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5.32 Safeguarding Children from Dangerous Dogs


Institute of Health Visiting, Parent Tips – Keeping babies and children safe around dogs in the home


This chapter was updated in August 2018 to add some emphasis to the importance of professionals making routine enquiries regarding dogs in the household whenever they are working with children and families. See Section 1, Aims of this Guidance; Section 3, The Dog and the Child and Section 5, Practitioner Guidance.


  1. Aims of this Guidance
  2. Dangerous Dogs
  3. The Dog and the Child: Family Context
  4. Owners and Families (including extended family and temporary carers)
  5. Practitioner Guidance
  6. Research

1. Aims of this Guidance

The primary aim of these guidelines is to protect children in Liverpool from the serious injuries that can be inflicted by dogs that are prohibited, dangerous or poorly managed. It is important therefore that professionals working with children and families are aware of the issues around dangerous dogs and the risks they can pose to children and young people.

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.

2. Dangerous Dogs

  • The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) (amended with effect from 13 May 2014 by the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) provides very 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;
  • 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.

3. 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. This should involve a discussion with the parents or the pet owner about the dog's behaviour. This is particularly important when there is a new baby in the household. The pet owner should be asked whether the dog's behaviour has changed since the baby was brought home. This assessment of risk should be repeated when the baby begins to become mobile.

  • 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.

4. 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 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.

5. Practitioner Guidance

The RSPCA offer the following 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."

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;
  • The reason for keeping the dog and other family members, particularly young children.

5.1 Risk Factors: Dangerous Dogs

  1. Is the dog's original owner present? Always, sometimes, never;
  2. Does the dog get exercised outside the house? Daily, Weekly, Never;
  3. Does the dog get off lead exercise? Daily, weekly, never;
  4. Does the dog live in the yard/garden? Always, sometimes, never;
  5. Does the dog destroy/chew things? Never, Sometimes, Always;
  6. Has the dog ever been involved in a biting incident with another dog?
  7. Has the dog ever bitten a person?
  8. What sex is the original owner?
  9. What sex is the current owner?
  10. Was the dog chosen for its breed, its temperament, because we felt sorry for it?
  11. Has the original owner any previous convictions?
  12. What size is the dog? Small Medium, Large?
  13. Does the dog get fed from your plate 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.

Please refer to The LSCP documents:

Threshold Document Aid to Assessment.

Responding to Need Guidance and Levels of Need Framework.

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

5.2 Referral to Careline:

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 leaflets' 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.

In more serious cases, Initial Assessments might prompt further and more formal discussions with other agencies:

  • 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).

Careline Children's Service's on 0151 233 3700,
fax 0151 225 2275 or post:

Careline Children's Services,
Venture Place,
Sir Thomas Street,
Liverpool, L1 6BW.

6. Research

  • 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 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).