In the Debate About Breed Bans, Let’s Not Play Word Games

The discussion of breed specific laws requires us to understand what makes a dog “dangerous.”

As I attempt to explain in the section of my website called Dangerous Dogs, the term “dangerous” can refer to a particular dog that attacked a person, a dog that belongs to an owner who repeatedly violates animal control laws, a dog that has been adjudicated in “dog court” to be dangerous within the meaning of a statute or ordinance, or a member of a breed that presents too great a risk of serious injury. 

Saying that a breed of dog is dangerous is not the same as saying that a particular dog is dangerous. The breed of your dog might not be dangerous, but your dog could be. Likewise, the breed might be dangerous, but your dog not. Or, if you are a repeat violator of animal control laws, in many places your dog would be considered dangerous because of you, not because of its breed or its own actions.

A thing or activity or dog or person is considered to be “dangerous” if it presents an unacceptably high risk of seriousinjury, even without ever having caused harm. Even though we all love good dogs, it is this risk of serious injury that society wishes to avoid. 

For example, my car has never been in an accident, yet it is considered to be dangerous because it is a car. The same is true of the plastic bags from my dry cleaner, the electrical outlets in my house, and even my bottle of shampoo (at the airport). Imagine, Homeland Security regards my little bottle of shampoo to be dangerous, even though it has never hurt anyone!

The issue is not whether your particular dogs have injured anyone, but whether members of their breed present an intolerable degree of risk of serious injury.

Notice that my definition refers to “serious” injury. Some people say, “Chihuahuas bite more people than pit bulls.” Maybe it’s true, although I don’t know. But when a Chihuahua bites, serious injury does not result. Because there is very little risk of serious injury, the Chihuahua is not considered dangerous as a breed, even if the number of bites might be high.

The dog lobby needs to endorse tough measures that will deal with the dog bite problem as a whole, or else there is a good chance that we will see breed bans.

If the dog lobby fails to endorse tough measures to rid society of the intolerable risks of serious injury posed by certain breeds of dog, then people will turn to breed bans as some sort of panacea. 

Those who believe that breed bans are not the answer to this problem should immediately and forcefully advocate sufficient preventative measures, such as those set forth in Preventing Dog Bites.