As much as I’d love to give you a simple list, it’s not that easy.
Various legal cases involving dog-bite complaints have resulted in jurisdictions in the United States, Canada and the UK, having the right to enact breed-specific legislation (BSL). This means that some communities have enacted laws that intensively regulate or even ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans. The underpinning theory being that some dog breeds will bite more often than others. One of the most targeted breeds of BSL is the Pit Bull Terrier.
This breed targeting is opposed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), who claim that BSL is unfair, biased, and not getting to the heart of why, and when certain dogs are likely to bite. They assert that a variety of factors, not necessarily breed related, will affect a dog’s tendency towards aggression. These factors include:
- early experience
- socialization and training
- sex and reproductive status
The American Kennel Club (AKC) is equally dismissive of labeling certain breeds, namely Pit Bull Terriers, as ‘dangerous’. The AKC, in fact, does not even recognize the ‘Pit Bull’ as a specific breed, however, the United Kennel Club (UKC) does categorize the American Pit Bull Terrier. Whether or not you own a Pit Bull seems to come down to what the dog actually looks like! Physical characteristics such as a broad chest, muscular neck, almond-shaped eyes and a smooth, short coat are some features indicative of a ‘Pit Bull’.
A robust study published by the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances found, unsurprisingly, that owner behavior has a direct impact on dog aggression and personality, regardless of breed.
The authors concluded that, the less time owners put into training and caring for a dog, the more likely it is that the dog will be aggressive. The AKC also states that ‘any dog can be trained to be aggressive’, so banning one particular breed will just make blood-sports offenders train other breeds, in order to exploit them.
The burden should be placed squarely on the shoulders of owners, to ensure their dogs are socialized, cared for and treated well. Legislation which places the responsibility on the owner to properly train and manage their dog’s behavior is a key component of responsible ownership.
The media can also impact how society perceives certain breeds. Usually this ‘negative press’ occurs following a dog attack on a human, especially if it’s a child. The human’s role in the attack is rarely reported, or the owner of the dog and their responsibility in the creation and development of an aggressive dog.
Dogs also pass in and out of public favor, because a movie has depicted a specific breed as being vicious. The Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Rottweiler and many others have become undesirable breeds following Hollywood’s portrayal of them as evil or aggressive.
Another important consideration, and a reason for BSL to fall short, is that you can’t always tell what breed a dog is. Mixed breeds may be several types, and even the predominant breed may not be obvious. Research has demonstrated that determining dog breeds based on appearance is often inaccurate.
“If it walks like a pit bull, if it barks and bites like a pit bull, wags its tail like a pit bull, it’s a pit bull.”
Ontario Attorney General, Michael Bryant, 2003
To answer the question as best I can, what dogs are banned in the US?
- American Bulldog
- Perro de Presa Canario
- Pit Bull Terrier (Pit Bull Terrier is not considered to be a breed, rather it is a subjective description which refers to mixed breed dogs with certain physical traits, see the list later in this article. Such mixed breeds usually include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or a mix of these).
What Dogs Are Banned In The UK?
In the United Kingdom, breed specific legislation is contained within the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which makes it illegal to own any ‘dangerous dogs’ without specific exemption from a court. The Act came about following eleven, high-profile attacks in 1991, and the Home Secretary at that time promised “to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs”.
Four types of dogs are specifically identified by the Act:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino (Argentine Mastiff)
- Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff)
The Act also covers cross-breeds of the above four types of dog. As is the case in the US, dangerous dogs are classified by ‘type’, not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) takes the same stance as the ASPCA, saying that BSL does not work, and in the thirty years since the legislation was passed, thousands of innocent dogs have been euthanized based on nothing more than their physical appearance.
In other parts of the world, the list of banned or dangerous dogs is similar, but there are some surprising additions. Border Collies and Welsh Corgis used to be classed as dangerous in Italy. German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher dogs are restricted in Ireland, and The Ukraine has a very long list of ‘dangerous dogs’ including Fox Terriers, Dalmatians and Great Danes.
The most banned dog, worldwide, is the Pit Bull, which, as we’ve discovered, is not a true breed, but a ‘type’ of dog.
What is a Pit Bull Terrier?
‘Pit Bull’ is a description which refers to mixed breed dogs with certain physical traits. There is no clear definition of a Pit Bull, and ultimately, whether or not a dog is labeled as such, is up to the subjective opinion of the assessor.
Physical Characteristics of a Pit Bull Terrier
The head is large and broad and wedge-shaped. The skull is large, flat or slightly rounded and broad between the ears. When the dog is focused on something, wrinkles form on the forehead.
The muzzle is broad and deep with a very slight taper. The top of the muzzle is straight. The lower jaw is well developed, wide and deep. The nose itself is large with wide, open nostrils, and may be any colour.
The Pit Bull Terrier has a complete set of evenly spaced, white teeth meeting in a scissors bite.
Prominent cheek muscles result in the distinctive, overall head shape.
Pointed and erect or semi-erect, often with a fold half-way up the pinna (ear flap).
Almond shaped, and front of head.
Pit Bull type dogs are medium height, approximately 12-20 inches from floor to shoulder. They have a stocky body and a short, smooth coat which can be a variety of colors.
The neck is of moderate length and muscular. Narrowest just behind the ears, it widens downward gradually to blend smoothly into the withers (top of the shoulders).
The shoulder blades are long, wide, muscular, and well laid back. The forelegs are strong and muscular. The elbows are set close to the body. Viewed from the front, the forelegs are set moderately wide apart and perpendicular to the ground.
The back is short and strong, slightly sloping from withers to rump.
The chest is deep, with wide-sprung ribs.
The hindquarters are strong, muscular, and moderately broad. The thighs are well developed with thick, easily discerned muscles.
Legs and Feet
The front legs should be strong and sturdy. The feet should point directly to the front, not towards each other or away from each other. The pasterns (ankles) should stand erect and strong.
Medium length, and tapered.
Dog Bite Statistics
Dog bites are most likely to involve a dog in the home, or one known to the family. An estimated 4.7 million people a year in the US suffer from a dog bite. 885,000 of these victims will require medical attention.
The majority of dog bite victims are 5 to 9-year-old children, and the highest percentage of fatal attacks are suffered by 0-2-year-old children. There are 30-50 US deaths a year from dog bites.
Since 2016, many different breeds and mixed breeds have been involved in fatal dog attacks in the US. These include: Akita, Boxer, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Husky, Labrador Retriever, Mastiff, Pit Bull-type, Rottweiler, and many others.
In a 2019 study and meta-analysis of dog bite injuries to the face, which included a literature review from 1970 to 2019, the top six biting breeds reported were:
- Pit Bull
- Mixed Breed
- German Shepherd
A further study which examined the changing incidences of dog bite injuries in the United States, found that bite injuries increased from 2005 to 2011 and then underwent a significant decline. The authors also asserted that most injuries were sustained by school-aged children, attributing the reduction in bite injuries, in part, to a decrease of dog ownership among families with young children.
A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature investigating dog bites in the United States from 1971 to 2018, found that after studying 41 medical literature articles, German Shepherd and Pit Bull-type breeds account for the largest subset of pure breeds implicated in severe dog bites inflicted on humans.
Should I Be Afraid Of Some Dog Breeds?
The evidence shows that, although some breeds are over represented in the dog-bite statistics, the ‘danger’ status of a dog should be attributed to several factors.
The reasons that dogs bite will vary, and may be influenced by breed behavior tendencies and the behavior of the victim, other humans in the vicinity, and the dog’s owner.
Behavior such as teasing the dog is a known incitement, and other studies show that in many dog bite cases, the dog is reacting to someone invading their space and their body. Grabbing at the dog was the behavior most likely to provoke the dog to bite. Specifically, pulling the tail, tugging the hair, or a paw.
Also, some dogs are simply not cared for and trained adequately. This leads to a constant state of stress on the dog, and they are more likely to react negatively, even if someone is being nice to them.
Some breeds lend themselves to being used in blood sports, and these are often the Pit Bull type of dog. The people who exploit these dogs are the ones at fault, not the dogs.
That said, I have to admit that I have a healthy respect for ALL dogs, because they can all be unpredictable when placed under stress. I have had my dog attacked viciously by another dog, which happened to be a Pit Bull type breed. I have been bitten by a dog, and that was a yellow Labrador. Both times, the owners swore that ‘nothing like that has ever happened before’. Both attacks were completely unprovoked and came out of nowhere.
Many studies have attributed dog-bite injuries to certain dog breeds. This list varies slightly depending on the geographical location, but there are some dogs which come up time and again as being in need of some restrictions, or outright banning in order to keep humans and other dogs safe.
Robust, unbiased data can’t be ignored. Yet, applying indiscriminate judgement to all dogs of a given type, with no heed to related factors is utterly wrong, but is also understandable.
Personally, when I’m out walking with my dog I am on high alert at all times. If I see an uncontrolled dog up ahead, this is my sequence of risk assessment.
- How many dogs are there?
- Is there a human with them?
- Is the human controlling their dog with their voice, or attempting to leash them?
- Can I tell what the mood or personality of the dog is?
- Can I see how big or what breed the dog is?
- Do I think that I, or the other person can control the situation if things go wrong? (I have seen a man who leashes his Rottweiler then finds a fence or gate post to wind the leash round. He knows if the dog decides to chase something, he would be powerless to stop it).
- If the other dog seems relaxed or is attentive to the owner, I proceed as normal.
- If I think the other dog is completely uncontrolled by the owner, and displaying any behavior signs other than friendliness, I try to deviate from my route. If I can’t change direction, I stand to the side, call my dog in, and wait till they have passed. I completely ignore the other dog.
- If the other dog is a Pit Bull type, a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd and they aren’t controlled, I turn and walk away from them, as quickly and quietly as possible.
I know that I’m buying into the stereotyping of these dogs by doing this, but I have had a bad experience. Also, I don’t feel right about using my hounds to test the temperament of an uncontrolled dog.
As all the data suggests, and animal welfare agencies agree, it’s up to us humans to help our dogs to be social, friendly and not intimidating. They all deserve to have a good life.