Dangerous Dogs and Safeguarding Children


This chapter was refreshed in April 2022.

This chapter is currently under review.

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:

  • Deaths and injuries requiring hospitalisation among children in the younger age range (0-4 yrs) 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;
  • 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).

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

  • 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;
  • 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.

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;
  • A child injured by dog bite is under five years of age;
  • The child/young person is under 18 years of age and the injuries have required medical treatment and initial information suggests the dog responsible could be prohibited and/or dangerous or the parents have acted irresponsibly;
  • 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:

  • You consider that a dog poses a serious risk to a child or is a banned/prohibited breed (see Appendix 1: Dangerous Dogs);
  • At any point a dog bites a child.

Some referrals might be logged 'for information only' by the agencies, including Social Care, if it is clearly established that no significant or continued risk is likely to the child, or other children (for example, if the dog has already been 'put down' or removed). Recording this information is necessary to establish if there are repeated incidents when:

  • The injured child is under two years of age;
  • The child is under five years of age and the injuries have required medical treatment;
  • The child is over five years and under 18 and has been bitten more than once by the same dog;
  • The child/young person is under 18 years of age, the injuries have required medical treatment and initial information suggests the dog responsible could be prohibited and/or dangerous.

In more serious cases a Strategy Discussion and joint Section 47 investigation should lead to further discussions with other agencies and home visits to 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 www.gov.uk website, for more information see controlling your dog in a public place.

Appendix 2: Useful Resources and Contact Numbers

Blue Cross (www.bluecross.org.uk)

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

RSPCA (www.rspca.org.uk)

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.