Why 'lockdown puppies' are now causing major policing problems: Alan Billings

They call them ‘lockdown puppies’. These are the dogs that people bought during the time of Covid restrictions and lockdown. They were bought as puppies and are now becoming mature, adult dogs. And that’s the problem.

I learnt about them when speaking last week to two South Yorkshire police (SYP) officers who have responsibility for those dogs that the police seize as a result of an incident.

The number of dogs nationally rose from about 9m to 12m during the pandemic. In 2021, 3.2m people had bought a dog, many of them for the first time. In some cases, this was now creating a problem.

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On the one hand, some of the puppies bought were not always well suited to the circumstances of those buying them. There were certain breeds that should not really have been placed in homes with babies and small children. The police had found dogs with fighting breeds in their genetic makeup where children were encouraging them to growl or to jump and bite at sticks or pieces of cloth. Without training, some of these dogs could suddenly turn and become aggressive, literally biting the hand that fed them.

South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan BillingsSouth Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings

Many of the lockdown puppies had never been socialised. They had spent their earliest years confined to houses which had received few if any visitors during this time. They were unused to having people other than immediate family members around them. They had little or no contact with other animals. They were unable to go to puppy training classes. Now that they were mature and off the lead in public spaces they could be quite aggressive with other dogs and other people.

These, then, are the ‘lockdown’ puppies, now mature dogs.

Some of the statistics for incidents with dogs are frightening. 2022 was the worst year nationally for deaths caused by dogs and there are currently about seven incidents involving dogs every day in South Yorkshire with about one in seven being seized.

When the police seize a dog, for whatever reason, it has to be taken to kennels. Where a dog has been aggressive, the police cannot destroy it – unless it is so aggressive that it constitutes a clear and present threat – but must take it to a kennel while the incident is reviewed or while owners are contacted – for which there is a cost. If a case goes to court, then the police have to wait for it to be heard and concluded – which can be a long time. At any one time, there will be between 40 and 50 dogs in kennels, though this summer that number is expected to rise substantially. None of this is cheap.

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I asked whether the law around dangerous dogs could be amended to include the type of dog that is currently causing the most harm. The officers said that the problem with any definition is that most dogs are of mixed breeds, so it would not take long to breed dogs that fell outside any new category of a dangerous dog. Some of the dogs that they see now have prohibited breeds – aggressive, fighting dogs, American pit bulls – somewhere in their genes. The best hope is to educate those who buy dogs to understand better the importance of socialising a puppy and not teaching it to behave aggressively.

But there was one further development that occurred during the lock-downs that was quite sinister. Some of the organised crime gangs, whose drug dealing was severely disrupted by the restrictions on travel, began to turn their hand to the illegal breeding of dogs. Female dogs were kept in generally squalid and cramped conditions simply to have puppies which they then sold for substantial sums – £2,000 to £3,000 per dog.

When we come to look back on the time of lock-down and restriction, we should not overlook what happened to the lock-down puppies and their subsequent history and the need, therefore, for better education.

Alan Billings is South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner