Dogs and livestock

While we understand that dog owners want to enjoy the fresh air and countryside with their pets at their side, we ask that owners act responsibly around livestock. 

It's in a dog's instinct to chase, and when faced with a field of sheep the temptation can be too much for even the most mild-mannered of dogs. Yet the consequences of dogs chasing sheep - even if they fail to catch them - can be catastrophic.

Sheep are particularly vulnerable in the spring, especially during the last six weeks of pregnancy. At this time, the unborn lambs put on around two-thirds of their birth weight. Any distress at this stage can seriously affect the health of the sheep and their unborn lambs.

“Owners need to be vigilant at all times of year, and should never let their dog off the lead around sheep. At this time of year, however, the consequences of a dog chasing sheep can be particularly damaging,” said Paul Elgar, Estate Manager, Farnley Estates.

“Pregnancy, especially for sheep carrying more than one lamb, can lower the sheep’s calcium level, and cause them to fit when frightened. This almost always results in miscarriage and, in many cases, also in the death of the sheep,” Paul added.

And it's not just sheep that are at risk. Certain breeds of cattle are very timid and can cause considerable damage to themselves, property, pets and people when spooked by dogs.

Worrying statistics

Figures for 2013 show that 64 dog attacks, or chasing incidents, resulting in 15 sheep being killed, were reported to West Yorkshire police. It’s a similar picture across the UK, with 126 incidents reported in Northern Ireland during the same year.

Consequences for dogs and owners

The consequences for dogs and their owners can be equally shattering. Farmers have a legal right to protect their livestock, and in some circumstances are entitled to shoot dogs caught in the act of worrying their sheep.

In addition, any person responsible for a dog that is dangerously out of control in public, or on private land without permission, can be charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This carries a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment and destruction of the dog. Owners might also find themselves facing a bill, from the farmer, for damages and loss of earnings, which can run into thousands of pounds.

Staying safe around livestock

Sheep worrying can be devastating for both the farmer and the dog owner. By taking a few sensible precautions, however, it's possible to walk dogs safely in the countryside.

  • Keep to public or permissive footpaths and bridleways.
  • Make sure your dog is under control at all times.
  • Always keep your dog on a lead around lifestock and, particularly with large, strong breeds, make sure that the person walking the dog is capable of holding the dog back if necessary.
  • Don't rely on warning signs to make you aware of livestock - always presume if you're walking through farmland, that livestock will be present.
  • It's often necessary for a farmer to move livestock from one field to another. Whenever you are walking your dog through the countryside, always be aware that livestock may be in the next field or around the corner.

For more information visit www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners

Help to keep our livestock safe