Pit bull bans rarely seem to reduce serious dog bites

This June 14, 2016 file photo shows a pit bull going for a walk at the Montreal SPCA.
This June 14, 2016 file photo shows a pit bull going for a walk at the Montreal SPCA. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Bans on pit bulls and other large dogs have had little effect on serious dog bites, communities around the world have seen.

Breed-specific bans follow a familiar cycle: there is a well-publicized incident involving pit bulls, followed by a breed-specific ban which then does little to affect the overall number of serious dog bites. The community concerned either does or doesn’t repeal the ban, depending on local political dynamics.

After local elections last month, Montreal moved last week to relax a controversial ban on pit bulls.

At the core of the debate is a question: Are pit bulls so uniquely dangerous that they should all be banned, or can any large dog be dangerous, given a malicious or unskilled owner?

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Toronto dog bite data, to take one example, tends to support the second argument.

WATCH BELOW: Montreal’s pit bull ban

Ontario brought in a province-wide law in 2005 aimed at removing pit bulls completely from the province over time. Existing dogs were to be spayed or neutered, and it became illegal to bring them into the province.

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“Over time, it will mean fewer pit bull attacks and, overall, fewer attacks by dangerous dogs,” then-attorney general Michael Bryant told the Ontario legislature at the time.

Ontario’s ban certainly led to the disappearance of pit bulls. What it didn’t do, at least in Toronto, was reduce the number of serious dog bites. (Bite data in Ontario is only collected by municipalities.)

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Graphic: As pit bulls disappeared, dog bites rose in Toronto

The Toronto Humane Society wrote in a 2013 paper that breed-specific bans seemed to have no effect on the overall number of serious dog bites.

The THS cited Calgary’s system as a model to emulate. Calgary, which has seen a five-fold reduction in its dog bite rate over a 20-year period, focuses on training and accountability for dog owners, not on the breed of a particular dog. Calgary also puts resources into dog safety for the general public, especially children.

Communities elsewhere in the world have seen similar results.

The Irish Republic imposed special restrictions on 11 types of large dogs, including pit bulls, in 1999. By 2013, the number of people in the Republic hospitalized for dog bites had risen by 50 per cent.

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In Sioux City, Iowa, which banned pit bulls in 2008, dog bites stayed at about the same level, even rising slightly. (As in Toronto, the law did reduce bites by pit bulls, however.)

The Netherlands passed and later abandoned a breed-specific ban. New legislation requires owners of certain breeds, including pit bulls, to take a course in dog training.


On the other hand, a 2012 study showed that breed-specific legislation in Winnipeg may have led to a reduction in serious dog bites there.

And supporters of breed-specific bans point to studies that show that bites from pit bulls are more serious, and more likely to lead to serious injury or death, than bites from other dogs.

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