9 Facts About BSL

Throwback Thursday seems to be a thing for radio stations and photo blogs, but I’ve decided to dig into the archives of the Soapbox a little.

The second post ever to appear on the Soapbox, almost three years ago, was basically a long essay about breed-specific legislation (pit bull bans, to be specific).

It’s over 4,000 words and contains not a single picture.  Really setting up for blogging success, wasn’t I?

Who knew the long and detailed philosophy writing I was practiced in wouldn’t prepare me for writing for the internets?

A reader's reaction to that Great Wall of Text

A reader’s reaction to that Great Wall of Text.

So I’ve decided to revisit the subject in a (slightly) more succinct way, despite this being a no-brainer subject to most dog people and there being a myriad of other online resources for this subject.

Truth is, every time a dog bite hits the headlines here, the local papers do their polls and a disappointing 40% of Calgarians support the idea of breed bans, causing my internal rage-o-meter to flare up.

So, if I’m preaching to the choir, just be happy I included pictures this time.

9 Facts About BSL

1.  It doesn’t actually work.  Breed-specific legislation is often introduced after a cluster of fear-mongering headlines like “Pit Bull Attacks Toddler” and politicians find themselves struggling to look useful and effective (what else is new?).  This is how Ontario got its pit bull ban.  But the ridiculous part is that these bans actually do nothing to reduce dog bite incidents.  Seriously.  After 5 years, Ontario got no tangible results from their pit bull ban, yet that still hasn’t been reason enough to repeal the ridiculous legislation.  The Netherlands actually did repeal their BSL in 2008 after they found no decline in dog bites in 15 years.

Alma with Homer and Kimbo.  Chows are another "bully" breed often unduly legislated against.

Alma with friends, Homer and Kimbo. Chows are another “bully” breed often unduly legislated against.

2.  BSL is hard to enforce.  Most people can’t even correctly identify a pit bull (you can even test your idenfication skills here), and law or by-law officers are rarely properly trained in dog breed identification to properly enforce these measures.  Sometimes, like in Ontario, owners are actually required to prove their dog is not a pit bull, rather than the government prove it is.  And when the Canadian Kennel Club doesn’t recognize pit bull terrier as an actual breed, that turns into a problematic thing to assess and enforce.

3.  The statistics used to jusitfy BSL are dubious and the definition of “pit bull” cited in dog bite stats is questionable, since often dogs involved in bites or fatalities are of a mixed or unknown breed.  In actuality, in Canada from 1990-2007 there were 28 fatal dog attacks and not one is attributed to a pit bull.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

4.  Just like most things, the media plays a big part in the narrative.  If a pit bull is involved in an altercation, the odds breed is going to be mentioned in the headline is much greater than most other dog breeds.  Chances are the story travels further and gets more attention are also greater.  This does not at all mean that other dog breeds don’t also bite, but the media treats it differently, as studies have shown.  You can read more about this bias here and here.

5.  “Dangerous” dog breeds are a subjective classification and change over time.  In fact, did you know that at the end of the 19th century Newfoundlands were Public Enemy No. 1 for dog breeds? Newfoundlands!  But that’s because they were commonly used as guard dogs, and guard dogs are (obviously) more likely to get into altercations with people.  Now what breeds are used for this very purpose?  Or for dog fighting?  This isn’t a meaningless conicidence; if humans use dogs for aggressive purposes, they’re going to act aggressively, regardless of the breed.

Moses and Alma bully breeds?  Hardly.

Moses and Alma bully breeds? Hardly.

6.  There are more interesting statistics to pay attention to.  For example, in Calgary, most dog bites in 2012, while attributed to a variety of working, herding, and terrier breeds, overwhelmingly happened more frequently in the city’s more notorious neighbourhoods.  So when the top 5 neighbourhoods for dog bites also coincide with crime rates, we can then make some interesting correlations between dog bites and types of owners.  Those against BSL have long said how an owner treats, raises, and trains a dog has a lot more to do with its tendency to bite than its breed does.  An AVMA study of dog bites in Oregon also found a correlation between more dog bites and lower-income neighbourhoods.

7.  It’s common sense that circumstances around dog bites tell more about causation than the dog’s breed.  For example, most dog bites (77%) involve the dog’s own family or a friend of the family.  Over half occur on the owner’s property.  And the most frequent victim of dog bites are children – over 85%!  You can easily see how dogs that are protective of property, tethered, or have a high prey drive can all bite under certain circumstances.  I know just from walking my own dogs that many people – especially children – have very poor dog-interaction manners, and if not closely watched and coached, could easily get themselves bit just for not knowing any better.  A dog will basically never bite without warning, but that doesn’t mean much if kids don’t recognize the warning signals or owners aren’t educated in the basics of dog body language.


8.  If we’re going on temperament, you can do much worse than a pit bull.   The American Temperament Test Society tests dog breed personalities and the American Pitbull Terrier scores 86.8%, which is higher than many breeds, including golden retrievers, German shepherds, Maltese, sheepdogs, and corgis.  There are many studies out there showing other breeds like Dachunds, Jack Russells, and Chihuahuas are all more likely to bite than a pit bull.

9.  The vast majority of dog bites are preventable.  Preventable by owners, not legislation.  Preventable by being good, informed dog owners who know local pet bylaws and take time to walk and train their dogs.  Preventable by not leaving dogs tied up, unattended and not letting them run loose.  Preventable by getting dogs spayed/neutered and socialized.  Preventable by owners and parents who don’t let dogs and children interact without close supervision – ever!  Preventable by people knowing to ask before they approach any strange dogs and teaching their children these habits, too.


So there you have it.  BSL in under 1,000 words and now including images!

Recommended further reading:  you can download the entire text of The Pit Bull Placebo, by the National Canine Research Council in PDF here and read the Canadian Kennel Club’s official position against BSL here.

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

11 Responses to 9 Facts About BSL

  1. 2browndawgs says:

    LOL under 1,000 words. Good job. I have trouble limiting my words when I feel strongly about something. 🙂

    BSL is problematic in that it is so costly to enforce. It costs a lot and yields little benefit. To me the issue is more unknown temperament of a dog and I do not think most shelters do a great job at evaluating temperament. Some dogs are placed that should not be or placed in a wrong situation and when there is a serious injury and/or death the talk of BSL starts again.

    I am not sure how I feel about that temperament test. I think my dogs would not do well on parts of it. The weird stranger part and how they score is odd to me. Our dogs would be protective in that case. It says they check aggression vs the breed standard and training. Seems very subjective to me. Based on the video our dogs would not just stand there. They would be warning the person stay away.

    Also, I can’t imagine firing a started pistol for a dog that has not been exposed to a gun shot. It could be a great way to ruin a young dog or get a gun shy dog. We don’t expose our dogs to gunfire that way. No legitimate bird dog trainer would do that to a dog. We always let the dog see the shot and bird. Never would be with the dog’s back to the shot (or a hidden shot) until they are experienced.

    • thatjenk says:

      Yeah, in school I never had trouble meeting page quotas, but sometimes struggled to limit myself to them 🙂

      I think it was Mark Twain who said something like “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.

      Excellent point on the cost of enforcement – totally missed that one.

      And I agree with you on the questions about temperament testing, and I have the same questions about the subjective nature of most kinds of dog evaluations.

      Take shelter evaluations, for example, where you’re trying to assess a dog in a new, unfamiliar, and often stressful situation. I think a fostering program gets a more accurate understanding of a dog’s personality when they’re in a home situation and allowed to adjust and relax, but even then, it’s not going to be 100%. People can discover behaviour querks months after adopting a dog, and this was exactly our experience with Alma, who behaved much differently her first couple weeks with us than she did 6 months in, and than she does now.

      So similar questions arise about the testing forum for temperament (what’s “weirdly-dressed”, anyway?). Even looking back at when we got our CKC Canine Good Neighbour certification for Moses (which is basically a toned-down version of the temperament test) – it was held among busy and noisy obedience trials that would certainly affect the performance of different dogs.

      And, of course, just like bad breed generalizations aren’t useful, even though the temperament testing is an attempt at standardized evaluation, good generalizations are still generalizations. I’ve seen both calm and out-of-control-exicted labs. I’ve seen very sweet, and very aggressive Boxers. As they say, there are exceptions to every rule.

      • 2browndawgs says:

        Did you watch the video on that site by chance? I can tell you Storm would have been all over that weird guy…lol. Thunder/Freighter’s breeder does a temperament test on puppies. It is done by someone who has not interacted at all with the pups. It can gauge things like softness, aggressiveness (to a certain degree, not a dog who will attack, but one who may not be patient with say a kid or another dog) and independence. It is used to help her decide if a home may or may not be appropriate for a pup. But the results are very general.

        But I do agree that fostering (provided the foster is honest and knowledgeable) is a really good way to gauge temperament.

        • thatjenk says:

          I went back and watched the video – maybe they should re-name it to “drunken stranger”. lol. Both Moses and Alma would think that guy is super interesting and probably just want to sniff him. (Moses might actually bark if the test was in a dark alleyway, though.) And the shaking bucket? Both would definitely investigate for food. Haha.

          Moses’ breeder also did the puppy testing when they chose him for us. Her exact words were “he’s a bit of a shit head”, but he hasn’t reallly lived up to that assessment.

  2. Duncan says:

    Well said.
    I believe your point about dog owners not dog breeds being the problem is spot on.

  3. Donna says:

    You are preaching to the choir, but your article was well written nonetheless. I’m guilty of long, drawn out posts with no photos too, and I don’t even have a philosophy class to blame it on!

    • Donna says:

      P.S. – You mentioned that most people can’t even pick out a pit-bull. I’ve looked at some of those charts with the various breeds and have gotten them wrong many times. Lots of bully breeds look similar, that’s for sure.

  4. cascadiannomads says:

    Excellent post! I wish this would go viral. I read a study on dog attacks somewhere that said huskies or husky mixes were number one offenders and all I did was chuckle because that breed would never be banned from places where they’re needed for transportation or revered mascots. Insanity.

  5. What a great post. I wish more people thought like and were as articulate as you were. The correlation between lower income areas and dog bites is very real. It’s not always easy for me to find a way to write that though. Whenever I go into low income areas and see someone with a pit bull type dog, I cringe. I know it’s profiling or something but I can’t help it. We have a real problem with pit bull exploitation in the lower income areas of CT.

    Speaking historically, banning or restricting most things has never worked.

  6. husky says:

    Politicians pass laws because of popularity and what sounds good at the time. Rarely does any new law solve a problem, it usually just makes things worse. Their goal is to keep getting re-elected and nothing more.
    People don’t even train their kids now days so it’s hard to think a lot of pet owners will train their dogs. That’s too bad because the dog ends up the one who suffers.

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