Sheep worrying

One of the 7 sheep, still alive, savaged by a dog

One of the 7 sheep, still alive, savaged by a dog

I see regular reports, UK-wide, of dogs attacking and killing or injuring sheep. There have been some horrific attacks, with upwards of 30 sheep affected.  I note from North Wales Police that the most common dog involved is the husky or similar types. Over the years I have encountered a wide range of dogs sheep-worrying in Tayside, from lurchers to German shepherds. I once saw a yellow Labrador chase a blackfaced ewe for more than a mile across the hillside, pursued by its exasperated and exhausted owner. I was at the other side of a loch and was attracted to the incident by much shouting and swearing. The outcome was that the sheep jumped into the loch. I last saw it swimming out into much deeper water while the owner retrieved his dog and made off down the lochside. Whether the sheep turned around and made it back to the shore I don’t know. On another occasion I shot a lurcher that had come back for the third evening in succession to worry sheep on the other side of a river from a travellers’ encampment.

I was really shocked at one incident, when 7 sheep were found with their faces badly torn when the farmer checked the flock in the morning. Unbelievably they were still alive and a vet was called out to euthanise them. I sent photos of the sheep to an eminent veterinary pathologist, who was convinced the injuries had been caused by a dog similar to a pit bull terrier or Staffordshire terrier. He had learned from experience that these dogs normally grip a victim by the nose, which was proved to me a few weeks later when a pit bull terrier-type dog attacked a donkey. I grabbed the donkey by the nose and was pulling it along the ground when it was eventually beaten off. The dog that had attacked the sheep was unfortunately never traced.

Most of these attacks are completely avoidable if dog owners would keep their dogs under control. Below is the short section on dogs attacking livestock from my book Wildlife and the Law.

Dogs worrying livestock

A dog unaccompanied in a public place can still be seized and dealt with by police or dog wardens as a stray, but this is the most minor of the offences. Some dogs worry livestock, and while it is often legitimate for the livestock owner to shoot the dog, there are limits on this offence by dint of the definition of ‘worrying livestock.’  This term, within the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, means attacking cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, asses, mules, domestic fowls, turkeys, geese or ducks; chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or, in the case of females, abortion, or loss or diminution in their produce, or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep. The offence must have taken place on agricultural land, which means land used as arable, meadow or grazing land, or for the purpose of poultry farming, pig farming, market gardens, allotments, nursery grounds or orchards. These offences would be dealt with by the police.

The definition above would not extend to a garden.  A situation with a dog attacking poultry kept in a private garden would be excluded from the offence and would therefore require (in Scotland) to be dealt with by the Local Authority under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, despite the fact that most calls reporting this type of incident would be made to the police.

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3 Responses to Sheep worrying

  1. Interesting blog post, I never knew dogs were attacking livestock like this. I hope a positive change can reduce the number of livestock casualties.

  2. maarten says:

    “It won’t bite”. Oh gosh I have had so many problems with dog owners in the nature reserve I work in for survey purposes in my spare time. Many times I have to explain to them that their dog should be on the leash (also clearly indicated by signs along the road) because of the many rare birds that breed or feed on the ground in my area: Red Shank, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black Tern, Marsh Harrier. Most of the time a discussion ensues in which they contest the potential harm of their behaviour. Seven sheep got killed by a dog at a neighbouring reserve a few moths ago. I work also for an insurance company and it strikes me that relatively a fair share of the liability claims have something to do with a dog biting another dog, animal, child or person. Probably there are dog owners that take responsibility, but the truth is I hardly ever meet them.

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