Pan animal charity is calling for tough action to be taken against irresponsible dog owners who allow their pets to roam built-up areas off the leash, particularly during the summer months.
Rainbow Rehoming Centre said attacks, like a recent one on a young boy in Londonderry by a Japanese Akita dog, could be prevented if owners looked after their pets properly.
Caoimhin McFadden (12) was on his way to play in a park near his home in Galliagh when the vicious dog leapt over his friend and embedded its teeth in his arm. It ripped his the skin, leaving him covered in bruises and bite marks.
Helen Davis, founder of the Rainbow Rehoming Centre, wants the owners of attack dogs to face severe penalties.
She said: “Any dog, large or small, has the potential to bite, but obviously a big dog such as a Japanese Akita by its sheer size has the ability to severely maim or even kill a child.
“There is a simple way to eradicate attacks like this and that is for owners to keep their dogs on a lead at absolutely all times and if they don't, they need to pay the price for their irresponsibility.
“A dog which attacks will be put to sleep, but as far as I am aware, there are no real deterrents in place for the owners.
“Drivers who exceed the speed limit are penalised even if there isn't an accident or if they don't cause any damage, but owners who allow their dogs to roam the streets face no penalty at all.”
Ms Davis said irresponsible owners should be brought to court and given “a huge, huge fine or even a custodial sentence”.
“Perhaps then, owners will realise they cannot allow dogs to roam free on the streets,” she added.
Derry City Council's dog warden, Michael Duddy, said it is this time of the year that the problem of stray dogs is at its worst.
He explained: “The idea that Christmas is a busy time for dog wardens is a bit of a myth, it is actually during the summer months that we are busiest.
“People go on holiday and maybe get ask a neighbour to look after their dog, but they often don't have the time and the dog gets out or else parents allow their children to walk their dogs, but the children can't control a larger dog and the dog often runs off.
“Legislation as it stands currently states that dogs must be on a lead in a pedestrian area, but I would like to see the law changed so that a dog, big or small is on a lead whenever it is out anywhere.
“Every dog has the potential to bite.”