Skip to main content

Pitbulls and Panama

Charlotte likes pretty things, and she loves the beach, sushi, coffee and seashells.

Bill 281 Generates Controvery

The new bill that is being set to unleash as part of Panama law is currently known as Project of the Law: Bill #281. It outlines the irresponsibility of dog owners, especially in regards to the popular and beloved American Pitbull terrier breed. It is meant to discourage these kinds of dogs from roaming the streets without a leash and without muzzle in places of public recreation. The project mentions that dog owners of these breeds should know, that because of the dog’s genetic predispositions, there is a high propensity of aggression. The extreme controversy has emerged around this already hated proposed Bill #281, which establishes the rules applicable to those who are owners of dogs now considered "dangerous" in the country of Panama, as presented before the Committee on Municipal Affairs of the National Assembly by the Deputy of the opponent change Democratic member, Noriel Salerno.

Dog Lovers Raise Their Voices Against Bill 281

Organizations defending animals such as Spay Panama, Angels of Animals, Legs and Feet and The Foundation San Francisco de Assisi, have decided to raise their voice against the initiative. They argued that the Bill does not make sense and that it is not fair because many dogs, outside of the specified list, can also be considered potentially dangerous regardless of nature, size or jaw strength. Their argument mentions that other dogs can also cause serious injury or death to small animals and humans.

Zoraida Rodróguez, member of the Alliance for Responsible Holding of Pets (an organization that arose following the controversial bill), told the Press that the initiative presented by Salerno has several inconsistencies. She mentioned that there is no proper motivation to carry out the proposal, and that the facts and statistics that support the creation of the law are not fully outlined, clear, and scientific in nature.

One of many dog lovers and dog owners stated her opinion on a Panama news site as follows: “I have two dogs that are on the list of potentially dangerous breeds. I read the Bill 281 proposal, but the Bill doesn’t understand that these dog breeds serve to protect the owners. What kind of protection can my dog give me if I go for a walk with him and I am attacked, yet my dog is wearing a muzzle? I agree that if dog causes you cause bodily damage, the owner (me) should take responsibility. The bill should recognize the rights of the dog owners of these breeds. If the dog is educated and has never used a muzzle, yet the dog is walking peacefully and not causing harm, what am I doing wrong?”

Another Panamanian citizen, and long time Pitbull breeder, mentioned that he does not like the idea of enclosing certain dog breeds within the home's boundaries while keeping random dogs (of other breeds) roaming the streets. He feels that politically, it is a way to keep insurance companies busy, and with more profit coming in, with a growing list of fines, fees and monetary regulations He feels that the dogs on the streets, roaming freely, or non-dangerous breeds, may be more dangerous as they are not vaccinated and are openly transmitting diseases and populating randomly. He mentioned that he has seen these dogs attack people and that they should be bound by the same Bill, regardless of breed. It's not fair that if the 'dangerous dog breed' protects the owner, that the owner will be fined when the dog was just doing it's job.

A Panamanian tweeted the following: "Any dog is dangerous depending on who breeds it. I find the Bill 281 absurd. We see this with people: there are some who are thieves and murderers, and there are others who are good-hearted people regardless of 'breed."'

Scientific Journals Regarding Pitbulls, Dogs and Aggression

American Pit Bulls, Scarring, And Aggression Propensities

“The American Pit Bull Terrier is the breed most commonly associated with organized dogfighting in this country. It was found that dogs with 10 or more scars in the three body zones where dogfighting injuries tend to be concentrated were more likely, on average, to show aggression to other dogs. Ten or more scars in the three body zones was a reasonable threshold with which to classify a dog as high risk for dog aggression: 82% of males and 60% of females with such scarring displayed dog aggression. However, because many unscarred dogs were dog aggressive while some highly scarred dogs were not, we recommend collecting behavioral information to supplement scar counts when making disposition decisions about dogs seized in dogfighting investigations.” (Miller, 2016)

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs and Phenotypes That Hint to Predisposition to Aggressiveness

Canine behavioral problems, in particular aggression, are important reasons for euthanasia of otherwise healthy dogs. Aggressive behavior in dogs also represents an animal welfare problem and a public threat. Elucidating the genetic background of adverse behavior can provide valuable information to breeding programs and aid the development of drugs aimed at treating undesirable behavior. The domestic dog (Canis familiaris), with its more than 400 recognized breeds, displays great variation in behavior phenotypes. Favorable behavior is important for well-being and negative traits such as aggression may ruin the owner-dog relationship and lead to relinquishment to shelters or even euthanasia of otherwise healthy dogs. Behavioral traits result from an interaction of both genetic and environmental factors. Breed-specific behavioral traits such as hunting, herding and calmness/aggression are, however, evidence of a large genetic component and specific behaviors show high heritability.

With the intentions of identifying gene-specific expression in particular brain parts and comparing brains of aggressive and non-aggressive dogs, we studied amygdala, frontal cortex, hypothalamus and parietal cortex, as these tissues are reported to be involved in emotional reactions, including aggression. Based on quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) in 20 brains, obtained from 11 dogs euthanized because of aggressive behavior and nine non-aggressive dogs, the expression of nine genes identified in an initial screening by subtraction hybridization were studied. The study showed significant differences in gene expression between brain compartments for most of the investigated genes. Increased expression of two genes was associated with the aggression phenotype.” (Vage, 2010)

What constitutes as 'aggression' in Dogs?

"Dangerousness does not necessarily equate with aggressiveness, although they are often used interchangeably. A 50-kg enthusiastic excited dog running right someone, knocking them down, and injuring them is dangerous. On the other hand, a growling dog that has never bitten is aggressive but not necessarily dangerous. Aggression has been defined as “spoken or physical behavior that is threatening or involves harm to someone or something” (1). Some definitions of aggression also include the display of threats in the absence of injury. Aggression, therefore, encompasses a wide variety of behaviors ranging from subtle body postures and facial expressions to explosive attacks. To complicate matters even more, aggression can be an expression of either normal or abnormal behavior. Description of the behavior sequence, context, frequency, and severity of aggressive events as well as health status of the dog allows veterinarians to tease apart appropriate normal from inappropriate abnormal behaviors." (Frank, 2013)

"A “normal” dog may bark or growl briefly at the approach of a stranger and then wait and watch for the response. Based on stranger’s response, the dog will decide on subsequent action. The stranger walks away (no threat) and the dog will stop barking and growling. If the stranger threatens to hit the dog with a stick, the dog may lunge and may bite. The dog acted because it perceived a threat. The behaviors will depend on the receiver’s response and the dog’s interpretation of the response. If a dog growls, snarls, and lunges systematically at everyone approaching without first warning (barking and/or growling) and then pausing for a response, that aggressive behavior becomes inappropriate and out of context. That dog is ill (“abnormal”) and is unable to make the distinction between threat and non-threat." (Frank, 2013)

List of Dog Breeds Affected by Bill 281

The Committee on Municipal classified and established a list of fourteen breeds and crossed-breeds that will be part of Bill #281. Among the dog breeds mentioned are the Akita Inu, American Staffordshire, Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, Doberman, Dogo Argentino, Doge of Bordeaux, Brazilian Row, Large Japanese dogs, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario dogs, Rottweilers, Neapolitan Mastiff and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

What Characteristics Classify a Dog as "Dangerous"?

Characteristics that a dog must meet to be considered potentially dangerous are as follows:

-muscular, strong, robust, powerful and athletic , with agility, bravery and toughness.
-Short hair.
-Wide, muscular and short neck.
-Strong chest, large, sturdy, arched ribs, muscular and short loin.
Thoracic perimeter with measurements of between 23.6 inches and 31.4 inches, height in cross between 19.7 inches and 27.6 inches and with a weight greater than 44 pounds.
-Parallel, straight and sturdy front legs.
-Very muscular, long hind legs with an angle shape.
-Big Head, cuboid, with wide and sturdy skull, muscular and light cheeks.
-Big, strong jaw, sturdy, wide, deep mouth.
-In addition to fulfilling these characteristics, a dog can be considered dangerous if suggested by a veterinarian.

Scroll to Continue

What does Bill 281 Propose?

Those who are owners of a dangerous dog breed and fail to register the dog in their corresponding municipality may be responsible for fines that vary from fifty to five hundred dollars. The Bill 281 also proposed implanting a chip or tattoo on the dog that identifies it as dangerous. The owner may be instructed to have signed on the home that say “Danger” and will be required to outfit the home with enclosed strong structures to keep the dog within the home’s boundaries. The Bill 281 will forbid dog owners to abandon the dog. If the owner is not willing to comply, public force will be used to seize the dog from the owner. The bill points out that the dog owners of these breeds would have to pay insurance if they cause some kind of harm to someone.

Is Your Dog a Dangerous Dog?

Any dog, whether or not it’s on the list of dangerous dogs, can become a dangerous and aggressive dog. Any dog can potentially cause harm to another person or to other animals. Like any pet that one may have in the home, it’s important to train the dog in the proper manner, as well as educate oneself in regard to the dog’s particular breeding and temperament, especially when it comes to any special requirements that come with that dog breed. This is important to minimize the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the dog. The owner is ultimately responsible for training the dog, and if the dog exhibits behavior that is considered aggressive, the owner should have it evaluated by a veterinarian or canine expert to explore treatment options.

There are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if your dog is a dangerous dog, or not.

1 . Does my dog have medical problems, such as having an anxiety disorder?

Some anxious dogs may pace back and forth, others will freeze in place. The animal may be vigilant even when there is no threat, and may seem to have a hard time relaxing when, again, there is no threat. Anxiety is normal if there’s a threat, but if there is no threat, and the dog is reacting to anxiety to an imaginary threat, there is an issue. Dogs that have anxiety cannot tell a real threat from no threat. So a dog suffering from anxiety disorder may be confused for an aggressive dog, so it’s important to have this treated, professionally, as soon as possible.

2 . Does the dog’s aggressive behavior match the situation, and is the aggressive behavior in the correct order?

Behavior happens in a pattern, always. It’s important to take special care to watch the dog’s normal behavior in order to compare the aggressive behavior to the dog’s normal behavior. Usually, when a threat is perceived, a dog will growl and lift their lip. This is called ‘initiation’. A dog will pause and wait for a response. The dog may then bite. When the dog bites, it should end the behavior sequence. Behavior is considered aggressive and abnormal if it follows anything outside of these steps.

If a dog continues to growl and bite without warning, the behavior is not normal and should be investigated more thoroughly. A normal dog will bark and watch and wait. The next behavior depends on the threat. If the threat walks away, the dog should stop the bark and growl. If the threat seems aggressive and picks up a blunt object, the dog may jump at the threat and commence biting. The dog, in this case, is acting normally to a threat. If the dog is continuously growing and barking at everyone that passes by, without any of the initial warnings or pauses, the behavior is aggressive.

3 . Are the aggressive events frequent, and Are the aggressive events severe in nature?

5 . Is the aggressive event predatory, defensive, or offensive?

Defensive happens if a dog sees a potential threat, and the threat enters it’s personal space, and the dog decides to either attack or run away. If the threat comes closer, the dog may show aggressive behavior.

6 . Are the aggressive events predictable?

Your dog may be considered dangerous if the aggressive behavior happens with no clear warnings. A dog may be considered dangerous if the bites are severe and if there are multiple wounds caused by the dog. The dog may be considered dangerous if the aggression is offensive in nature, and if the aggression is unpredictable. While you may love your dog, regardless of whether or not it’s on the ‘bad dog’ list in Panama, it’s important to never fall into the trap of saying, “My dog would never…”

Scientific References Regarding Dangerous Breeds and Aggression


Frank D. (2013). Aggressive dogs: What questions do we need to ask?. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 54(6), 554-6.

Miller, K. A., Touroo, R., Spain, C. V., Jones, K., Reid, P., & Lockwood, R. (2016). Relationship Between Scarring and Dog Aggression in Pit Bull-Type Dogs Involved in Organized Dogfighting. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 6(11), 72. doi:10.3390/ani6110072

Våge, J., Bønsdorff, T. B., Arnet, E., Tverdal, A., & Lingaas, F. (2010). Differential gene expression in brain tissues of aggressive and non-aggressive dogs. BMC veterinary research, 6, 34. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-34

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Charlotte Doyle

Related Articles