Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 405-420

First online:

Friends, status symbols and weapons: the use of dogs by youth groups and youth gangs

  • Jennifer MaherAffiliated withUniversity of Glamorgan Email author 
  • , Harriet PierpointAffiliated withUniversity of Glamorgan

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Recent UK media reports and government responses evidence a rising concern over irresponsible dog ownership, particularly the use of so-called status or weapon dogs. Youth criminal and antisocial behaviour using these dogs has been widely reported in urban areas and associated with street-based youth groups, in particular, the growing phenomenon of UK youth gangs. This article reports on the findings and implications of a small-scale study, comprising interviews with 25 youths and seven animal welfare and youth practitioners, which aimed to identify the nature of animal use and abuse in youth groups and gangs. It found that over half of the youths belonged to a youth gang and the remainder a youth group, with the majority owning an animal which was most often a ‘status’ dog (e.g., bull breed/type). Analysis revealed that dogs were used mainly for socialising and companionship, protection and enhancing status. More than 20 types of animal abuse were described by youths and practitioners.