Across the country, some communities have attempted to reduce the incidence of dog bites by enacting breed-specific legislation that bans the ownership of certain types of dogs. Most recently, residents of Aurora, Colo., voted in November to uphold their nine-year ban on pit bull type dogs in the city.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), however, breed-specific legislation is an ineffective way to reduce the number of dog bites in a community, unfairly targeting dogs that have done nothing wrong and providing a false sense of security while leaving the root causes of dog bites unaddressed.
"The role of the breed is actually very small," says Dr. Emily Patterson-Kane, animal welfare scientist at the AVMA. "So if you suppress one breed, another breed is going to come to fill that role and your bite injuries are going to continue to occur until you have a real community approach to animal control and education."
In AVMA's latest Animal Tracks podcast, Dr. Patterson-Kane said that instead of focusing on the breed, effective dog bite prevention measures fall into three areas:
- How people raise and care for their dogs
- How people manage situations when their dogs are in contact with other people
- How communities respond to people who are raising or keeping their dogs in a dangerous or harmful manner
Things such as proper socialization and training, securely fenced yards, and strongly enforced animal control regulations will do much more to prevent dog bites then outlawing certain types of dogs based on their physical appearance, Dr. Patterson-Kane says.
One of the problems of many current breed bans, Dr. Patterson-Kane says, is that they target pit bulls, which aren't actually a breed but a "type" descended from bull and terrier breeds. Media reports describing a pit bull attack may in fact be describing a dog that was never considered to be a pit bull, or was known for certain to be another breed, such as a Labrador.
"A pit bull is in the eye of the beholder," Dr. Patterson-Kane says. "So if an apartment passes some regulation saying people in this apartment aren't allowed to have pit bulls, the guy with the Labrador-boxer cross is going to be surprised to find that all his neighbors think he's breaking that rule."
Dr. Patterson-Kane says that instead of simply cracking down on negative behavior, communities should focus on fostering environments where people and their dogs can have positive experiences together, and where dogs are less likely to end up in situations where they feel threatened and don't know how to cope.
"I think the focus should be that any dog can be dangerous," Dr. Patterson-Kane says. "But with the right veterinary care, with the right community education, and with the right enforcement of responsible behavior, we can make sure that dogs aren't just potential biters harbored in our homes, but they're actually animal members of our community."
You can hear more from Dr. Patterson-Kane on breed-specific legislation and dog bite prevention on AVMA's latest Animal Tracks podcast, available on AVMA's website or through iTunes. Visit AVMA's website for more information on dog bite prevention and breed-specific legislation.