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.