What are the rules on dog ownership in the US? Are certain breeds banned?
Like other countries in the world, breed-specific legislation does exist in the US. It can be a thorny, complicated issue to navigate, one that raises more questions than it answers. With luck, this article serves as a helpful first step on that road.
In the piece to follow, we’ll pinpoint the states that have BSL in place, the states that have outlawed BSL, and the states where BSL is supposedly prohibited – but certain cases are upheld. We’ll also highlight the types of breeds that are often singled out.
If you’re in an area of the US where BSL reins, check your local government website for more information on the breed you’re interested in buying.
States where there is no breed-specific legislation (you can own any dog you like)
• South Dakota
• Rhode Island
• New Hampshire
• New Jersey
• New York
States where breed-specific legislation is in place (certain breeds are restricted or banned)
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
States where there are laws against BSL, but exceptions are made
Which breeds are targeted?
The Pit Bull is the most commonly targeted breed in the United States. It’s banned or restricted in more than twenty states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
To be clear, the Pit Bull is actually an amalgam of breeds, including American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers – all of whom share a bloodline.
The name alone, however, stirs emotion. “Pit bulls” have earned a dubious reputation in recent years, but as the AKC notes, public perception of the issue shifts regularly. “In the 1970s, Doberman Pinschers were singled out. In the 80s, German Shepherds were targeted. In the 90s it shifted to Rottweilers, and today it’s pit bulls. This begs the question, will your breed be next? Or can we finally put the responsibility for dangerous dogs where it really belongs—on irresponsible owners regardless of breed?”
The Rottweiler is second to the Pit Bull, with legislation existing in these states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Rottweilers need early socialization and plenty of exercise, but the real problem is irresponsible breeding: Rottweilers are popular protection dogs that are often trained to be aggressive to strangers. On the other hand, with the right care, they can be wonderful companions.
The American Bulldog is distinct from the Pit Bull and is restricted – or banned – in these states: Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
The powerful Mastiff can be a wonderful companion – again, it’s typically irresponsible breeding that has caused the issue in the first place.
In total, there are 75 breeds in America that are at the mercy of some sort of restriction. Banned breeds cannot be owned at all; restricted breeds are often required to be neutered, chipped, and sometimes even muzzled in public. The startling thing is that your dog doesn’t need to be a pure member of a breed bloodline to be affected. If your dog shares enough physical characteristics with a banned/restricted breed, he too is at the mercy of this legislation.
Of course, breed-specific legislation neatly overlooks the fact that it’s improper and irresponsible breeding, socialization, and parenting that is the real issue: not the dogs themselves.