Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

I’m ‘on the record’ that I don’t support breed specific legislation (BSL) and I consider it one of New Zealand’s great shames that it has adopted such laws  (just one of the issues I raised when I submitted to the review of the Animal Welfare Act).

Breed specific legislation doesn’t work because, in part, these laws rely on visual identification of breeds.  If a dog is identified as one of the banned or dangerous breeds, it can (literally) be ‘all over, Rover.’

There’s scientific research that shows why visual identification is a fatal flaw in BSL.  Some of this research has been conducted by Dr Victoria Lea Voith who is based at the Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine.

In 2009, Voith and her colleagues published results of a study comparing visual identification of dog breed with DNA results.   They showed that there was a very low accuracy rate when visual identifications were verified with DNA.  The research team concluded:

  • There is little correlation between dog adoption agencies’ identification of probable breed composition with the identification of breeds by DNA analysis
  • Further evaluation of the reliability and validity of visual dog breed identification is warranted
  • Justification of current public and private policies pertaining to breed specific regulations should be reviewed

This year (2013), Voith and her colleagues published another paper entitled “Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability”   Since their previous paper was based on the identification of breed by a single person, the research team wanted to see if the success rate of breed identification improved when multiple people were involved.  The research team presented one-minute video clips of the same 20 dogs to over 900 people who were engaged in dog-related professions or services.

For 14 of the dogs, fewer than 50% of the respondents visually identified breeds of dogs that matched DNA identification. For only 7 of the dogs was there agreement among more than 50% of the respondents regarding the most predominant breed of a mixed breed.  In 3 of those 7 cases, the visual identification did not match the DNA analysis.

This time, the research team concluded:

This study reveals large disparities between visual and DNA breed identification as well as differences among peoples’ visual identifications of dogs. These discrepancies raise questions concerning the accuracy of databases which supply demographic data on dog breeds for publications such as public health reports, articles on canine behavior, and the rationale for public and private restrictions pertaining to dog breeds.

Dr Voith explains her research in this YouTube video:

If you still want to know more about this issue, you can visit the Breed Identification page of the National Canine Research Council.  On this page, you can download color posters that further explain the problems associated with visual identification of breeds.


6 responses to “Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

  1. A very good and concise overview of the cruel folly that is BSL. How do we get the legislators to listen up and get rid of this irrational, expensive, unenforceable and deadly legislation?

    • Hi Karen

      Well, it is important to get involved. Work with organisations that are also anti-BSL and take the time to submit on local laws that want to go down that track. Network and spread the word. Good luck!

      • We too made extensive, researched submissions, wrote to politicians, tried to talk to local bodies etc., and got ignored. The level of rudeness was surprising.

      • Yes, it can be frustrating when we meet people who do not share our passion. But, I am a firm believer that persistence pays off and, if we believe BSL is wrong, then sharing every story about other communities around the world that are turning their backs on BSL is one way of promoting the cause. Keeping up the pressure and commentary through social media is another. As for rudeness, well, unfortunately we can’t control that either. But we can be sure we don’t vote for those people when it is there time for re-election!

      • Breed Specific Legislation is in fact going down like nine pins right around the world. Not fast enough of course hence our frustration.
        Nonetheless, the truth is pretty hard to argue with and the truth is that BSL is bad law.
        Thankfully, BSL is losing traction and being repealed and rejected increasingly.
        However, it isn’t happening fast enough while so many innocent dogs continue to die. We need to continue demanding that politicians lift their act sooner rather than later.

  2. Pingback: The mis-labelling of pit bulls |

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