Gang members who use dangerous dogs as weapons could be sent to jail under new powers given to the police.

In a bid to crackdown on the use of dogs by gang members, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has given the police and the courts powers to deal with “gang dogs”.

The new powers will mean courts can restrict movements of gang members, ban them from meeting other gang members and ban them from owning dogs if they use them for violence or intimidation.

Anyone breaking an order could face up to two years in prison.

It is a problem that animal welfare experts say has reach “epidemic” proportions with London one of the biggest hotspots for black market banned dogs.

Wandsworth Council was the first in the country to force owners to microchip their dogs on estates to try and tackle the problem.

Croydon Council was exploring the option of dog no go areas after seeing a massive rise, which has led to local animal rescue shelters overrun with gang style dogs such as pitbull terriers.

And in Mitcham, police marksmen had to shoot a pit bull terrier called Asbo last October after it attacked four people, including a toddler.

Last year the Metropolitan Police seized 608 dogs, of which they believe 90 per cent are on the banned list, compared to just 27 in 2004/05.

The rise is believed to be linked to increased operations against knife crime in the capital, with initiatives such as Operation Blunt 2.

With the worry of being caught carrying a blade and sent to jail, gang members are turning to dogs for status and intimidation.

Jan Euchas, the RSPCA's dangerous dog project officer, told the Times: “It's a serious offence to be caught carrying a gun or knife.

“But if you are walking a status dog you're unlikely to get stopped.”

The Times claimed breeders were trying to get around the Dangerous Dogs Act by mating pitbulls with mastiffs and other breeds.

• What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.