In 2020 we were all at home a lot more, lets face it we're still all at home a lot more. During the last year dog ownership has increased, people are spending more time outdoors and with children driving parents round the bend a jaunt in the countryside could benefit everyone.
I love a walk across public footpaths, into fields and woods, exploring with my little one George and our two pups Brutus and Betsy. Would I let my dog walk through a field of livestock not on a lead? HELL NO!
"My dog won't move away from me."
"They are extremely well trained"
"Those sheep are the other side of the field, it doesn't matter"
"My dog can't attack them, there's a fence in the way"
"He's just playing, he'll only chase them"
"My dog isn't vicious"
These are all comments that I have personally heard from dog owners when I have challenged them to get their dogs on leads in fields with livestock. Why then, according to The National Sheep Association, is it that, "A disturbing 94.85% of respondents said they had experienced dog worrying on their farm in 2020"? If all of these dogs are so well behaved then it should be 0%
Firstly, very few dogs are trained to be around livestock day to day without showing reactive signs. Even the ones that are livestock trained are trained with their own flocks and herds, there is no guarantee they would behave the same around another farmer's.
"It was an accident, my dog has never done anything like this before" Even the most obedient of dogs can become unresponsive when they are in strange situations, with strange animals and smells. Being a responsible dog owner is not about how well trained your dog is it's about recognising that they are a animal and all animals are unpredictable.
Your dog DOES NOT have to attack a sheep for it to be causing harm. Chasing, barking and showing signs of reactivity around sheep is enough to cause death and other serious complications with a flock. These include, ewes aborting lambs after being chased by dogs, sheep struggling to get away and damaging themselves on fences and drowning in rivers, lambs being separated from their mums and starving or freezing to death. These are a few problems that Farmer's encounter everyday.
WHATS THE BIG DEAL?
Livestock are animals and no one wants animals to be suffering unnecessarily but this goes much deeper than that. The National Sheep Association reported that each case of sheep worrying by a dog in 2020 had an average cost attached to it of £1134.
Imagine 4 of these attacks in a week, sometimes more! Imagine someone who had the full ability to control a situation taking £1134 or more out of your pay this month. How would you pay your mortgage or rent? Could you afford your childcare? What's left for bills and food and am I still able to actually get to work?
Now imagine this happening every month to you, what impact would this have on your mental health? Add that on to having to fish out drowned ewes from lakes, help ewes abort their lambs and have lambs die in front of you whilst thinking about how much money you are losing and the impact this will have on your family. One Farmer I spoke to said that she lost 4 sheep in a week, she's not been sleeping, she's constantly in tears. She is unable to round her flock up as they are all now scared of her sheep dog. Ultimately, she feels like she has failed them.
The consequences for you and your dog
Livestock worrying is a criminal offence Under The Animals Act, if the landowner catches your dog and has proof of them worrying livestock they can shoot them on sight
As the owner you may be liable to prosecution and subject to a fine
The courts have the authority to place a destruction order on your dog
What can you do to help?
If you're out and about on public foot paths that run through farm land or in National Trust areas you NEED to keep your dog on a lead.
Challenge other people who do not have their dog/dogs on a lead, spread the message and explain the consequences. I don't believe that all dog worrying incidents are down to people just not being bothered, some individuals will not know the implications.
If your dog slips it's lead and chases sheep or attacks you have a duty of care to report this to the farmer or make every attempt to find who's flock they belong to.
If you see someone else's dog attacking sheep you need to call the police immediately.
Try and avoid fields with livestock in, be sure that where you are walking is a public right of way.
When we spend time in the countryside we are sharing other animal's homes, farmer's land and livelihoods. We should be supporting our British farmers more than ever not contributing to their problems. There's no ifs and there's no buts. #getyourdogonalead
For further information regards keeping livestock, yourself and your dog safe visit https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners/sheep-worrying/2457/staying-legal-in-england-and-wales/