This is a good article. It comes from Tufts Univesity of Veterinary Medicine, March 2005 the author is Sally Deneen:
'Dog Racism Is Rampant'
Legislation around the nation targets specific breeds
It's the law: In Boston, Pit Bull owners must muzzle their dogs inpublic. In Utah's North Salt Lake, muzzles are the rule for certain breeds, as are 6-foot-tall fences and at least $100,000 of liability coverage in case Pit Bulls, Tosas and Sharpeis bite. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, it's now illegal to breed Pit Bulls, a position prompting an upcoming summer trial challenging its constitutionality.And there's more. Proposed legislation in New Jersey would require dog owners statewide to prove their pets aren't Pit Bulls, plus mandate monthly inspections of every Pit Bull's required pen and 6-foot-tall fence. Denver and Florida's MiamiDade county outright ban Pit Bulls. In Show Low, Ariz., some of the country's strictest Pit Bull laws are being considered for passage after 5year-old Annilee McKinnon was fatally attacked by three Pit Bulls last year. "Annilee's Law," among other things, would ban the ownership and sale of Pit Bulls. Any pups born after the law went into effect would need to leave town lor be euthanized.City halls and elected officials around the country increasingly are trying to limit "dangerous breeds" through bans and other breed-specific legislation."Doggie racism is rampant," said said Sally Deneen.Genetics and socialization determine a dog's aggressiveness, though behaviorists say it's impossible to determine the influence of each.Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D, certified applied animal behaviorist and clinical assistant professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. While certain breeds may be treated more frequently for aggression, that doesn't mean all members of the breed are aggressive, she said. "You hear more about large dogs because they cause more serious injury. Chihuahuas can be quite aggressive, but they cause less serious injury."The truth is: Any breed can bite. At least 25 different breeds have killed 238 people in the past two decades - including a Cocker Spaniel, West Highland Terrier, three Collies and five Labrador Retrievers, according to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (see chart for partial listing of breeds).Experts in animal behavior say the spate of breed legislation, typically targeting Pit Bulls, doesn't solve the problem of dangerous dogs and in fact can lull the public into a false sense of security. A particular dog's deeds - not his breed - should be addressed, say critics, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Kennel Club, National Animal Control Association and humane organizations.Breed-specific laws haven't proven to decrease dog bites. Generic, non-breed-specific, dangerous dog laws that target irresponsible owners are preferable, animal advocates say, as are improved enforcement of existing leash laws and prohibitions on dog fighting.It's a mistake to blame a dog for having an extremely strong prey drive or being especially protective, Dr. Moon-Fanelli said. "There's nothing wrong with those dogs in my opinion. But inexperienced people shouldn't own those kinds of dogs. If you don't know how to train a dog and manage it, you shouldn't have it. The way they've been raised and managed by their owners have put them in a dangerous situation. People are at the root of the problem, not the dogs."Most dog bites are nothing like what you see in TV news reports, said Petra A. Mertens, Dr. med. vet., certified applied animal behaviorist and assistant professor of behavior medicine at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul.Most bites are delivered by the victim's own dog or a friend's dog not "the stray Pit Bull" and usually not breeds targeted by breed-specific legislation, Dr. Mertens said.Most victims are children, especially boys between 5 and 9 years old, and the bites often take place on private property on summer afternoons, she said. Injuries affect their face, head, neck or hands. Adults get bitten more commonly on extremities.Loretta Worters, an insurance industry spokesperson with the Insurance Information Institute, relayed a similar scenario for the typical dog bite but noted that each episode adds up in company expense: Dog bites now account for one quarter of all homeowners' insurance claims. Average cost per claim is almost $17,000; that's to cover medical bills and liability costs. The industry now weathers about $345 million in dog-bite-related claims, which is up from $250 million in 1997, Worters said. "The issue is a major source of concern for insurers. Most bites are delivered by the victim's dog or a friend's dog. In most cases, they're not by breeds, such as Pit Bulls, targeted by legislation.It's also a source of concern for the insured or uninsured, as Lori Buchowicz, who of Forest Park, Ill., learned. She got a surprise when her homeowners' insurance company dropped her as a client - not because of any problem or claim, but because of her dogs. All three oversized lap dogs are known to lick-kiss mail carriers, Buchowicz said, but the insurance company decided it didn't like their breeds: a Pit Bull-Boxer mix, Rottweiler and German Shepherd Dog-Husky mix."It was a shocker," said Buchowicz, who received the bad news early last year. She began calling competitors but quickly saw a pattern. Agent after agent refused her business. Essentially, she was in a bind: Keep her house, or keep her dogs.The Reality of Risk: 16 Fatal Dog Attacks Yearly, 40 Insect StingsYou're more likely to be struck dead by lightning than by a vicious dog. Despite the fear engendered by news reports about Pit Bull maulings, fatal dog attacks on humans are rare - and make news when they occur. For perspective, consider the following causes of death and the number of Americanlives claimed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and various medical journals:Cigarette Smoking 440,000Influenza/Pneumonia , 65, 700Highway Vehicle Crashes 43,000Deer Collision 100-200With VehiclesLightning Strikes 73-100Insect Stings 40Dog Bites 16Hundreds of dog owners have complained to animal welfare organizations about insurance companies' dropping or refusing insurance for their homes, or charging higher premiums due to their dogs' breeds. To Buchowicz's delight, State Farm - her new company, chosen after she said she called every agent in her Yellow Pages and found only two that welcomed her - does not ban any dog breed. Farmers Insurance also agreed to cover her. Such positions can vary from agent to agent, not just company to company. But State Farm has a companywide position."There are good and bad dogs within every breed. We look at each case on an individualized basis," said State Farm spokesperson Mia Jazo-Harris.Nationwide Insurance in recent years refused to sell homeowners insurance to owners of certain breeds of dogs but since has eased its stance. It now offers homeowners insurance coverage for all dog owners though the liability portion of the policy doesn't cover the actions of certain breeds of "vicious dogs," according to spokesman Bob Cunningham. Instead, homeowners can buy separate liability coverage for those animals. They include, but are not limited to, Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, Presa Canarios, wolf hybrids, animals with a bite history and trained attack or guard dogs. What's more, prospective customers must demonstrate that the dogs successfully completed the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program. Nationwide's position "allows policyholders to preserve coverage, while retaining the company's responsibility to adequately price its products according to the risk each customer presents," Cunningham said. The list of disqualified breeds was compiled on the basis of reputation, company research and dog-attack statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Such breed stereotyping bristles experts in animal behavior. "I've seen a lot of nice Pit Bulls, a lot of nice Akitas, a lot of nice Shepherds," Dr. Moon-Fanelli said. The perception that all Labrador Retrievers are easygoing and all German Shepherds are suspect is flat wrong. "I can vouch for that," she said, adding that most dogs around the nation have been bred for appearance, not temperament.The result is that dogs can run the spectrum - at one end, aggressive enough to attack, at the other so submissive that the dog sucks a blanket for comfort.Typically, dog bites occur because of a misunderstanding between the dog and victim, usually a child. "Problems are neither the dog nor the kid," Dr. Mertens said. "Many cases I see are related to a lack of understanding of canine behavior, anthropomorphic interpretations and unrealistic expectations toward a dog." Based on her clinical experience, she believes a facial bite by a dog looking like a Pit Bull is more likely to attract excessive press coverage than the same bite delivered by, say, a Golden Retriever. Some breeds do pose a greater risk if a particular dog is aggressive, Dr. Mertens hastened to add.Imagine that two dogs live in a household with a toddler. The toddler approaches the sleeping dogs, prompting growls. Let's say the two dogs are alike - equal size, age, gender, socialization - except one is a Border Collie, the other a PitBull, Mastiff, Rottweiler or Mastino Neapolitano. Most commonly, the latter breeds would deliver a more severe bite if the dog ever bites, Dr. Mertens said. "Based on breed alone, I have no reason to assume that the dog has a higher likelihood to bite."Breeding and socialization both playa role in making a dog aggressive, though it's impossible to determine the influence of each, said Melissa Bain, DVM, who specializes in behavior at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She also serves as president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.While responsible Pit Bull breeders work hard to change the image of Bully breeds, some unscrupulous ones breed for dog-fighting ability so their particular Bullies give little warning before turning aggressive - a good trait for the dog-fighting pit. Competitors want to give little warning. "They go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat," Dr. Moon Fanelli said.While quick-fix bans on specific breeds are tempting solutions for public officials, some practical concerns may be surprising. It's often difficult to determine a dog's breed because many brown-and-black dogs tend to be labeled Shepherd mixes, black dogs with tan markings are dubbed Rottweiler mixes and so on, Dr. Bain said. Critics wonder: Would genetic testing be required to make sure a dog is, say, at least 50 percent Pit Bull?Most dogs in this country have been bred for appearance rather than temperament.In addition, bans don't protect the public from dog bites from all breeds, as Jill Buckley, a legislative liaison for the ASPCA's Western Region, can attest after nursing a bitten ankle. "I was bitten by a Llasa Apso - cute little thing. It was going after my dog. I picked up my dog and it bit my ankle. Who'd a thought?" Though, of course, "all dogs have teeth.""Even the best socialized and cared-for dog in the world can have a predisposition toward displaying aggression," Dr. Bain said. A particular dog simply may have less tolerance for certain situations - such as a child staring into his eyes while handling the dog's favorite toy - andmay be more likely to bite instead of growl and/or snap. The opposite is true, too, she said. There are dogs who are "severely undersocialized, abused and neglected who never show aggression. "Maybe it's time for both owner and dog to be judged, not only the dog. Parts of Germany have startedto require an assessment of dogs of certain breeds and their owners once pets reach a certain age, Dr. Mertens said. Owners receive manuals and information to prevent problems. When the time for testing arrives, a veterinary behaviorist assesses owner and dog. "I'm curious to see how this will change things," Dr. Mertens said. While she doesn't like targeting certain breeds, she believes this particular idea looks good on paper.In the United States, critics of breed bans here suggest that enforcement of existing leash laws would be a step in the right direction. Less than one-half of 1 percent of fatal dog attacks on humans was caused by leashed dogs away from their homes, the 20-year JAVMA analysis found. Strong animal control programs could help, too. Some fatal attacks on people in the past two decades might have been averted through more stringent animal control laws and enforcement," such as leash laws and fencing requirements, the JAVMA study said.Dangerous dog legislation should be geared toward dogs who act aggressive and not generalized for specific breeds, Dr. Bain said. "All dogs need proper socialization and humane training, and the owners need to properly be able to identify potential problems. They also need to know where to seek appropriate, educated people to help with problems. Owners of all dogs, but especially any large, powerful breed, need to know how to properly manage them and control them around people and other dogs."Education of owners is key. "I'd start by educating vets to educate their clients on how to raise a puppy properly and special cautions that are necessary with certain breeds," Dr. Moon-Fanelli said.