It’s up to dog owners to take the lead on livestock worrying

This is Reg. He’s a rescue dog who was picked up on the streets of Southern Ireland. He’s the soppiest dog I have ever come across. He just wants to be friends with everyone and every dog he meets. The only risk he offers strangers is a good licking.

He’s a pretty obedient dog too.

But it’s clear he was brought up in the streets rather than the countryside. Despite his ancestry being mostly Border Collie, his reaction to sheep and cattle on the other side of the fence is to tense up and growl. There’s a chance that if he got loose in a field with sheep he would chase them. And from there it’s only a short step to livestock worrying.

If you can socialise puppies with farm animals before they are three months old, the risk of them going on to worry livestock is massively reduced. However, the way we live nowadays means many town and country dwellers don’t have access to farms where they can introduce puppies to livestock in controlled conditions.

The result is that like Reg, many dogs are likely to react to unknown large animals with fear. And a dog’s defence mechanism to fear is aggression.

This lack of socialisation could be one of the reasons why the cost of claims for dog attacks on livestock reported to leading rural insurer NFU Mutual rose by nearly 50 per cent across the UK in 2016.  Between January and April, when pregnant ewes and lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, the cost of claims more than doubled.

With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, NFU Mutual is urging people to keep their dogs on a lead at all times to at a strike remove the risk of pets on family walks  attacking sheep.

It's worth pointing out that it’s not just big, aggressive-looking dogs that attack livestock – well-behaved family pets can worry sheep or cattle. And once a dog has attacked livestock, there is a high probability that it will strike again.

As well as causing terrible injuries and suffering to ewes and lambs, worrying has a huge cost to agriculture. For small and hobby farmers in particular, the impact of livestock worrying  can be devastating.

While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock, the stress of worrying can cause ewes to abort their lambs. This leads to a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.

The simpler way to prevent your dog worrying sheep – is to always keep it on a lead when there’s a chance livestock could be around. Never assume you dog’s sweet nature means it won’t attack sheep. It’s simply its genetic heritage.

Tips for dog owners:

  • When in or near fields with livestock, keep your dog on a lead and under control at all times
  • Familiarise your dog with livestock from a young age
  • Always check for livestock in fields when walking your dog
  • Report sightings of out of control dogs to local farmers or the police