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Do Breed-Specific Laws Work? Challenges, Alternatives & Stigmatization

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

English Bulldog puppy cuddling with its owner

Breed-specific laws, or breed-specific legislation (BSL), were initially created for the safety of animals and people. There’s no denying that dog attacks can be significant and dangerous issues, and it’s important to have rules and laws set in place to protect vulnerable or exposed individuals.

While BSLs may have been created as a protective measure against aggressive dogs, they don’t seem to have more advantages than disadvantages. These laws tend to be very discriminatory and can be detrimental to the well-being of many different kinds of dog breeds.

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What Are Breed-Specific Laws?

BSLs are any type of law that ban or prohibit the ownership of certain dog breeds in order to protect people and other animals and decrease the incidence rates of dog attacks. You can often see BSLs in residential leasing agreements or in homeowners’ associations’ bylaws. These documents often have clauses for pets, and they can include a list of dog breeds that are prohibited from living on the property.

Not all US states have statewide BSL bands. Currently, 21 states have banned BSLs, while the remaining 29 have not. States that have banned BSLs tend to favor laws that keep individually dangerous dogs within a community accountable rather than enforcing laws against an entire breed.

chow chow dogs walking in the grass
Image Credit by: Bianca Grueneberg, Shutterstock

Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective?

Most major animal welfare organizations and nonprofits are against the use of BSLs because they cause significant hardship for dogs and their owners. There also isn’t any evidence that BSLs have been effective in protecting a community.

One way that dogs suffer from BSL is the stigma that is placed on them. For example, the Pitbull is notoriously viewed as an aggressive dog. While Pitbulls do have a history of being used in dog fights, these dogs are often wonderful companion pets with loyal and loving personalities. More often than not, poor treatment and lack of training lead to aggressive behaviors in dogs, rather than the dog’s breed.

The following dog breeds also tend to face more stigmatization than others:

english mastiff on the grass
Image Credit by: Volodymyr Burdiak, Shutterstock

Challenges of Breed-Specific Laws

Dogs affected by BSLs face several other challenges. Due to stigma, they’re more likely to end up in animal shelters and are less likely to be adopted. These dogs are also less likely to receive consistently good veterinary care. This is because the stigma may cause owners to avoid taking their pets to the veterinarian. So, dog breeds listed under BSLs are less likely to be microchipped, spayed or neutered, or up to date with their vaccinations.

Since these dogs are seen as taboo, their owners often have more difficulty getting them socialized. People may be less likely to have their own dogs around them, which can ultimately contribute to the development of aggressive behaviors as these dogs haven’t had very many opportunities for socialization.

As many residential buildings and communities enforce BSLs, it can be difficult for owners of dogs listed in BSLs to find homes to live in. They have fewer options, and in some cases, they have to surrender their dogs if they are not able to find homes that are affordable, in a suitable location, and allow their dog’s breed on their premises.

dalmatian dog on the beach
Image Credit: Yulia YasPe, Shutterstock

Alternatives to Breed-Specific Laws

BSLs have been a quick solution to the issue of aggressive dogs and dog attacks. Since they don’t seem to have a very beneficial effect, animal rights and welfare activists continue to push for the ban of BSLs and call for investments in more carefully crafted breed-neutral laws.

Breed-neutral laws can focus on other factors, like stronger enforcement of dog licensing, access to low-cost sterilization services, and laws that hold owners more responsible for their dog’s behaviors. These laws remove the judgment of dogs based on their breeds while working to protect public safety in a more effective way. Divider 5


Breed-specific laws haven’t been proven to be highly effective in preventing and protecting people and animals from dog attacks. Focusing on forming breed-neutral laws can be more effective and beneficial for public safety, and it can also help remove the stigma against certain dog breeds.

Many animal welfare activists and organizations are working to ban BSLs. So, if this is a matter that resonates with you, you can participate by supporting these organizations and continuing to educate others on the harmful effects of BSLs.

Featured Image Credit: e-Kis, Shutterstock

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