What Is Breed-Specific Legislation? Plus BSL States in USA

Last Updated on: 24th February 2024, 09:40 am

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) refers to laws and regulations that target specific dog breeds or types, imposing restrictions or outright bans on their ownership, breeding, or certain activities based solely on their breed or appearance. 

What is the primary aim of Breed Specific Legislation? Is it generally accepted? 

These regulations may involve measures such as mandatory muzzling, imprisonment, or sterilization of specific breeds, as well as complete prohibitions on ownership or breeding. 

However, critics believe that BSL is insignificant and unfair as it fails to address the underlying reasons for dog aggression, such as irresponsible ownership, a lack of socialization, and inadequate training. 

Who is Impacted by Breed-Specific Laws?

Many states, including Texas, New York, and Illinois, support legislation that identifies, tracks, and regulates dangerous dogs individually, regardless of breed, while prohibiting BSL. However, over 700 cities in the United States have implemented breed-specific laws.

Breed-specific legislation affects a wide range of stakeholders including:

Dog Breeders: Breeders of targeted breeds may encounter restrictions on their breeding operations, mandatory sterilization, including license requirements, or complete prohibitions on breeding particular breeds.

Dog Owners: BSL-targeted breed owners may be subject to limitations on dog ownership, and habitation. This can involve mandated euthanasia in extreme circumstances, higher insurance premiums, specific enclosures, or even muzzling in public.

Dog Trainers and Behaviorists: When offering services to owners of specific breeds, professionals who work with dogs may run into problems, particularly if BSL puts limitations on specific training techniques or activities.

Animal Shelters and Rescues: Dogs impacted by BSL, especially those seized or surrendered because of breed-specific laws, are frequently placed under the care of shelters and rescues. Breed-specific regulations may also make it difficult for them to find homes for these pets.

Victims of Dog Attacks: Although the goal of BSL is frequently to lessen dog-related incidents, breed-specific legislation may not always result in fewer incidents involving dogs attacking people. Furthermore, scientists disagree about how well BSL works to deter dog attacks.

Animal Advocates: BSL may be opposed by people and groups that support responsible pet ownership and animal welfare because they have doubts about its efficacy, equity, and possible detrimental effects on dogs and their owners.

Community Members: There may be restrictions on dog ownership and relationships, as well as possible effects on property prices and community dynamics, for residents living in places where breed-specific rules are in effect.

Major US cities with bans and restrictions on Pit Bulls include Miami FL,  San Francisco CA, North Chicago IL, New York City NY, and Washington DC.

English Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are among the regulated breeds which are typically the “pit bull” class of dogs.

Other dogs such as American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, or any combination of these breeds—or dogs that just resemble these breeds—may also be considered controlled breeds in some places.

States Prohibiting Breed–Specific Legislation

Several states in the US have laws that prohibit or limit breed-specific legislation (BSL), which means that municipalities are not allowed to enact rules that specifically target dog breeds. Breed-neutral approaches to dog legislation are generally supported by the laws in these states. Some of these states are:

Illinois: Illinois has laws that prevent local governments from enacting breed-specific regulations. The state promotes breed-neutral dog control laws.

Colorado: Colorado passed legislation in 2004 that prohibits any municipality in the state from enacting breed-specific bans or regulations.

California: California has state laws that prohibit cities and counties from enacting breed-specific ordinances. This means that local jurisdictions cannot regulate dogs based on breed alone.

Florida: Florida prohibits local governments from passing breed-specific ordinances. The state law prohibits laws that regulate dogs based on breed.

Minnesota: Minnesota’s state law prevents local governments from passing breed-specific ordinances. Municipalities cannot regulate dogs based on breed alone.

Maine: Maine prohibits municipalities from enacting breed-specific ordinances. Local laws cannot regulate dogs based solely on breed.

New York: New York has laws that prohibit cities and counties from enacting breed-specific ordinances. Local governments cannot regulate dogs based solely on breed.

Other states include Utah, Arizona, Delaware, Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

It’s important to keep in mind that these laws can have different provisions and even if breed-specific regulations were passed before the state laws in these states, it’s possible that some localities within them still have breed-specific ordinances in place.

Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective?

The usefulness of breed-specific laws (BSL) in lowering dog attack rates and enhancing public safety is a hotly debated subject among legislators and experts. The following are important things to think about when evaluating BSL’s efficacy:

Focus on Behavior, Not Breed: BSL’s critics contend that singling out particular breeds undermines the part that responsible ownership and individual behavior play in dog-related occurrences. Regardless of breed, they support breed-neutral methods that concentrate on recognizing and resolving issues including aggression, socialization, and training.

Stigmatization and Breed Discrimination: BSL may result in discrimination and stigmatization of particular dog breeds or varieties, as well as their owners. This can have detrimental effects on conscientious dog owners who might encounter limitations or societal stigma based only on their dog’s breed or look, as well as the targeted breeds.

Lack of Consensus: Experts and researchers cannot agree on the usefulness of legislation unique to a certain breed. According to research, BSL may help reduce the number of dog bites in places where rules about specific breeds are enforced. Other studies, however, suggest that BSL has not significantly decreased the overall number of dog bite incidents.

Enforcement Challenges: Breed identification, compliance monitoring, and legal actions are generally expensive and difficult tasks that come with BSL enforcement. Sometimes, the enforcement of breed-specific legislation might take funds away from more effective initiatives, such as fostering responsible pet ownership and public education campaigns.

Unintended Consequences: BSL might have unforeseen consequences, including promoting the spread of unauthorized breeding methods and increasing the number of targeted breed dogs that are not registered or licensed. To make matters worse, some owners might move to places where there are no breed-specific regulations.

Alternative Approaches: Alternative approaches to dog control and public safety, like breed-neutral legislation emphasizing responsible ownership, licensing, leash restrictions, education, and canine behavior assessments, are supported by a large number of professionals. These strategies seek to improve the well-being of all dogs and their owners while addressing the underlying causes of occurrences involving dogs.

There is ongoing debate on the usefulness of breed-specific legislation in lowering dog attack rates and enhancing public safety.

Some studies raise concerns about the fairness, effectiveness, and unintended implications of such legislation, while others point to a possible impact on bite incidents involving designated breeds. Because of this, some jurisdictions are investigating substitute methods for regulating dogs that emphasize responsible ownership and public safety rather than singling out certain breeds.

What Are the Consequences of Breed-Specific Laws?

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) can affect many different parties and facets of dog ownership, public safety, and animal welfare. The following are a few possible effects of BSL:

Stigmatization of Breeds: BSL frequently targets particular dog breeds or varieties, which causes those breeds to be stigmatized and subject to discrimination. This might contribute to anxiety and prejudice towards specific breeds by maintaining unfavorable perceptions and misconceptions about them.

Impact on Animal Welfare: The well-being of the targeted breeds may suffer as a result of BSL. Breed-specific laws may lead to the unjust seizure, killing, or abandonment of dogs. BSL may also result in an increase in uncontrolled breeding methods and the breeding of dogs without the necessary temperament and health screening.

Erosion of Responsible Ownership: BSL could discourage responsible dog ownership by emphasizing breed characteristics above unique behavior. Breed owners who are targeted may feel unfairly singled out and be less likely to follow good ownership habits including socialization, training, and upkeep.

Enforcement Challenges: It can be difficult and resource-intensive for authorities to enforce BSL. The process of identifying a dog’s breed can be subjective and error-prone, making it challenging to regularly and equitably enforce breed-specific laws.

Impact on Shelter Systems: Breed-specific laws can put a strain on animal shelters and rescue groups by increasing the number of dogs that are confiscated or surrendered as a result of BSL. Shelters may find it difficult to accept and rehome specific breeds, which could result in overcrowding and the death of dogs who would otherwise be adaptable.

Community Division: Communities may become divided and tense as a result of BSL, with dog owners, activists, and legislators facing off against one another. Divides among community members on the ethics, effectiveness, and fairness of breed-specific laws may result in conflict and polarization.

Diversion of Resources: Resources that could be better used to address public safety and dog regulation could be diverted by BSL. Instead of funding breed-specific enforcement, funds may be used for programs that encourage responsible ownership, educate the community, and aggressively enforce current animal control rules.

Unintended Consequences: BSL may have unforeseen consequences, such as promoting breed misclassification or concealment, driving owners to relocate to places free of breed-specific laws, or leading to a rise in the ownership of other potentially harmful breeds that are not protected by the laws.

Ultimately, breed-specific laws extend beyond their intended goals of reducing dog-related incidents, raising questions about their fairness, effectiveness, and broader implications for animal welfare and community well-being.

Many advocates and experts argue in favor of alternative, breed-neutral dog regulatory strategies that emphasize community-based solutions, education, and responsible dog ownership.

What Are the Alternatives to Breed-Specific Laws?

In place of breed-specific laws (BSL), several alternative strategies emphasize encouraging responsible dog ownership, improving public safety, and tackling the underlying issues that lead to dog-related incidents without focusing on any one breed. Here are some of the alternatives:

Breed-Neutral Legislation: Laws that are breed-neutral place more emphasis on an individual dog’s actions and behavior than on their breed or look. Leash regulations, anti-tethering ordinances, licensing and registration requirements, and behavior-based hazardous dog ordinances are examples of the types of legislation that fall under this category.

Dangerous Dog Laws: Regulations tailored to a breed may not always be as successful as rules focusing on dangerous dogs, which concentrate on any individual dog considered to be a risk to public safety. A history of aggressiveness, attacks on people or animals, or other troubling actions are examples of the kinds of criteria that these regulations usually include when establishing someone’s level of danger.

Canine Behavior Education: Dog-related incidents can be avoided by educating dog owners and providing them with materials on responsible pet management, appropriate socialization, training, and understanding canine behavior. Dog owners can be empowered to address behavioral concerns and foster positive interactions between dogs and humans through outreach initiatives, training sessions, and community seminars.

Community-Based Solutions: The community, law enforcement, animal welfare organizations, animal control agencies, and local government can work together to identify and resolve particular issues about dog ownership and public safety. Neighborhood watch programs, advisory groups, and community task teams can help with communication, problem-solving, and the creation of customized solutions.

Owner Responsibility Initiatives: To stop careless ownership behaviors that lead to dog-related occurrences, it is important to emphasize owner responsibility through the enforcement of leash laws, pet licensing, and obligatory spaying and neutering. The imposition of fines or required education programs as penalties for breaking animal control ordinances can promote accountability and compliance.

Comprehensive Animal Control Policies: A more comprehensive approach to animal welfare and community well-being can be achieved by creating comprehensive animal control policies that address a variety of issues influencing dog behavior and public safety, such as population management, stray animal control, cruelty prevention, and humane education.

Evidence-Based Practices: Dog regulation initiatives can be made more effective and efficient by utilizing data-driven methodologies and evidence-based practices to guide policy decisions and resource allocation. Studies on the behavior of dogs, aggression risk factors, and the effects of various interventions can direct the creation of focused plans that are adapted to the specific requirements and goals of the community.

The aforementioned tactics prioritize cooperation, instruction, and preemptive measures to tackle the multifaceted elements impacting dog-associated occurrences and advance the welfare of both humans and animals.

Also, communities can work toward encouraging responsible dog ownership, improving public safety, and building positive relationships between dogs and humans by putting these alternative ideas into practice.

FAQs on Breed-Specific Legislation 

1: What is Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)?

BSL refers to rules and legislation that target particular dog breeds or types, prohibiting or restricting their ownership, breeding, or participation in certain activities because of their look or breed.

2: What are the goals of breed-specific legislation?

BSL’s main objectives are usually to improve public safety, lessen dog-related occurrences like bites and attacks, and address concerns about particular breeds that are thought to be aggressive or dangerous.

3: Are breed-specific laws effective in reducing dog-related incidents?

The effectiveness of BSL is a topic of continuous discussion and evidence that varies. Advocates of breed-specific legislation claim that they reduce dog bites involving specific breeds, but opponents say the restrictions are unfair, ineffectual, and may have unforeseen consequences.

4: How do breed-specific laws impact dog owners and communities?

BSL can have negative effects, such as the stigmatization of particular breeds, the decline in responsible ownership habits, the burden on animal shelters, difficulties with enforcement, rifts in the community, and unforeseen outcomes including the spread of uncontrolled breeding techniques.

5: What can individuals do to address concerns about dog-related incidents?

Individuals can encourage responsible pet ownership, educate themselves and others about the safety and behavior of dogs, and collaborate with local stakeholders to address issues about dogs and public safety.

6: Why are certain breeds targeted by BSL?

BSL may target specific breeds because of alleged prejudices or worries about their propensity for aggressive or harmful behavior. There are frequently breed-specific laws governing dogs like pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers.

7: What are some alternatives to breed-specific legislation?

Breed-neutral legislation that emphasizes responsible ownership, instruction, and community-based solutions are alternative to BSL. These could include owner-responsibility campaigns, behavior-based dangerous dog laws, dog behavior education initiatives, and extensive animal control regulations.

8: Which states prohibit breed-specific legislation?

Breed-specific state legislation is either outlawed or severely restricted in some US states. California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, and New York are a few of these states.


Some critics argue that BSL is unjust and ineffective as it fails to address the root causes of dog aggression, such as irresponsible ownership, lack of socialization, and inadequate training. 

What’s your take on this?

Breed-neutral approaches to dog regulation, which emphasize responsible pet ownership, education, and the enforcement of regulations that target specific dogs based on behavior rather than breed, are supported by opponents of BSL. They contend that these strategies protect the rights of responsible dog owners and their animals while being more successful in enhancing public safety.

Regardless of the level at which breed-specific laws are enacted, their impact extends to various stakeholders within the affected jurisdictions. Opponents and supporters of the laws present different opinions on their fairness, effectiveness, and ethical implications.

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