Helen Spicer and Kate O'Regan are prevention programme, training and development advisers (PPAs) for RSPCA Education.
By delivering training sessions for professionals working with young people who are at risk of, or have been convicted of cruelty to animals, Kate and Helen share their knowledge and experience of this specialised area.
The image portrayed in the popular press of young ‘hooligans’ and their dogs is not a pleasant one. ‘Status dogs’ are the large, often bull breeds favoured by young people in inner cities, not always under strict control by their young masters. It is implied that the owners don’t care about their dogs, that they are simply the ‘asset’ that their name suggests, or a ‘legal weapon’ they can walk the streets with.
However, research¹ on the motivations for owning a ‘status’ breed of dog shows that young people have a multitude of reasons for wanting or owning a dog. Very few get a dog specifically to fight – although many do get a dog for protection on their estate, or to feel safer walking around.
Status dogs and Citizenship
Using such a topical issue in your teaching of Citizenship could be a great way to engage your students, whilst getting across some incredibly important animal welfare messages that are entirely relevant to them.
Perhaps they could find out more about some of the social and dog welfare issues associated with these types of dogs. Is what’s in the press backed up by any research, or is this a good example of media hype? Is this a problem everywhere?
Link this issue to law, justice and democracy
by finding out exactly what a dog owner’s responsibilities are. The Animal Welfare Act
not only makes causing unnecessary suffering to an animal illegal, but also states that anyone responsible for an animal must ensure that the needs of the animal are met. This is a great opportunity for pupils to learn about their responsibilities and duties.
Students could even explore and debate the issues surrounding the Dangerous Dogs Act
. In 2010 Defra asked for views on whether current legislation relating to dangerous dogs adequately protects the public and encourages responsible dog ownership. Pupils could examine the consultation and decide whether they think that the current legislation is adequate or needs changing. Follow this up with some responsible action, including campaigning to change the law.
We need to use the term ‘status dog’ with care. To use such a term is to degrade the love and affection that a young person has for their dog, which, in some cases, has been the only constant in their life so far. Many young people do need guidance on training their dog without using punitive measures, and general advice on responsible dog ownership is most definitely needed. But to term their dogs as a pure status symbol is to not understand their need and identification with these dogs at all.
¹Taken from the report Status dogs, young people and criminalisation: Towards a preventative strategy
– Hughes, Meyer & Lawson
Find out more about the free youth justice intervention resources
and ITT and INSET
services provided by RSPCA Education, or download a free Citizenship lesson plan
Next week: Animal welfare legislation - using the law to guide our moral compass