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Great Danes are commonly referred to as gentle giants, so it may come as a surprise that Danes frequently appear on banned breed lists. It can feel like a slap in the face when you go to move to a new house or apartment, only to have your application denied based on the fact that you own a Great Dane.
So, why are Great Danes banned in some places? Great Danes are banned in some places by national, state, or local breed specific legislation (BSL), insurance companies, and property management companies, largely as a misinformed reaction to their extremely large size and potential to inflict injury to people and other dogs. However, studies show that BSL isn’t an effective tool to prevent dog bites.
In this article, we’ll look at what breed specific legislation is, why it often applies to Great Danes, and what to do if your Great Dane is subjected to a ban.
What is Breed Specific Legislation?
Breed specific legislation refers to laws and policies that restrict or outright prohibit the ownership of some breeds or types of dogs, in an attempt to reduce dog bites and attacks. However, these laws lump all dogs of certain breeds together, with no regard for individual dogs and their temperaments. Great Danes are generally very mellow dogs and anyone who has worked with the breed would hardly expect a happy, healthy Dane to be classified as a danger to people and other dogs, but unfortunately that is the case in some areas.
Who Enforces BSL?
The federal government of the United States has not enacted any national BSL, but many states, cities, and counties have created their own laws and restrictions about certain breeds. Additionally, four out of the five branches of the armed forces have restricted the ownership of certain breeds on military bases and associated housing, and many Native American Reservations also have BSL in place.
Plus, even in areas where there are no state or local laws, many insurance companies, landlords, rental agencies, and property management groups have forbidden or restricted ownership of Great Danes and other “banned” breeds. These agencies can make it essentially impossible to get an insurance policy or rent a home, effectively disallowing owners of certain breeds to live in some areas.
Of course, the whole insurance industry is based on potential risk, and insurance companies will go to extreme lengths to avoid having to pay out a claim. So, they might refuse to insure an apartment complex if they allow Great Danes and other ‘banned’ breeds to reside there, or they may refuse to provide homeowner’s insurance liability if you own a Dane. Often, insurance woes are at the root of almost all breed specific legislation and policies.
History of BSL
BSL began in the late 1980s, when the media reported heavily on dogs attacking people. These reports whipped up a fervor about certain dog breeds being more dangerous than others, which led to local governments enacting laws. Some states have actually enacted anti-BSL laws to outlaw discrimination based on breed, but some courts have upheld that dog regulation is a local municipal matter rather than a state concern. So, for example, Colorado has state anti-BSL laws but Denver still has an enforced ban on certain breeds.
Breeds That Are Subject to BSL
Pitbull-type dogs are far and away the most restricted by BSL. The term ‘Pitbull’ can actually refer to several breeds, including American Pitbull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, English Bull Terriers, mixes of any of these breeds, as well as any dog that resembles a Pitbull.
But, as dog expert Stanley Coren outlines, many other breeds have been subjected to various forms of BSL, including Great Danes, Rottweilers, Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmations, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Presa Canarios, Akitas, Mastiffs, Cane Corsi, Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, wolf-hybrids, and mixed-breed dogs that include any of these breeds. While many of these would be considered bully breeds, there are unfortunately breeds from every category on his list.
However, each entity that creates BSL or related restrictions has their own list of banned breeds, so certain other breeds may be restricted in some areas.
Where is BSL In Effect?
BSL has been effected in more than 50 countries around the world, with over 40 of those having some form of national legislation in place. In the United States, 37 states and over 1,000 cities had breed specific legislation as of 2018. 21 states have anti-BSL laws.
Is Breed Specific Legislation Effective?
In a word, no. Studies have shown no evidence that BSL reduces dog bite incidents. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have even taken a strong stance against BSL, citing that dog bite data is often inaccurate, it is difficult to definitively identify dog breeds, and BSL is expensive and difficult to enforce.
The CDC has suggested that breed-neutral laws are generally in the better interest of dogs and communities. These laws focus exclusively on the behavior and history of each individual dog and owner, and provide a more comprehensive and effective alternative to BSL.
Why Are Great Danes Blacklisted?
So, now that we understand what BSL is, let’s look at why exactly Great Danes might be classified as ‘dangerous dogs.’
Obviously, Great Danes are very large, and if a Dane was to become aggressive and attack a human the results would likely be much more dire than, say, if a Chihuahua attacked. Great Danes can grow to 100-200 pounds and measure nearly 3 feet tall at the shoulder, which means that physically speaking, they could easily outweigh and overwhelm a decent percentage of the human population.
Their heads and jaws are also quite massive, and bite force is predominantly correlated to body weight and the shape and size of the jaws. So, you could argue that if a Great Dane did become enraged, the damage he could inflict would be proportional to his massive size.
However, that does not take into account Great Danes’ temperaments, which are generally easy-going, goofy, and laid back. Incidentally, they’re also known to be affectionate, good with children, and very patient, as you can see in this video:
But I digress…
Great Danes are descended from English Mastiffs and Irish Wolfhounds, and since Mastiffs are commonly a restricted breed, it does somewhat logically follow that Great Danes might find a place on the blacklist as well. Of course, as we’ve noted above, BSL isn’t particularly effective, but this is simply an effort to understand why exceedingly gentle Great Danes have found a place on this ‘vicious’ list.
What Can You Do If Your Great Dane is Blacklisted?
If you are hoping to move to a new area with your Great Dane but you find out that Danes are on the naughty list, there are still a few steps you can take. Remember, many areas only restrict ownership rather than outright ban it, so you may just have to jump through a few hoops. However, if an insurance company or rental agency is giving you trouble, you can attempt to convince them on a case-by-case basis that your Great Dane is not a threat.
Request a Pet Interview
You may be able to request a pet interview with the landlord, property manager, or whoever has enacted the breed restriction. This might not work if an insurance company is involved, but some landlords make breed specific restrictions of their own, and they may be swayed if your Great Dane can demonstrate what a big sweetheart he is.
You may wish to provide your Dane’s vet records to prove that he’s had all his immunizations, outline where you have previously lived with your Great Dane, and/or conduct the interview in a busy area with other people and dogs around to demonstrate how calm and non-threatening he is.
You may also wish to gather character references for your Great Dane, as ridiculous as that sounds. Perhaps your previous landlord, neighbors, or friends would be willing to vouch for your Dane’s personality and behavior. You can either provide written accounts to the new landlord or provide names and contact information so the landlord can call your references directly.
It is unfortunate that Great Danes and many other breeds are still facing unfair breed specific legislation, and that owning a certain type of dog can preclude you from living in some areas altogether.
However, you can help end BSL! Your Great Dane can serve as an advocate for the breed – introduce him (safely and calmly, of course) to your neighbors, share resources and studies, and generally help educate other people about the misguidedness of BSL. You can also sign petitions, email your representatives, and otherwise get involved in the legal process of overturning BSL.
Of course, the absolute best thing you can do is to ensure that your Great Dane is happy, healthy, and in a loving environment! If a certain apartment complex or city doesn’t allow Great Danes, it doesn’t sound like a great place to be anyways, and there are almost always alternatives where you and your Dane can live happily.