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1.5.18 Safeguarding Children from Dangerous Dogs: Practitioner Guidance


This chapter was extensively updated in October 2017 and should be read throughout.


  1. Aims of this Guidance
  2. Legislation Relating to Dangerous Dogs
  3. The Dog and the Child: Family Context
  4. Owners and Families
  5. Families characterised by High Levels of Aggression and Domestic Tensions
  6. Practitioner Guidance
  7. Referral to the Children’s Social Care
  8. Significant Issues
  9. Further Information and Reading

1. Aims of this Guidance

The primary aim of these guidelines is to protect children from the serious injuries that can be inflicted by dogs that are prohibited, dangerous or poorly managed.

The guidelines set out to explain and describe:

  • The children most likely to be vulnerable and the dogs most likely to be dangerous;
  • The information that should be gathered when any child is injured by a dog and the criteria that should prompt a referral to safeguarding procedures;
  • The basis for an effective assessment of risk and the options for action that could be considered by strategy groups or case conferences;
  • Support for frontline staff in the execution of their duties.

2. Legislation Realing to Dangerous Dogs

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

  • Certain dogs are 'prohibited' and if any agency has any knowledge or report of a dog of this type, the matter should be reported to the police immediately;
  • Any dog can be 'dangerous' (as defined by the Act) if it has already been known to inflict or threaten injury;
  • 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;
  • When reports of 'prohibited' dogs and known or potentially dangerous dogs are linked to the presence of children, all agencies should be alert to the possible risks and consequences;

Part 7. of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 strengthens powers to tackle irresponsible dog ownership by extending to private places the offence of owning or being in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control in a public place. It also provides that a dog attack on an assistance dog constitutes an aggravated offence.

Part 7.also ensures that the courts can take account of the character of the owner of the dog, as well as of the dog, when assessing whether a dog should be destroyed on the grounds that it is a risk to the public.

The Home Office Crime Classification 8/21 is amended to: ‘’Owner or person in charge allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in any place in England or Wales (whether or not in a public place) injuring any person or assistance dog.’’ Section 3 (1) Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as amended by Section 106 Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.

3. The Dog and the Child: Family Context

Professionals visiting home addresses where a dog(s) are present need to consider whether or not the dog poses any threat to the child’s health, development or safety.

All practitioners need to be aware that:

  • 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 be less able to protect themselves and more likely to be of a size that leaves especially vulnerable parts of their body exposed to any ‘assault’.

Frontline line staff should consider;

  • 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?
  • If you consider a dog is a serious risk to a child you should contact the police immediately
  • Research suggests that animal abuse can be part of a constellation of family violence, which can include child abuse and domestic abuse. Effective investigation and assessment is key to determining whether there are any links between these factors and the possible risks to the safety and welfare of children, adults and animals.

4. Owners and Families

  • There will 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;
  • 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) present to children.

5. Families characterised by High Levels of Aggression and Domestic Tensions

  • 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;
  • Very young, small children living in chaotic or dysfunctional families are likely to be especially vulnerable;
  • Prohibited, dangerous, powerful dogs are likely to inflict the most serious injuries.

6. Practitioner Guidance

Any Agency aware of a dog that could be prohibited or considered dangerous should report the location (address), description of dog (name and breed) if know and name of owner if known to Bedfordshire Police by calling 101 or the Luton Dog Warden Service on 510330 or email

Any agency aware or treating an injury to a child caused by a dog, should establish precisely when and how the injury was caused. They should also try to ascertain if there is any history of previous or similar injuries. This should be reported to the Children’s Social Care for Central Bedfordshire, Luton or Bedford Borough.

Professionals visiting home addresses should be aware that where a dog is perceived to be acting aggressively (i.e. barking, snarling, jumping up), this may be in response to an intruder on their territory i.e. the professional.

Where a professional is being threatened by a home owner with a dog, the professional should inform the home owner to either remove the dog to a secure area or the professional should leave the house and retreat to the safety of a car and call the police. The professional should not leave the address (stay in car at address) as this will restrict what action the police can take.

The police have statutory powers to enter the home and require the dog to be controlled to enable the professional to undertake their assessment and see the child/ren.

7. Referral to Children’s Social Care

Some referrals might be logged ‘for information only’, if there is very clearly no significant or continued risk to the child, or other children (for example, if the dog has already been ‘put down’ or removed).

Some referrals might prompt ‘information leaflets’ where the incident or injury was clearly minor and the family have shown themselves to be responsible dog owners.

In more serious cases, single assessments might prompt further and more formal discussions with other agencies and may include:

  • Home visits to complete fuller assessments and to inform judgements on parenting and the care and control of dog(s);
  • Advice might be sought from a vet or RSPCA 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”.

  • If agencies cannot be satisfied that any further risks will be addressed, they should consider all statutory options open to them to protect the child or remove the dog(s).

Useful Numbers

8. Significant Issues

The RSPCA advice to all professionals who are in contact with a household where there is a dog/s present:

‘’When looking at, or asking about a dog think about the following points, which should not be considered an exhaustive list but are intended to prompt a professional’s curiosity as to the state of the dog’s welfare along with suggested courses of action.‘’

‘’The points relate to Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 which imposes a duty of care on a person who is permanently or temporarily responsible for an animal. This duty of care requires that reasonable steps in all the circumstance are taken to ensure that the welfare needs of an animal are met to the extent required by good practice. The welfare needs are:

  • The need for a suitable environment;
  • The need for a suitable diet;
  • The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;
  • The need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals;
  • The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

During the visit ask if there is a dog in the property including the back garden. If there is, and the dog isn’t in the same room as you, ask to see him.’’

9. Further Information and Reading

Further Information

Research Information on Dogs

  • Male owners have dogs with increased aggression and fear (Roll and Unsheim1997);
  • Shy, Tense, emotionally less stable owners have increased aggression in their dogs (Podberscek 1997);
  • Presence of children in house reduces behavioural problems (Kebect 2003) but presence of teenagers increases biting;
  • Dogs fed at meal times from the owners table causes increased food aggression (O'Sullivan 2008);
  • Dogs fed at the table and dogs which sleep with the owner especially in their bed/ bedroom have increased aggression (Jagoe 1996);
  • The presence of other dogs in house leads to less fear aggression dependant upon the age spread of dogs (Thompson personal communication PC);
  • Dogs kept outside show increased aggression to strangers (Thompson PC);
  • Dogs which are walked more have less stranger aggression (Kobect 2003);
  • Dogs which have a free run on open space show increased socialisation and therefore less behaviour problems;
  • Lack of research on dog type before purchase leads to increased behaviour problems Those dogs chosen for practicality have less problems whereas those chosen for appearance have increased problems.(Roll and Unsheim 1997);
  • First time dog owners have more behaviour problems in their dogs (Jagoe 1996);
  • Those dog owners who have taken classes with their puppies have less behaviour problems as adult dogs (Lindsay 2000).

With thanks to the Liverpool Safeguarding Children Board for use of their original document.