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Breed Specific Legislation: Guesswork Based on Appearance

The following is an excerpt from PPG’s recently released Position Statement on Breed Specific Legislation.

Trick Dog Champion Jambo demonstrates his handstand - but has not been trained to do a freestanding handstand as this risks placing undue pressure on his joints
Guessing a dog’s breed and assessing him by his appearance rather than his behavior, owner and home environment is a fundamentally flawed practice

BSL (also known as Breed Discriminatory Legislation) is a law or legal ordinance that restricts or prohibits the ownership of certain breeds (or types) of dogs. In places where BSL has been implemented it varies from a complete ban of certain types of dogs to regulations imposing restrictions on ownership and special requirements including, but not limited to, mandatory muzzling; leash laws; special ‘housing’ (for example, fully enclosed cages); chaining; minimal wall enclosure height; mandatory microchipping; tattoos; registration documents; mandatory spay/neuter policies; yearly veterinary checks and reports stating the animal has no disease or injury that could make him/her ‘especially’ dangerous; prohibited access to public spaces especially, but not limited to, those frequented by children; transfer or sale notification requirements; and registration of the dog on local, provincial and national registries. Other requirements relating to the owner/handler may include minimum age; proof of mental and physical capacity; lack of criminal record; special ‘dangerous dog’ handler’s license; civil responsibility insurance; and proof of training. Note that this list is not exhaustive as the laws and restrictions vary from country to country, state to state, and county to county.

Which Breeds Are Most Often Affected by BSL?

Regulated breeds usually comprise “pit bull” type dogs. However, the breeds targeted vary in different countries and even in different states or counties within the same country. American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers and English bull terriers are often included in the “pit bull group,” wherein the term “pit bull” is used generically for a number of closely related breeds such as these. In some cases, too, dogs who are thought to resemble a pit bull are inaccurately labeled, based purely on their appearance. Importantly, a study by Olson, Levy, Norby, Crandalla, Broadhurst, Jacks, Barton and Zimmerman (2015), designed to measure agreement among shelter staff in assigning pit bull-type breed designations to shelter dogs and to compare breed assignments with DNA breed signatures, found that visual identification is unreliable. Their findings included that:

– Animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs based on appearance alone.

– Even when observing the same dogs at the same time, shelter staff had only moderate agreement with breed designations.

– One in five dogs genetically identified with pit bull heritage breeds were missed by all shelter staff.

– One in three dogs lacking DNA for pit bull heritage breeds were labeled pit bull-type dogs by at least one staff member.

– Lack of consistency among shelter staff indicates that visual identification of pit bull-type dogs is unreliable.

Other breeds that often find themselves the target of BSL include Rottweilers, mastiffs, chow chows, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers. In Europe, the filo Brasileiro, dogo Argentino, presa Canaria and Japanese tosa are included on many of the lists of dogs affected by breed discriminatory laws. The laws usually target any dog that resembles the listed breed so are ‘type’ specific rather than truly ‘breed’ specific.


Olson, K.R., Levy, J.K., Norby, B., Crandalla, M.M., Broadhurst, J.E., Jacks, S., Barton, R.C., & Zimmerman, M.S. (2015, November). Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff. The Veterinary Journal (206) 2 197–202.

Read PPG’s full Position Statement on Breed Specific Legislation.

Read What the Experts Say about Breed Specific Legislation.

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