or background. Though there are several factors that can increase the the likelihood that a dog will bite (and yes, breed may be one of them), people should always be aware that ANY DOG CAN BITE. It is essential to teach people about dog bite prevention. If dog owners raise and handle their dogs properly, they can drastically reduce the probability of a bite occurring. In addition, the public should report potentially dangerous dogs (especially unattended, free-roaming dogs) to their local authorities. Dog professionals have an incredible responsibility to educate their clients about dog bite prevention.
BSL is also flawed because it is difficult and expensive to enforce. This can apply to any breed or mix of breeds, but let's use the pit bull-type dog as an example. Many of the so-called "pit bulls" out there are mixed breed dogs or poor specimens of "purebred" American Pit Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers. It is impossible to tell what a dog's exact lineage is based on appearance alone. DNA testing is costly and not 100% accurate. Attempting to enforce breed bans may lead to lengthy court cases that cost taxpayers and dog owners a lot of time and money.
Most of all, BSL is unfair to responsible dog owners. Should an owner with a perfectly well behaved dog be forced to give up that dog just because it happens to "look" like a pit bull-type dog or other banned breed? The general consensus among animal advocacy groups is a resounding NO. The dog's behavior should dictate whether or not it is labeled a "dangerous dog," not its appearance.