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Aims of this Guidance

The benefits of owning pets are well established. Having a pet can have physical and emotional benefits for a child as well as teaching them about responsibility and caring for living creatures. However, a number of children of different ages have been seriously injured or have died from attacks by dogs in recent years.

The primary aim of this guidance is to protect children in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 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 Children’s Social Care;
  • The basis for an effective assessment of risk and the options for action that could be considered by strategy groups or case conferences

Research suggests that abuse of animals can be part of a constellation of intra-familial violence, which can include maltreatment of children and domestic violence and abuse. However, this does not imply that children who are cruel to animals necessarily go on to be violent adults, or that adults who abuse animals are also violent to their partners and/or children. Effective investigation and assessment are crucial to determine whether there are any links between these factors and the possible risks to the safety and welfare of children and/or vulnerable adults.

Dangerous Dogs

The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) (amended with effect from 13 May 2014 by the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) provides detailed information on the legislation covering certain types of dogs, the responsibilities of owners and the actions that can be taken to remove and/or control dogs. As a result of the 2014 Act, it extends to private places, the offence of owning or being in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control (previously in a public place); provides that a dog attack on an assistance dog constitutes an aggravated offence; and 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;

Any dog can be ‘dangerous’ (as defined by The Act) if it has already been known to inflict or threaten injury

A dog can also be defined as “dangerously out of control” by the ActFor the purposes of this Act a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person or assistance dog, whether or not it actually does so”

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. Prohibited breeds are defined by the Act as “any dog of the type known as Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero”

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.

The Dog and the Child: Family Context

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.

  • 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 any ‘assault’;
  • 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.

Owners and Families (including extended family and temporary carers)

  • Many commentators will insist that ‘the owner, not the dog’ is the problem;
  • 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;
  • Some dogs are kept as a status symbol and can be part of the criteria of belonging to a gang.

Owners:

  • 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;

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.

Practitioner Guidance

Any agency aware of a dog that could be prohibited or considered dangerous should collect as much information as possible:

  • The dog’s name and breed;
  • The owner’s details;
  • Clear discussions with the owner regarding planned management of the dog where there are children in the household or wider family.
  • Where the agency/individual is unsure; advice should be sought from Police colleagues.

Risk Factors: Dangerous Dogs

  1. Is the dog’s owner usually present?
  2. Is the dog exercised outside the property?
  3. Does the dog have off lead exercise? Does the dog live in a yard/garden?
  4. Does the dog destroy/chew things?
  5. Has the dog ever been involved in a biting incident with another dog?
  6. Has the dog ever bitten a person?
  7. Was the dog chosen for its breed or its temperament?
  8. Does the owner have any previous convictions?
  9. What size is the dog?
  10. Is the dog fed from human plates at mealtimes?

Any agency:

  • Aware of an injury to a child caused by a dog;
  • Or treating an injury to a child caused by a dog;
  • Should establish precisely when and how the injuries were caused;
  • If and when there is any history of previous, similar injuries.

Consideration should be given to whether the injuries caused are “non accidental injuries”.

Referral to Children’s Social Care:

A referral should be considered if any of the following criteria apply:-

  • The child injured is under two years of age;
  • The child is under five years of age and injuries have required medical treatment;
  • The child is over five years and under 16 and has been injured more than once by the same dog;
  • The child is between five years and 18 years and the injuries are significant;
  • The child/young person is under 16 years of age, injuries have required medical treatment and initial information suggests the dog responsible could be prohibited and/or dangerous;
  • A prohibited and/or dangerous dog is reported and/or treated, and is believed to be living with and/or frequently associated with children under five years.

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 on dogs and safe care of children if the incident or injury was clearly minor, if the child was older or if the family have clearly shown themselves to be responsible dog owners.

More serious cases might prompt further and more formal discussions with other agencies including Strategy meetings:

  • 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 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).

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.’’

Further Information

Dangerous Dogs Resource Pack: which includes:

Institute of Health Visiting: Keeping babies and children safe around dogs

RSPCA How kids SHOULD NOT interact with dogs

RSPCA How kids SHOULD interact with dogs

RSPCA Dogs and Children – guide to staying safe

The Dogs Trust: Staying Safe With Dogs

Bluecross – Keeping your toddler safe around dogs

Bluecross – Your dog and your baby

The Blue Cross Be Safe with Dogs Leaflet – Guidance for Families

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (battersea.org.uk) has made this 7 minute animated film to keep children safe around animals: https://youtu.be/FhV3YIR3q1A 

Kennel Club’s Safe & Sound Programme with Resources for Schools

National Animal Welfare Trust Advice Sheet/Free Webinar

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