The simple fact is this: if it has teeth, it can bite. Obviously, smaller dogs do not cause as significant damage to the average adult human (though they can injure or even kill a infant). But any medium or large-sized dog of any breed or mixed heritage is capable of causing serious injury and even death to a human being. The fact that millions of dogs exist in families across this world and never cause any injure is not startling, surprising, or even newsworthy. Most dogs do not exercise their ability to cause damage to humans. This includes - among them - dogs who have been mistreated, neglected, and abused. While abuse can increase a dog's potential to bite, there are many, many dogs who come from horrible situations and never bite. Many go on to live better lives in new homes, away from their past abusers.
Dogs who pose a higher risk in terms of bite potential can include dogs who are poorly bred, of ill temperament, or specifically bred to be aggressive towards humans, poorly socialized, not socialized at all, mistreated or taunted, and dogs who have bitten previously. Dogs who are tethered for extended periods of time, intact dogs, and unsupervised dogs, and dogs in packs are also more likely to bite according to the data. But, it is important to also recognize that any dog is capable of biting under certain circumstances, when pushed past his/her individual threshold.
Most dog bite injuries - and even fatalities - are/were preventable. Careful analysis of these situations - not media hyped-up versions - often shows us that humans are/were at fault. I'm not going to cite a slew of examples here, because Karen Delise has already done an incredible job documenting such. You can read her excellent books: Fatal Attacks, and The Pit Bull Placebo, as well as the works of Janis Bradley for data-driven material on dogbites. Karen has a wonderful website as well: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/ These are must reads for any dog owner, as well as any legislator.
There are many things humans can do to decrease their risk of being bitten, to keep their dogs safe, and to keep their communities safe. When I say 'humans' I mean not only dog owners, but enforcement and legislators, rescues and shelters as well. Some alternatives to BSL include, but are not limited to:
- concerted and continuous efforts to socialize dogs, and opportunities for lifelong socialization
- proper training and management of dogs
- spaying and neutering programs, including low cost options for those in need
- supervising pets during any interactions with other people and dogs
- providing appropriate veterinary care
- reporting abuse and neglect when it is observed or suspected
- abiding by leash laws and expecting others to do the same
- using appropriate off-leash areas with dogs who are appropriate for those areas
- seeking training help when an owned dog demonstrates a behavior problem
- low cost training services
- providing, and mandating, dog bite safety programs in the schools and community centers
- enforced registration/licensing of pets
- significant consequences for owners of dogs who have bitten due to mismanagement
- significant consequences for people who abuse or neglect animals, including prohibiting future pet ownership
- regulation of breeding and kenneling
- higher penalties for perpetrators and/or participants in dogfighting