Dog owners: why sheep worrying should be a real worry

Our #DogKind report, which was released last week, highlights how dog behaviour around livestock is a concerningly common issue. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dog on lead with owner looking at group of sheep © RSPCA

No one wants a Fenton moment – and putting your dog in a situation where they end up chasing farm animals, wildlife or other pets can have far more serious consequences.

If your dog worries livestock you may end up being sued for compensation. And as a last resort, a farmer is legally allowed to shoot a dog who is threatening their animals.

The survey behind our #DogKind report revealed that 24 percent of the owners polled had dogs who’ve chased livestock, wildlife and other animals. And whilst 29 percent of them had sought help for this behaviour, 37 percent didn’t feel that it was a problem.

Expect the unexpected

Even with the very best of intentions, you can be caught out. Dr Samantha Gaines, head of our companion animals department, explains:

Many years ago my husband was walking our dog early in the morning following his usual route, along a public footpath amongst a number of fields. We knew the area really well and although several of the fields were used, on occasion, for cattle grazing we always avoided these and so Sid was off the lead as normal.

However, on this particular day it was very misty and as James entered one of the fields Sid ran off. As the mist was disturbed, James saw several sheep and to his horror he realised that Sid was chasing one of them.

Fortunately James was able to grab Sid by his harness and got him on the lead very quickly but the fear that he felt is something he won’t ever forget.

Sheep worrying can have devastating effects

Luisa Dormer a scientific information officer from the RSPCA farm animals department has sheep of her own, and has witnessed first hand the results of sheep worrying:

We’ve had two separate dog attacks since the beginning of the year which has resulted in the loss of unborn lambs and injuries to our sheep. During one of the attacks, half of our flock collapsed due to exhaustion.

One of the most concerning things was the reaction of one of the dog owners following the attack, who commented that there was no damage done as there was no blood drawn. The reality is that the stress of being chased alone is enough to kill a sheep.

Having sheep isn’t just a financial investment, but also a way of life and a passion. We care for each individual and work tirelessly to ensure that they’re happy and healthy; it’s so upsetting that all our hard work can be undone so easily by a single incident.”

Take extra care when out and about

It can be all too easy to become complacent when walking your dogs, after all it’s something we do everyday. But remember, the resulting loss of life if your dog escapes your control – even for a moment – can be devastating.

Don’t be caught out – follow these top tips

  • Be aware of the effects of sheep-worrying, and let others know too.
  • Make sure you know where your dog is at all times.
  • If you’re letting your dog off the lead be confident there are no livestock nearby.
  • Be sure that your dog will return to you promptly on command and if in doubt, keep them on the lead.

For more information on teaching your dog to come when called, and useful advice on understanding your dog, visit our dog behaviour pages.

Download our free #DogKind report

Our #DogKind report has been written after surveying thousands of dog owners. It gives a unique insight into the average lives of pet dogs across the country. Download the #DogKind report for free from our dog welfare page, and see for yourself!

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