One of they many problems with Breed Specific Legislation is that it does not take into account the circumstances that affect the behaviour and social abilities of individual dogs. Instead, BSL provides sweeping generalizations about behaviour (or a set of behaviours) thought to be inherent across an entire breed.
Thankfully, ongoing studies are expanding our knowledge of canine psychology and behaviour, and are providing valuable evidence to dispel many of the beliefs and assumptions being used in support of Breed Specific Legislation.
Family Dog or Resident Dog
Very interesting studies are being done to determine the difference in the behaviour and social skills of family dogs as opposed to resident dogs. I first came across this categorization when reading the findings of Karen Delise (Founder and Director of the National Canine Research Center), who draws a distinction between the two.
Delise refers to 'family dogs' as individuals who have had the chance to "learn appropriate behaviour and to interact with humans on a regular basis in positive and humane ways." On the other hand 'resident dogs' are defined as individuals who are generally isolated from the normal social interactions of family life; examples of which include guard dogs, compound dogs, dogs that are tethered outside, etc.
Quite logically, Delise states that it is unrealistic to expect these two different categories of dogs to behave similarly.
Sociability With Humans
The findings of Hungarian researcher Jozsef Topal indicate that dogs are skilled at noticing and responding to social signals from human beings, and a canine's sociability with humans is affected (if not determined altogether) by the amount and type of interactions a dog has with humans.
Based on Topal's research, he concludes that the most critical factor determining a dog's sociability is whether it lives with humans as day-to-day companions, or whether it lives in relative isolation from humans.
Topal and his research colleagues also found that 'family dog' had an increased tendency to look to humans for clues as to how to behave. Of course these findings make perfect sense - the more positive interactions dogs have with humans, the greater their sociability and coping-skills will be.
From my perspective, the best use for these conclusions would be to tie them to dog aggression/bite statistics as to provide a comparison in the numbers of family dog incidents versus resident dog incidents. Such data could certainly help to steer animal welfare laws to prohibit tethering, and guide dangerous dog laws to focus on context rather than focusing on breed.
Delise, K, "Resident Dog vs. Family Dog: What is the Difference?" available athttp://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/tinymce/Family_v_Resident.pdf
Topál J,. Miklósi Á, Csányi V, "Dog-Human Relationship Affects Problem Solving Behavior in the Dog," Anthrozoos, 1997; 10: 214-224.