Understanding the Breed Specific Legislation Debate

portrait of a brown pit bull with white markings, wearing a black collar

It’s National Pit Bull Awareness Month, a time to discuss Pit Bull type dogs and break down the myths and misconceptions that exist about the breed. Often seen as dangerous and untrustworthy, these dogs are judged, overlooked and discriminated against. Today, I would like to dig into the breed specific legislation debate, past and present.

Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs are often judged in our society, viewed as aggressive and untrustworthy.

However, there are many myths and misconceptions influencing this stigma.

To really understand where this came from and how it got started, we need to dig into the past and the history of breed discrimination.

The Pit Bull type dogs weren’t the first dogs to fall victim to this kind of judgement.

They are the most recent on a list of so-called ‘dangerous dogs’.

brindle pit bull dog with white markings sitting outside in the grass, panting, wearing a chain collar

Understanding Breed Specific Legislation and Discrimination

Dog breed discrimination, or ‘breed bias’, goes beyond the views that society shares for a specific breed.

Myths and misconceptions are fueling decisions regarding ownership laws, insurance restrictions, muzzle restrictions and even the likelihood that a dog is going to be euthanized versus adopted in a shelter.  

Breed Bias: The word bias describes a prejudice either for or against a specific issue. In terms of Breed Bias, this refers to the bias against certain dog breeds.

Breed Specific Legislation: As defined by the ASPCA, “Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.”

Dog breeds that can often be found on ‘dangerous dog lists’ include:

  • Pit Bull Terriers
  • Staffordshire Terriers
  • Mastiffs
  • Cane Corsos
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Great Danes
  • German Shepherds
  • Presa Canarios
  • Chow Chows
  • Akitas
  • Wolf-Hybrids
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Alaskan Malamutes

Although, each insurance company or region will create their own list that may include some or all of the breeds listed here.

Most companies that support the use of breed bias in their decisions will point to dog bite statistics to support their choices.

However, these statistics (along with the corresponding media coverage) are often skewed.

Related: ‘12 Easy Ways to Save Money on Pet Food

Media Bias and Pit Bull Type Dogs

Many of the dogs identified as ‘Pit Bulls’ during a dog attack aren’t actually a Pit Bull type dog at all.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – People are so positive that a specific breed is responsible that they will see similarities in a dog’s appearance any time there is an incident…

Even if the dog’s breed is something different altogether!

As for the media, in our current society, an article titled ‘Pit Bull Attack’ is instantly going to drum up more attention and engagement than simply referring to a generic dog attack.

I’m not saying that they make up the fact it’s a Pit Bull type dog, but they are going to jump on that fact if anyone (even incorrectly) makes that claim.

If you believe that it is easy to identify a Pit Bull by their appearance, I encourage you to try the ‘Can YOU Spot the REAL American Pit Bull Terrier’ test by the Shaw Pit Bull Rescue.

As a result of this negative narrative specifically focused on these ‘dangerous breeds’, people develop a distrust or fear of the breed(s).

They may have no knowledge of the breed outside of the media, but that doesn’t help to alleviate any fears.

Instead, they buy into this negative coverage and allow it to cloud their views.

grey/brown pit bull with white markings standing outside in a forested area, with fall colours behind it, on a brown leather leash

Is Breed Specific Legislation Effective?

There is NO conclusive data showing that breed specific legislation actually protects the communities in which it has been enforced.

However, it can have a negative impact on people living in that area and their pets.

It can even create a general public safety concern.

Responsible owners suffer judgement, housing complications and legal fees even if their dog has been properly trained and well-socialized.

They may be forced into debt or even to give up the dog that has become part of their family despite that dog never showing any sign of aggression.

The dogs themselves pay the ultimate price with thousands of otherwise adoptable dogs being euthanized in shelters.

As for the general public, putting the focus on breed specific legislation may actually hurt safety as a whole.

While resources are directed to regulate the ban on a specific breed (or breeds), the focus is taken away from more important safety concerns and regulations.

This includes the enforcement of leash laws, attention to the control of dogs in public spaces or even recognition of the potential risks of a dog showing signs of aggression due to the fact they are a ‘safe breed’.

Related: ‘Find the Best Shelter Dog for Your Family by Following This Advice!

Personal Experiences of Breed Bias in Action

Are you still doubting that breed bias can have a tangible impact on the way that dogs are treated, causing an unfair bias?

If you have been around Shed Happens for a while, you’ve likely had the opportunity to see my two dogs Indiana (a Flat-Coated Retriever mix) and Daviana (a German Shepherd mix).

I have noticed that when I take my dogs out in public, many people want to pet or see Indiana while Daviana is viewed with more hesitation.

The automatic assumption is that Indiana is safe.

After all, he ‘looks’ safe. Right?

The truth is that Indiana is a skittish rescue that can be fear reactive in certain situations.

Daviana, meanwhile, is a super people-friendly dog that adores attention, pets and, especially, children.

The general consensus as to which of our dogs is safe to approach in public by those who don’t know them is fueled solely by their appearance, and completely inaccurate.

While this is a very minor case of breed bias, it’s a good illustration of how our society is to make judgements based on the breed of a dog.

In some causes, unfortunately, this type of bias could have a much more serious ending.

brown pit bull dog with white and black markings, sitting in the grass

Alternatives to Breed Specific Legislation

If breed specific legislation isn’t the answer, what options do we have to protect our communities?

The key is to shift our focus from ‘dangerous breeds’ to a more individualized approach.

I am not saying that I am against the creation and enforcement of dangerous dog laws, however, they need to be focused on individual dogs and their owners, targeting aggressive behaviour.

This includes the establishment of graduated penalties for dogs that are deemed dangerous due to their behaviour.

The owners need to be held responsible for the actions of their dogs directly.

There should also be a focus on prohibiting conditions that have been connected with aggressive behaviour.

This includes chaining and tethering dogs permanently outdoors regardless of weather or confinement in unreasonable or unsafe situations.

We also need to put an increased focus on the enforcement of laws pertaining to animal cruelty and animal fighting.

Related: ‘6 Dog Dental Care Tips Every Owner Should Know

What Can I Do to Help End Breed Bias?

The biggest question that I get when discussing breed bias is what you, as an individual, can do to make a difference.

Start with the most important point – Educate yourself on the issues.

Do some research so that you can learn about the breed specific laws in your area, as well as any local companies that are using breed bias in their decision making.

Then, when you feel that you are well informed, use your voice – but do so carefully.

Avoid emotionally charged arguments or statements, sticking instead with the facts and polite, professional discussions.

Share your thoughts on social media, contact local officials, bring the topic to your local media partners and help spread the word.

Be persistent, change isn’t going to happen overnight.

Connecting with groups or organizations that share your views, allowing you to network and work together.

white and light brown coloured pit bull dog laying in the sun with text asking do you support breed specific legislation?

Are you familiar with breed specific legislation and the wider impact that it has? Have you ever been personally impacted by BSL? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

About Author

Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering, and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.


  • Colour Me Dubai
    October 28, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    The humans have failed the breed.

    • Britt
      October 28, 2020 at 4:29 pm


  • Clarissa Cabbage
    October 29, 2020 at 1:28 am

    I do always feel bad for pit bulls as they definitely do get the short end of the stick. The pitbulls that I have had the pleasure of knowing are incredibly sweet and loving. Thanks for speaking up on this topic! I agree educate yourself is a great first step. Thanks Britt!

    • Britt
      October 29, 2020 at 10:23 pm

      Right? I have never met a pit bull personally that wasn’t a big baby – but the pit bulls that I have met were raised in loving homes and were well trained.

  • Sarah
    October 29, 2020 at 5:58 am

    I never knew there were so many breeds classed as dangerous! xx

    • Britt
      October 29, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      It’s shocking, isn’t it?

  • Rosie Ireland
    October 29, 2020 at 8:58 am

    It’s crazy that you see so much about aggressive dogs and trouble breeds in the press when actually, I think it’s based on owner to owner. I know a few dogs in those breeds who are loving, gentle doggos – it’s got to be human influence and error!


    • Britt
      October 29, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      I am a FIRM believer that it’s the owner. My ‘dangerous dog’ is a cuddly lap dog, and no one is going to convince her otherwise lol

  • Em
    October 29, 2020 at 11:45 am

    I am a firm believer that there are no ‘bad’ dogs, but sadly lots of bad humans and pet owners.

    I’ve only ever come across one dog that was aggressive without provocation, and it was a Golden Retriever (who are deemed to be good natured). The dog in question however was poorly trained, and hadn’t been socialised AT ALL. It was a friends dog, so naturally when a group of us came into the house (the dog was 3, and they hadn’t had people visit the home before) it didn’t know what it was supposed to do or how to respond. I’m pretty sure it’s aggression was out of fear, but had it been a breed on the dangerous dog list, it’s breed would have been instantly blamed, rather than the fact that the poor thing just didn’t understand why a load of people were suddenly in her home.

    Em x

    • Britt
      October 29, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      That is a perfect example of how it’s the way that a dog is raised, not the breed. Just look at the ‘cute’ little videos on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube showing small dogs like Chihuahuas growling and responding aggressively – yet those are apparently funny. That same behaviour in my German Shepherd, for example, would instantly be treated differently.

  • shyla
    October 30, 2020 at 10:05 am

    What a great and well informed post. My brother had a pit bull dog growing up that was extremely friendly. He got loose one time and merely ran into the neighbors yard and jumped up in excitement at them. They called animal control and they took the dog no questions asked.

    It was pretty tragic because the dog didn’t do anything wrong! I hate the stigma that surrounds certain breeds of dogs. This world is terribly biased about many things and this is just another one. I hope your post clears it up for a lot of people!

    • Britt
      November 1, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      That’s horrible. If that dog had been a small dog like a chihuahua or a ‘friendly’ dog like a lab, the outcome likely would have been completely different!

  • Sophie Harriet
    October 30, 2020 at 10:51 am

    I never know there was such a strong bias against some dogs based on their appearance alone. I took the quiz and amazingly I guessed correctly which was the American Pit Bull Terrier, but I was surprised because it was only a guess, and I’m not very knowledgable on dog breeds at all xx

    • Britt
      October 30, 2020 at 11:53 am

      It’s sad that so many people are quick to judge just based on a dog’s breed or appearance. There is so much more that goes into a dog’s behaviour. It’s dependent on how they are raised, if they are properly cared for (dogs may react out of fear of people after being abused), training, socialization, etc.

  • Lene
    October 31, 2020 at 10:50 am

    I love pitbulls – some of the most affectionate and sweet dogs I have ever met were this breeds Any dog can be made into an aggressive, fearful mess and you hit the nail on the head when you called for accountability for owners. Aside from people who deliberately encourage aggression in their dogs, I think the problem is often when those unfamiliar with dogs get one and don’t have access to reasonably-priced classes in how to raise their new family member.

    • Britt
      November 1, 2020 at 4:10 pm

      Definitely, there are definitely some breeds that take more training, exercise and effort than others. I LOVE German Shepherds, for example, but I wouldn’t say that they are a good fit for most first dog households. The key with any dog is to do your research, find the breed that fits with your family and lifestyle, and reach out for professional assistance when needed (training classes, animal behaviourists, etc.)

  • Stephanie S
    October 31, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Britt, what a great post! I feel so bad for pit bulls. I feel like they are always pre-judged just because of the breed that they are, and all the stories surrounding them. It honestly is not fair at all. Every single friend that I knew that owned a pit bull always felt the need to explain to strangers that their dog was friendly. And they were always so friendly, and pretty much just like a big baby. Some were even just so silly! I wish people would understand that it is not the breed, but also look at their environment, and how they are raised as well. Thank you for this post.

    • Britt
      November 1, 2020 at 4:08 pm

      That’s just it – I’m not saying that there aren’t dangerous pit bulls out there, but they aren’t a danger due to their breed. They are a danger due to the fact that they have been raised in a way that encourages aggression and reaction. It’s the decisions made by their owners that determine whether they are sweet and trustworthy or not.

  • Sonia Seivwright
    October 31, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Wow. This is new to me. I’ll need y educate myself on these breeds.

    • Britt
      November 1, 2020 at 4:02 pm

      It’s sad to think that so many dogs are judged solely based on their breed.

  • Lyosha
    November 3, 2020 at 3:54 am

    It is a great post. I know many Pitt Bulls and they are most lovable. It is such a shame they are not seen in the right light

    • Britt
      November 3, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      Right? From my experience, most of these ‘dangerous’ dogs are super sweet.

  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    November 3, 2020 at 6:44 am

    I always find it somewhat hilarious that these dogs are labeled dangerous, and yet I’ve had tiny little Chihuahua that was smaller than my shoe jump out someone’s window and try to attack me. One chased my husband down the street once too. Pit Bulls? They’re giant cuddle monsters. I was at my best friend’s house when I learned that he had died. As I was told the news, I kind of collapsed on the arm of his couch. His dog, a Pit Bull, jumped up behind me, and basically gave me a hug. The one thing that always throws me off in general with larger dogs is their size. I’m short, at a whopping 5 feet tall. There’s more than one breed of dog, including Pit Bulls that can stand up on their back legs and be at eye level with me. In general though, I think it has a lot to do with the owner of the dog, not the specific breed on how aggressive or not they are.

    • Britt
      November 3, 2020 at 9:44 pm

      I hear you on the size front. I’m not quite as small, but I only have a few inches on you… My German Shepherd mix Daviana is DETERMINED that she’s a lap dog and will climb up into my lap to snuggle. Sometimes, depending on how she makes herself comfortable, I feel like I’m getting crushed in the process lol

  • Kathrin Spinnler
    November 3, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Wow, this sounds so familiar to what is happening with humans! As a child, I was always scared if dogs because of a bad experience when I was little – but living with a lady and her dog has totally changed my mind. It‘s often a case of being scared of the unknown. Thanks for this enlightening post.

    • Britt
      November 3, 2020 at 9:37 pm

      The unknown is definitely a bit part of it! Especially with society and the media painting a specific (and negative) image about these ‘dangerous’ breeds.


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