How to prevent dog attacks on livestock

Dog attacks on sheep can be financially costly and emotionally upsetting

For smaller farms in particular, livestock worrying is a significant problem because it has a huge impact on their productivity. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.

Here we answer some of the most important questions which farmers may have, including:

How big is the problem of livestock worrying?

What is being done about the issue?

How can farmers help prevent attacks on their animals?

What should you do if you encounter a dog attacking your livestock?

How big is the problem of livestock worrying?

Our survey* revealed that over 86 % of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 63% letting them roam off the lead. Six per cent of owners admitted that their pets had chased livestock in the past. The number of incidents reported to us shows only part of the picture, as not all farmers have insurance in place to cover livestock worrying and based on claims to us, we estimate the cost to agriculture was £1.2 million in 2019.

*Petbuzz Market Research surveyed 1,320 UK pet owners in January 2020 on behalf of NFU Mutual.

What is being done about livestock worrying?

Livestock offences — including theft, worrying and attacks on livestock — have been identified as one of six priority areas in the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Rural Affairs Strategy 2018-2021.

The strategy commits police to:

  • Reduce cases of livestock theft and worrying
  • Increase public awareness
  • Work to improve police and sentencing power.

As the leading farm insurer, we work closely with police and other rural organisations to help shape policies and raise awareness of the issues through our network of Agents in communities across the UK.

However, there’s still work to be done to educate dog owners, as the RSPCA describes in a blog about a dog attack which resulted in the loss of unborn lambs and injuries to sheep. “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.”

How can farmers protect their animals from dog attacks?

The good news is there are steps farmers can take to help prevent attacks on livestock. You should:

  • Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked
  • When possible keep sheep in fields away from footpaths, put up signs warning dog owners to keep their pets under control on your land, maintain fences, walls and hedges to make it more difficult for dogs to get into grazing fields
  • Post on local social media groups to alert them that livestock are in nearby fields where local people may walk dogs  
  • Report any attacks to the police immediately and ask neighbours to alert you if they see attacks or loose dogs near your livestock.

What should you do if you encounter a dog attacking your livestock?

The National Sheep Association offers farmers the following advice: Stay safe —dogs attacking animals can turn on humans so it’s important to take care and keep your distance. Throwing a toy could help distract the dog.

Collect evidence — if possible, use your phone to video or photograph the attack. This could be useful evidence for police and the courts to identify the dog’s owner. Document the aftermath — take photographs of any injuries to your animals. If ewes prolapse or abort get photographic evidence of this too.

Contact the police — you should call 999 and report an attack if it is taking place or 101 if an attack has happened but the dog is no longer in the area. Reporting livestock worrying incidents will help police build a true picture of the number of attacks which take place. Read more advice from the National Sheep Association.

Speak to the experts

To find out more about insurance to cover the  impact of livestock worrying, speak to your local Agent