The Pitfalls of BSL

“They’re not dangerous if you raise them right, and neither are the dogs.” It’s a phrase that has created some very cute pictures, a small collection of which are displayed in the image gallery on this page that we invite you to share. If you’re wondering what exactly it means, it is a polite and discreet way to say that BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) is wrong, misguided, and prejudicial.

What is BSL?

While I am familiar with the idea of BSL (and as a result always advocate how and why it is wrong) some people may be wondering what exactly it means. BSL, or Breed Specific Legislation, is the campaign to ban dog owners from owning a dog deemed dangerous based solely on its breed alone.

The ASPCA says “Research on pet dogs confirms that dog aggressive dogs are no more likely to direct aggression toward people than dogs that aren’t aggressive to other dogs. it is important to evaluate and treat each dog, no matter its breed, as an individual”.

According to the Humane Society of the United States , “Dog experts and researchers – along with just about every reputable humane organization, from The HSUS to the ASPCA to the American Veterinary Medical Association – have long rejected the idea that breed specific legislation works”. They also say “laws are typically very difficult to enforce, given that many dogs are mixed breeds and aren’t readily classed by breed type”; You can read the full ASPCA article for more information.

Evaluate Individuals, Not Breeds

It is important to evaluate and treat each dog, no matter its breed, as an individual. That is the exact reason that BSL is wrong. BSL regulations evaluate a dog based on preconceived ideas of the breed and not the personality of the dog. It’s true that a dog’s genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways. However, psychology teaches us that behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics (the very definition of nature versus nurture). This is an especially important idea or consideration when we look at an individual dog versus an entire breed.

Many subtle factors influence the development of a dog’s behavior. Factors such as early nutrition and living environment all play a part. Additionally, stress levels experienced by the mother during pregnancy, human/animal relationships and, sadly to say, traumatic events do as well.

These factors are so intertwined it is impossible to pinpoint any one specific influence as the cause for a dog becoming aggressive. There is such variation in behavior between individual dogs, and that is the main reason BSL regulations are inherently flawed.  For instance, a pit bull specifically bred to be aggressive may not be, while a labrador retriever bred to be a service dog could be.

Puppies benefit from early positive experiences, like socializing with people. Interactions likes these are considered key in preventing aggressive tendencies in dogs. Puppies that learn how to interact, play and communicate with people, dogs and other species are less likely to show aggressive behavior later.  Knowing that, it’s no surprise that dogs chained outside and isolated from people are more likely to bite than dogs live inside homes.  Thankfully, most of the environmental and personal factors can be controlled by better educated dog owners. And not just dog owners of so-called “aggressive” breeds, but all breeds. in general.

Why It’s Flawed

I strongly believe it is important to evaluate and treat each dog, no matter its breed, as an individual. The reality is that dogs of many breeds can be “selectively” bred or trained to develop aggressive traits. This is a learned behavior, brought on by recurring social interactions. Therefore the responsible ownership of any dog requires a commitment to proper socialization and conscientious supervision. Unfortunately despite best efforts, there will always be dogs of various breeds that are too aggressive to live safely in society.

There is no clear-cut solution to effectively address the possible danger posed by aggressive dogs.  However, some ways include promoting and supporting laws that focus not on breeds, but on people’s responsibility for their dogs’ behavior. For instance, holding owners of all breeds accountable for properly housing, supervising and controlling their dogs is a great idea.

Of course, education plays a huge part in BSL regulations. Not only education for dog owners, but education for children and those who have never owned a dog of their own is very important.  Laws that ban dogs of particular breeds do nothing except create the illusion of enhanced public safety.

Nationwide there are no state laws that discriminate based on dog breed, only individual countries have enforced them. In fact, 18 states have taken the proactive step of banning laws that single out particular breeds.  Even the White House has weighed in against laws that target specific breeds. In a statement issued in 2013, President Obama said “[w]e don’t support breed-specific legislation—research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources”.

Dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive. Educating dog owners, training the dogs, and socialization is the best way to prevent aggressiveness. Dogs are meant to be part of the family, not an alarm system or body guard. If you plan on leaving a dog in the yard, not in your home (on the couch), you should reconsider owning one.

The “They’re not dangerous if you raise them right, and neither are the dogs” Photo Gallery

Since we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of why BSL is wrong,  we now wanted to share with you one of the cutest photo galleries you may ever seen:

Make Your Voice Heard:

Please sign this online petition to end BSL. Enter your zip code and a copy will also be emailed to the lawmakers in your state. The petition also will be go to the United States House, Senate and President automatically.

If you’d like to do more to spread the word on BSL, please share this article. Just click the share buttons on this page to share it on your favorite social media account. Additionally, here are some links where you can buy products with the “they’re not dangerous” slogan:

Additional BSL Resources:

The Humane Society of the United States created a comprehensive toolkit specifically to provide information on this issue. It hopefully will help give you the confidence to challenge BSL in your community. As a result, we hope this resource will help make communities a safer place for both dogs and people. You can explore this new resource that provides for example, statistics, talking points, and lots of BSL related information. You can find the toolkit here on the Animal Sheltering website.