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Engage with young dog owners

05 July 2011

Dog owner - webImage courtesy of the RSPCA

A new University report commissioned by the RSPCA has called on the Government to engage with young dog owners and gather more evidence on growing concerns about the anti-social use of dogs.

Status dogs, young people and criminalisation: towards a preventative strategy is the first comprehensive review of all existing research and evidence, both nationally and internationally, on dangerous or status dogs and the links to crime and violence.

Written by leading criminologist Professor Gordon Hughes, Chair in Criminology at the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice at the University’s School of Social Sciences; along with Dr Jenny Maher, lecturer and researcher in Criminology at the University of Glamorgan and Claire Lawson, who is currently undertaking doctoral research at Cardiff on the multi-agency responses to the ‘dangerous’ and ‘status’ dogs problem in the UK, the report comes as MP’s discuss dangerous dog legislation in a backbench debate in Parliament.

It recommends that the Government needs to directly target ‘street cultures’, rather than focusing on leisure and school-based activities where the young people that need reaching are often marginalised, if not excluded or absent.

The report also raises the concern that increased coverage of issues surrounding anti-social behaviour with dogs could glamorise the matter to young people, in the same way ASBOs became a badge of honour for some.

Professor Hughes said: "Few people in the UK will be unaware of the growing public concern over so-called ‘status’ and ‘dangerous’ dogs, particularly expressed in the media and by politicians as well as by animal welfare organisations led by the RSPCA. Young people and their status dogs are in many ways the latest ‘folk devil’ in the public imagination, conjuring up violence, anti-social behaviour and a threat to civilised society.

"Whilst it is both difficult and unwise to dismiss the problem of young people and irresponsible dog ownership on our streets and in our public spaces as mere media hype, we are aware as criminological researchers of the lack of solid scientific evidence regarding the extent and very nature of this growing social problem.

"To put it bluntly the subject has been what I would term an ‘evidence-free zone.’ Our research has begun to help fill this void."

The report has recommended greater attention needs to be given to multi-agency, joined up, preventative initiatives alongside enforcement in the policing of status dogs and their owners.

However it stresses that in many instances dog ownership can have a positive impact on young people’s lives and can provide them with a sense of caring responsibility.

"Having discovered that the relationship these young people have with their dogs might on balance be a largely positive influence in their lives, these very dogs may represent a considerable tool with which ‘we’ as a society may be able to engage and rebuild connections to these often hard to reach, marginalised young people and their anti-social behaviour," added Professor Hughes.

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