The MSPCA is opposed to policies and laws that are based on a dog’s breed. We believe that these policies are not effective; instead, strong laws that prevent bites — from all breeds — should be implemented.
In 2012, a law was signed in Massachusetts that set forth a statewide dangerous dog law and specifically prohibited regulation based on breed. No Massachusetts municipality may have a breed-discriminatory ordinance. However, private entities, such as landlords and insurance companies, may still continue to discriminate. Click here to read about the law.
Why Ordinances and Policies That Focus on Specific Breeds Don’t Work
A highly praised article from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) called “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” provides important information. The multidisciplinary Task Force that wrote this report aimed to create “a well-planned proactive community approach” to address dog bite concerns. More recently, in 2014, the AVMA published an article on the role of breed in dog bite prevention which explores the many other factors that may contribute to an individual dog’s level of aggression.
It is important that we examine the issue of dog bites carefully and thoroughly, because, as with many issues, prevention is more complicated than simply focusing on one measure — in this case, on one breed of dog. Rather than focusing efforts on specific breeds, it is crucial to examine animal control laws and their enforcement. Furthermore, it is important to encourage pet owners to recognize the ways in which they are responsible for public safety and their pet’s behavior.
Media and reporting bias is a large contributing factor in the discrimination against certain breeds. For instance, the media tend to report on “pit bull attacks,” rather than general “dog attacks.” Additionally, some breeds can be over-represented in statistics regarding dog behavior. A bite from a smaller breed, which may not cause as much damage as a bite from a larger one, may not be reported; however, this does not mean that an animal of the smaller breed is any less aggressive. In addition, studies show that there is often a significant discrepancy between visual assessment of breed and actual genetic determination of a dog’s breed – even when the visual assessment is conducted by individuals who have substantial experience working with dogs. One study that asked experienced shelter staff to make a visual identification, and then compared that identification to the results of a DNA test, found that only one-quarter of the staff had actually identified the “predominant dog breed”. This is one reason why there is simply no accurate data on the number of aggressive incidents involving a specific breed.
The experts agree that the best predictor of a dog’s behavior comes from an evaluation of an individual adult dog (not least by looking at their prior behavior), not selection based on breed. A dog’s tendency to bite is a product of at least five factors, including the dog’s genetic predisposition to be aggressive, the early socialization of the dog to people, training for obedience or fighting, the quality of care and supervision provided by the owner, and the behavior of the victim. All of these factors interact.
Another AVMA study found that that male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than female dogs, sexually intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs, and chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs. As a result, an inherently aggressive dog who is well-trained and responsibly supervised may present little or no danger of biting, while a seemingly affectionate animal with little genetic tendency to bite may become dangerous if poorly socialized, unsupervised, mistreated or provoked.
As stated in the JAVMA article “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention”, “Although this (specific breeds as dangerous) is a common concern, singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.”