Dangerous Dogs

When you visit a family that has a dog you need to consider whether or not the dog poses any threat to the child’s health, development or safety. Serious injury can be inflicted by dogs that are prohibited, dangerous or poorly managed.

Introduction

The death of a child referred to in a Serious Case Review by Northampton LSCB has reaffirmed the need for all staff who come into contact with children and families to be vigilant when working with families that may own or are in accommodation where dogs may be present.

When you visit a family that has a dog you need to consider whether or not the dog poses any threat to the child’s health, development or safety and yourself. According to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 some dogs are outlawed. These are:


a - Pit Bull Terrier, b – Japanese Tosa, – Dogo Argentino, d – Filo Braziliero and – A dog that matches many of the characteristics of a Pit Bull Terrier, may be a banned type.

However these are not the only dogs that could be dangerous. You need to think about the dog and the child in the context of the family.

If you consider a dog is a serious risk to a child and/or if you believe that the dog may be one of the breeds mentioned above, you should contact the police immediately.

The Dog and the Child

When you visit a family that has a dog you need to consider whether or not the dog poses any threat to the child's health, development or safety, taking into account the following factors:

  • All children are potentially vulnerable from attack(s) from dog(s).
  • Young and very small children are likely to be at greatest risk.
  • A young child may be unaware and unprepared for the potential dangers they could face.
  • A young child may less able to protect themselves and more likely to be of a size that leaves especially vulnerable parts of their body exposed to an attack.
  • Is it a large dog in a small home?
  • Is the dog left alone with the child?
  • How much money is spent on the dog compared to the child?

The Dog and their Owner (including extended family and temporary carers)

Some factors to consider:

  • Many commentators will insist that 'the owner, not the dog' is the problem.

  • There may be occasions when even the 'best' of owners fails to anticipate or prevent their dog's behaviour.

  • The care, control and context of a dog's environment will undoubtedly impact on their behaviour and potential risks.

  • Research indicates that neutered or spayed dogs are less likely to be territorial and aggressive towards other dogs and people.

  • Dogs that are kept and/or bred for the purpose of fighting, defending or threatening are likely to present more risks than genuine pets.

  • Some dogs are kept as a status symbol and can be part of the criteria of belonging to a gang.

  • Owners linked to criminal activity, anti-social behaviour, drugs or violence may have reason to encourage aggressive behaviour from dogs.

  • Owners with interests and histories in crime, violence, drugs or anti-social behaviour are unlikely to appreciate or prevent the possible risks their dog(s) may present to children.

The Family Context

Families characterised by high levels of aggression and domestic tension:

  • are more likely to trigger excitement and possible attacks by dogs.

  • are less likely to appreciate and anticipate risks.

  • may be less likely to take necessary precautions.

  • may be less likely to guarantee the safety of the most vulnerable youngsters;

Response by Agencies/Practitioners

Any agency or practitioner aware of a dog that could be prohibited or may be dangerous should collect as much information as possible, including:

  • The dog's name and breed (if known).

  • What size is the dog – small, medium, large?

  • The current owner and any previous owners where known, including their gender.

  • Why did the owner choose this particular dog eg breed, temperament or because the owner felt sorry for it etc?

  • Is the dog's owner present - always, sometimes, never?

  • Does the dog get exercised outside the house - daily, weekly, never?

  • Does the dog get off lead exercise - daily, weekly, never?

  • Does the dog live in the yard/garden - always, sometimes, never?

  • Does the dog get fed from the owner’s plate at mealtimes?

  • Does the dog chew/destroy things – always, sometimes, never?

  • Has the dog ever bitten another dog?

  • Has the dog ever bitten a person?

If you consider a dog is a serious risk to a child and/or if you believe that the dog may be one of the breeds mentioned above, you should contact the police immediately.

In the event that you are not sure about the dog you should share your concerns with the family. If you feel unable to do this you will need to discuss the issue with your line manager in the first instance.

When you visit the family that has a dog you need to consider whether or not the dog poses any threat to the child’s health, development or safety. It may be a good idea to discuss this with the family’s health visitor as they are experienced in child’s health, development and safety. You can also undertake a risk assessment using the Tees LSCBs Safer Dogs Around Children Risk Assessment Form.

A referral to children’s social care following the Tees LSCB procedures should be made if there is any evidence that a dog has caused injury to a child which has required medical treatment or any injury to a child under the age of five years.

Useful Guidance and Resources