Skip to main content
Log in

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

  • Published:
Crime, Law and Social Change Aims and scope Submit manuscript


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Breed/type (herein identified as breed) refers to these breeds and their crosses and the fact that the four prohibited dogs (under the UK DDA 1991) are referred to as 'type' in legislation, rather than legally recognized breeds.

  2. Exemptions may be made for dogs with ‘responsible’ owners to be placed on a register [14].

  3. These dogs, traditionally bred for blood sports, are banned due to their apparent high aggression drive—see Collier [11] for detailed criticisms of this assertion and the breed-specific legislation.

  4. For an in depth discussion the sparse literature available on gangs in the UK -see Maher (2007) Angles with Dirty Faces: Youth Gangs and Troublesome Youth Groups. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Glamorgan.

  5. Masculinity refers to the gender role attributed to males and the different ways of ‘doing male’ [31]. Crisis of masculinity refers to the conflicting pressures upon men, in modern society, to construct a masculine identity with limited resources (e.g. traditional role of being the breed-winner) – with many turning to violence as the means of doing so. It should be noted that theorists identify a spectrum of masculinities – which focus on various aspects of what it is to be male—see [26].

  6. Also known as street-based (rather than linked to a youth provision centre) youth workers—focus on reaching and engaging with the most socially excluded and ‘hard-to-reach youths in their community.

  7. This legislation is currently under review in England and Wales.


  1. Agnew, R. (1998). The causes of animal abuse: a social psychological analysis. Theoretical Criminology, 2(2), 177–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. American Dog Breeders Association. (1977). Standard of conformation. Pit Bull Gazette, 1.

  3. Arluke, A., Levin, J., Luke, C., & Ascione, F. (1999). The relationship of animal abuse to violence and other forms of deviant behaviour. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, 963–975.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ascione, F. R. (2001). Animal abuse and youth violence. Office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, juvenile justice bulletin. Washington: US Department of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Ascione, F. R. (1993). Children who are cruel to animals: a review of research and implications for developmental psychopathology. Anthrozoös, 6, 226–247.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Barnes, J. E., Boat, B. W., Putnam, F. W., Dates, H. F., & Mahlman, A. R. (2006). Ownership of high risk (“vicious”) dogs as a marker for deviant behavior: Implications for risk assessment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(12), 1616–1634.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Beirne, P. (2004). From animal abuse to interhuman violence? A critical review of the progression thesis. Society & Animals, 12(1).

  8. Beverland, M. B., Farrelly, F., & Ching Lim, E. A. (2008). Exploring the dark side of pet ownership: status- and control-based pet consumption. Journal of Business Research, 61(5), 490–496.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Cohen, S. (1987). Folk devils & moral panics: The creation of the Mods and Rockers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Collier, S. (2006). Breed specific legislation and the Pit Bull terrier: are the laws justified? Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 1, 17–22.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Degenhardt, B. (2005). Statistical summary of offenders charged with crimes against companion animals. July 2001–July 2004. Animal Abuse Control Team. Chicago: Chicago Police Department.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Delingpole, J. (2009). The savage menace of devil dogs. Daily Express. Accessed 12.01.2011.

  14. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (2010). Public Consultation on Dangerous Dogs. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  15. Duvall Antonacopoulos, N., & Pychyl, T. (2008). An examination of the relations between social support, anthropomorphism and stress among dog owners. Anthrozoös., 21(2), 139–152.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue. (2009). Press release and news. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  17. Flynn, C. P. (1999). Animal abuse in childhood and later support for interpersonal violence in families. Society & Animals, 7(2), 161–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Frasch, P. (2000). Addressing animal abuse: the complementary roles of religion, secular ethics, and the law. Society & Animals, 8(3), Accessed 12 January 2011.

  19. Fudge, E. (2002). Animal. London: Reaktion Books.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Great London Authority. (2009). Weapon dogs: The situation in London.

  21. Green, G. (2002). The other criminalities of animal freeze-killers: support for a generality of deviance. Society & Animals, 10(1). Accessed 20 February 2010.

  22. Grier, K. C. (1999). Childhood socialization and companion animals: United States, 1820–1870. Society & Animals, 7(2), 95–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hamilton, F. (2010). The vets on the front line in the war against inner-city dog violence. The Times Online. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  24. Hirschman, E. C. (1994). Consumers and their animal companions. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(4), 616–632.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. HES Online. (2010). HES on… dog bites and strikes. Health and Social Care Information Centre. Accessed 20 February 2010.

  26. Kimmel, M., Hearn, J., & Connell, R. W. (2005). Handbook of studies on men & masculinities. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Klein, M. W. (1995). The American street gang: Its nature, prevalence and control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Klein, M., Kerner, H.-J., Maxson, C., & Weitekamp, E. (2001). The eurogang paradox: Street gangs and youth groups in the U.S. and Europe. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Knight, I. (2009). The teen gangster’s new weapon of choice: a snarling dog. The Times Online. Accessed 12 January 2010.

  30. McVie. S. (2003). The Edinburgh study of youth transitions and crime: Preliminary findings on cruelty towards animals Special Report Commissioned by Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed 20 February 2010.

  31. Messerschmidt, J. W. (1993). Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Metropolitan Police Authority. (2011). Update on dangerous dogs. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  33. Randour, M. & Hardiman, T. (2007). Creating synergy for gang prevention: Taking a look at animal fighting and gangs. Proceedings of Persistently Safe Schools: The 2007 National Conference on Safe Schools. The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  34. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [RSPCA]. (2010). Briefing on Status Dogs. RSPCA. Accessed 30 January 2010.

  35. RSPCA. (2009). New RSPCA Figures Show Shocking Rise In Dog Fighting On Our Streets. News Bulleting. Accessed 12 January 2010.

  36. RSPCA. (2008). The welfare state: Measuring of animal welfare in the UK 2008. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  37. Sanders, C., & Arluke, A. (1996). Regarding animals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Scraton, P. (1997). Childhood in crisis. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Siegel, I. (2009). Criminology. Belmont: Thomson Wadworth.

    Google Scholar 

  40. The Times. (2010). Council to refuse to house owners of ‘weapon dogs’. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  41. Thompson, K., & Gullone, E. (2003). Promotion of empathy and prosocial behaviour in children through human education. Australian Psychologist, 38(3), 175–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Thrasher, F. M. (1963). The gang: A study of 1313 gangs in Chicago. London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Panorama. (2010). Britain’s Unwanted Pets. BBC One Broadcast. 02.08.10.

  44. Pet Food Review. (2008). Major UK pet food brands—Who owns which?. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  45. Pierpoint, H., & Maher, J. (2010). Animal abuse. In F. Brookman, M. Maguire, H. Pierpoint, & T. Bennett (Eds.), Handbook on crime (pp. 480–501). Uffculme: Willan.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pitt, J. Reluctant Gangsters

  47. (2010). Dog Control Bill.$21380130.htm. Accessed 12 January 2011.

  48. University of Chicago. (2008). Dog fighting in Chicago exploratory research survey. Chicago: University of Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Veblen, T. (2005). The theory of the leisure class: An economic study of institutions. Delhi: AAkars Books.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Verlinden, S., Hersen, M., & Thomas, J. (2000). Risk factors in school shootings. Clinical Psychology Review, 20(1), 3–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Williams (2010). These dogs are fashion victims. The Guardian Online. Accessed 10 March 2010.

  52. Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science and Medicine, 61, 1159–1173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Wolfgang, M., & Ferriacuti, F. (1967). The subculture of violence: Towards an integrated theory in criminology. London: Tavistock.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer Maher.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Maher, J., Pierpoint, H. Friends, status symbols and weapons: the use of dogs by youth groups and youth gangs. Crime Law Soc Change 55, 405–420 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: