Dog bite risk is typically described as the number of dog bites per person in the population of interest per year. The overall rate is difficult to define, and severity of bites that do occur is impossible to quantify. It is therefore difficult for the public to appreciate the true risk associated with dog bites, which may lead to public misperceptions that serious dog bites are common, that all dog bites are equally serious, and that all emergency department visits following a dog bite represent serious injuries. Media portrayals of certain dog breeds as particularly aggressive have also contributed to the belief that these dogs have a propensity to bite people. Such stereotypes reinforce the belief that breed-specific legislation (BSL) will decrease the incidence of dog bite–related injury. The high costs of BSL (in terms of dog lives and effects on responsible owners) are evidenced by the large number of dogs in a target breed that would need to be removed from the community to prevent even a single incident. Veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and other scientists need to be well-informed about the data available on this subject and must counteract misconceptions. A better understanding of the improbability of BSL-associated community safety can add to the arguments against discriminatory responses based on assumptions regarding a particular breed or physical appearance. This is essential if we are to turn the tide of public perception.

Commentary: This unique review, written by veterinary professionals affiliated with animal shelters, provides a strong, well-referenced perspective against the use of BSL as a preventive measure for dog bites. Many veterinary professionals who work “in the trenches” possess a strong intuition regarding bite injury prevention factors, and BSL is a particularly questionable screening modality. This review suggests that BSL penalizes responsible owners of specific breeds and unfairly targets certain dogs with solid temperaments that are unlikely to inflict bites on humans.—Indu Mani, DVM, DSc

Use of a number-needed-to-ban calculation to illustrate limitations of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the risk of dog bite-related injury. Patronek GJ, Slater M, Marder A. JAVMA 237:788-792, 2010.