Breed Specific Legislation Had No Effect on Dog Bites in Odense, Denmark

In 2010, Denmark banned 13 breeds of dog. It made no difference to hospitalizations for dog bites.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) made no difference to dog bite injuries in Odense, Denmark. One of the banned breeds was the American Staffordshire Terrier, like this happy AmStaff pictured.
Photo: sanjagrujic/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

One approach that some countries or municipalities take to attempt to reduce injuries from dog bites is to ban certain breeds, known as Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). A new study by Dr. Finn Nilson  (Karlstad University) et al investigates the effects of BSL in Denmark’s third-largest city, Odense. The results show that it had no effect on hospitalizations for dog bites.

In 2010, Denmark banned the ownership, breeding and import of 13 breeds of dog, including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasiliero and American Bulldog.

Two of those breeds, the Pitbull Terrier and the Tosa Inu, had to be euthanized.

Any existing pets of the remaining 11 breeds could be kept, but they had to be muzzled and leashed in public.

Dr. Finn Nilson told me in an email,
“The findings in our article largely support previous studies on the subject of whether banning certain breeds of dog will lead to less individuals requiring emergency care for dog bites. In similarity to other studies we can show that banning certain breeds in Denmark did not reduce the number of dog bites being seen at a large regional hospital. Due to the Danish ban being slightly different to previous bans, we could use considerably more advanced methods. Put simply, we could test both the long-term effect of banning certain breeds as well as the short-term legislation on muzzles in public spaces on the same breeds. Neither seem to have an effect. The results reiterate the problem of identifying so-called dangerous breeds in the attempts to reduce dog bites.”

The study looked at data on people visiting the emergency department in Odense from 1st January 2002 and 31st June 2015. During this time, there were 2622 dog bite injuries.

There are some problems with simply looking at the number of dog bites before and after a ban. For one thing, in cases like this where some breeds are euthanized, the total number of dogs has gone down, which means any change could simply be because there are fewer dogs overall.

As well, it is possible there would be other changes over the time period. One such change mentioned in the paper is that the number of injuries tends to go down anyway (although I note that this is not always the case – in the UK, which also has BSL, hospitalizations for dog bites have gone up).

The scientists used some sophisticated statistical techniques, called Monte Carlo models, to get round these issues.

And they paid attention to whether dog bites happened in public or private spaces.

Breed Specific Legislation did not effect dog bite injuries in Odense. 13 breeds were banned, including the American Staffordshire Terrier. An AmStaff puppy is  pictured.
Photo: Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock

Since 11 of the banned breeds had to be muzzled and leashed in public, you would expect an immediate difference in public dog bites if BSL was effective. Whereas you would expect a more gradual difference in dog bites in private spaces as the number of pet dogs of these breeds slowly went down.

But that’s not what happened.

The results showed no effect of Breed Specific Legislation on hospitalizations for dog bites.

They did show something else very interesting: Of the 2622 dog bites, 874 occurred in public spaces. In other words, the majority of dog bite injuries (67%) occurred in a private space such as someone’s home.

This shows that programs to reduce dog bites need to target private places, not just focus on what happens in public.

"Put simply, we could test both the long-term effect of banning certain breeds as well as the short-term legislation on muzzles in public spaces on the same breeds. Neither seem to have an effect."

One limitation to the research is that it only considers data for 4.5 years after the introduction of BSL. However, the legislation would have been expected to have an effect in this time, which was not found.

This study joins a number of others in finding that Breed Specific Legislation does not work. If you want to know more, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a summary of the available research on BSL.

Unfortunately BSL means that well-behaved dogs have to be muzzled or euthanized when they have not done anything wrong.

The alternative to BSL is to encourage responsible dog ownership and enforce it with strong laws or bylaws.

Dog bites are a complex problem, and this study adds to the evidence that breed specific legislation is not the solution. As well, it shows that we need to pay attention to the context in which bites occur.

The paper is open access.

If you liked this post, check out my award-winning book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog magazine calls it "the must-have guide to improving your dog's life."

Nilson, F., Damsager, J., Lauritsen, J., & Bonander, C. (2018). The effect of breed-specific dog legislation on hospital treated dog bites in Odense, Denmark—A time series intervention study. PLoS one, 13(12), e0208393. 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. As an Etsy affiliate and Marks and Spencer affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow me!