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Spanish Study Confirms Breed Bans Don't Work


When I’ve testified in opposition to breed specific bans (always involving a community or even an entire state seeking to ban Pit Bull-type dogs and sometimes Rottweilers and other breeds), I rattle off all sorts of facts – then I add, “There’s no data to support breed bans work to decrease dog bites, or dog attacks. Breed bans paint too broad a brush. Even if officials identify a breed correctly, only a minority of Pit Bull-type dogs may ever be a problem. But then any poorly socialized, poorly bred dog can be a problem, I suppose. We do know that bad guys using dogs as a weapon or for fighting dogs – a felony – are a  real problem. I suggest these poor dogs are belonging to these people are victims.”

A new paper indicates that breed ban legislation is completely ineffective in reducing the incidence of dog bites. This is a study of pet dogs in Spain published in The Journal of Veterinary Behavior, offers new insight into why.  The study found that the so called dangerous breeds simply behave no differently from dogs in general when it comes to behaviors likely to lead to biting.

The authors looked for risk factors for various behavior problems as reported by dog owners.  They found that dogs identified as belonging to breeds designated as dangerous according to Spanish (including Pit Bull-type dogs) law were no more likely to behave aggressively toward people or toward other dogs than were dogs of the random group of breeds in the sample.

What the study did find was that the larger the dog (dividing the 232 dogs studied into 3 size categories), the less likely it was to exhibit aggressive behaviors toward people such as barking, growling, snarling lunging, snapping or biting.  Large dogs were also less likely to behave fearfully.   This is particularly striking with regard to the breeds identified as dangerous according to Spanish law, since most fall into the large dog category and the rest into the medium.  Thus they are disproportionately represented within the least aggressive groups the study identified.  Another notable aspect of this finding is that it is consistent with a larger study conducted in Canada a decade earlier, (Guy, 2001) suggesting that this inverse relationship between aggression and size may carry over across continents and long periods of time.

In looking at aggression toward other dogs, the study found that gender and age played a role.  Males were more likely to show aggression toward other dogs, as were to a small degree, the older dogs in the sample. Many previous studies demonstrate dogs aggressive to other dogs are unlikely to also be aggressive to people.

The researchers conclude simply, that “dogs classified as dangerous do not seem to be more aggressive than the rest.”

The full text article can be purchased here.

Martinez,A.G., Pernas, G.S., Casalta,J.D., Rey,M.L.S., Palomino, L.F,dlC., Risk factors associated with behavioral problems in dogs.  Journal of Veterinary Veterinary Behavior (2011) 6, 225-231.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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