Safeguarding Children in the Presence of Dogs


This chapter was refreshed in April 2023.

1. Introduction

Dogs play an important part in society and are valued companions for many families, playing an important part of family life.

The aim of this guidance is to provide information to those who are working with families and children. The guidance explains and describes:

  • The situations where children are most likely to be vulnerable;
  • The advice to be given to families with regard to child safety (when in the presence of dogs) and to prevent a dog bite or attack;
  • The basis for an effective assessment of risk and the criteria that should prompt a referral to Children's Social Care or other agencies.

2. Situations where Children are Most Likely to be Vulnerable

Public Health Wales undertook a Rapid Review of Deaths of Children from Dog Bites or Strikes (2014) as part of the Child Death Review Programme and identified the following factors/situations indicating increased vulnerability for children:

  • The younger the child, the more unaware and unprepared they will be when dealing with dogs and the dangers associated with them;
  • Deaths and injuries requiring hospitalisation among children in the younger age range (0-4 yrs) are from a familiar dog, although often not the dog of the immediate family, in a familiar setting;
  • Older children are more likely to be bitten on the hand or arm, and attacks are more likely to be out in the open than those suffered by younger children. Often the dog is not a familiar dog;
  • In a number of cases, death from a dog attack has occurred when the child is in the care of another (e.g. grandparent);
  • Serious dog bites or attacks, requiring hospitalisation, are more frequent among children from more deprived areas than children from less deprived areas;
  • The owner of the dog is often not present when the fatal attack occurs and in some cases the attack has occurred when the dog has had unsupervised access to the child;
  • Research indicates that dogs that are neutered or spayed may be less territorial or aggressive;
  • The environment in which the dog is present could indicate a higher risk. The care, control and context of a dog's environment will undoubtedly impact on its behaviour and potential risks;
  • Dogs that have been ill-treated/abused or kept in inappropriate conditions are more likely to be aggressive;
  • Dogs that are kept and/or bred for the purpose of fighting, defending or threatening are likely to present more risks than genuine pets. Owners linked to criminal activity, anti-social behaviour, drugs or violence may have reason to encourage aggressive behaviour from dogs which puts children and young people at risk;
  • Families that experience high levels of aggression and domestic tensions including domestic abuse are more likely to trigger stress and possible attacks by dogs. These families are less likely to appreciate and anticipate risks and may be less likely to take necessary precautions. Abusers can use animals, mainly dogs to further abuse and control their victim (further abuse can occur while transferring the dog if they share the pet, not leaving the abuser if the dog is to be left with them, the abuser threatening to harm or take the dog away if they leave the abuser especially if they bought it as a gift for the victim/children). Dogs can be killed/seriously harmed as a way to further control their victim and pull on the heart strings of children;
  • Very young children living in chaotic or dysfunctional families are likely to be especially vulnerable to attack from dogs through lack of supervision and care;
  • Pregnant dogs and dogs with a new litter can show behavioural changes. Dogs may present with higher agitation, increased aggression or show increased territorial behaviour;
  • Breed is not a good predictor of risk; other factors, including the history of the dog, socialisation and context of the event are also important.

3. Preventing Bites and Attacks

The most important advice identified by the Rapid Review is to never leave a baby or young child unsupervised with a dog, even for a moment, no matter how well you know that dog. This message is relevant to any contact with dogs, including when the child is in the care of others.

All professionals coming into contact with a family with dogs should emphasise the importance of ensuring babies and young children are never left alone with a dog – however familiar the dog is to the family – and record the advice given.

The Blue Cross and RSPCA have produced a range of useful resources about keeping children safe from dogs.  Practitioners should give or direct any families with a dog or who have contact with a dog, towards these resources (see Appendix 2: Useful Resources and Contact Numbers).

The RSPCA offer six golden rules to keep children safe:

  • Stay with your children in the presence of dogs;
  • Teach children to interact with dogs at the right time. If the dog is eating, sleeping, unwell, playing with a toy or if the dog is blind or deaf, then children should not approach;
  • Children should be gentle with dogs. They should be taught not to climb on dogs, pull their ears or play roughly;
  • Teach children how to play with dogs in a respectful way;
  • Give the dog space when they need it and show children how to observe when the dog needs space;
  • Children should not approach a dog that they do not know.

4. Effective Assessment of Risk and the Criteria that Should Prompt Consideration of a Referral to Children's Social Care, Police and Other Agencies

If an agency is aware of an injury caused by a dog or treating an injury caused by a dog, they should record the following information:

  • Details of the incident (Clear description of what was happening e.g. during an argument, consideration of potential domestic need to be made);
  • The child’s name, age and address;
  • The owner’s name and address;
  • The dog’s name and breed;
  • The reason for keeping the dog (Dogs that are kept and/or bred for the purpose of fighting, defending or threatening are likely to present more risks than genuine pets);
  • Any children in the home (particularly young children).

A referral to Children's Social Care should be considered if any of the following criteria apply:

  • There are clear links between animal cruelty and the capacity for child cruelty. Any concerns about the ill-treatment of a dog or inappropriate conditions of care where there are children in the family (or extended family) should result in a referral to Children's Social Care as well as the RSPCA (see Appendix 2: Useful Resources and Contact Numbers);
  • Where parents/carers have been advised not to leave a baby or young child unattended with a dog and continue to do so;
  • The child/young person is under 18 years of age and the injuries have required acute medical intervention such as attendance at Accident and Emergency, an Urgent Treatment Centre or through a GP;
  • Where parents/carers are believed to be exposing a child to, or failing to protect a child from, a dog that is believed to be dangerous or prohibited.

The police should be contacted on 101 if:

Children’s Social Care will follow safeguarding procedures and take any necessary actions, involving all appropriate agencies such as police and health, should there be any concerns regarding risk of harm. Home visits may be undertaken in order to complete assessments and to inform judgements relating to parenting and the care and control of the dog(s).

Advice might be sought from a veterinary professional to help determine the likely nature or level of risk presented by the dog(s). As with all other assessments the welfare of the child is paramount.

Appendix 1: Dangerous Dogs

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 provides very detailed information on the legislation covering dogs, the responsibilities of owners, and the actions that can be taken to remove and/or control dogs:

  • Any dog can be 'dangerous' (as defined by The Act) if it has already been known to inflict or threaten injury (this could be a bite and/or any other type of injury);
  • Certain dogs are prohibited (banned) and if any agency has any knowledge or report of a dog of this type, the matter should be reported to the police immediately (see below);
  • Injuries inflicted by certain types of dog are likely to be especially serious and damaging. Strong, powerful dogs such as Pit Bull types will often use their back jaws (as opposed to nipping) and powerful neck muscle to shake their victims violently as they grasp which will cause more severe injuries;
  • When reports of prohibited (banned) dog breeds and known or potentially dangerous dogs are linked to the presence of children, all agencies should be alert to the possible risks and consequences.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act (2014) amended Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) by extending the offence of being in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place to "any place in England or Wales", which includes private places.

However, all dogs are capable of causing serious injuries.

Prohibited/Banned Dogs

In the UK, it is against the law to own certain types of dog. These are the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero. Identification of dog breeds is very difficult and can be problematic, even for experts. If you have any concerns the police should be contacted, an assessment made, and necessary action taken to protect children/the public. If someone has a prohibited (banned) dog, the police can remove it and detain it, even if:

  • It isn't acting dangerously;
  • There hasn't been a complaint.

The police may need permission from a court to do this.

A police expert will judge the breed of dog you have and whether it is (or could be) a danger to the public.

Above taken from website, for more information see controlling your dog in a public place.

Appendix 2: Useful Resources and Contact Numbers

Blue Cross (

Has a wide range of information and resources about pets, pet care and safety. It includes:


Provides a range of information and resources about dogs and children designed to help parents understand and recognise dog behaviour, making it easier for children to stay safe and to keep dogs happy.

RSPCA numbers and contacts:

Other useful contacts

City of Lincoln Council Animal Warden:

  • Tel: 01522 873378; or
  • Out-of-hours: 01522 534747.