The National Sheep Association (NSA) and Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) are uniting to highlight the potential devastation to farmers and their livestock by attacks from dogs, at a time of year that traditionally sees a peak of sheep worrying cases reported.
Sheep worrying by dogs is a serious issue for sheep farmers, often resulting in injuries and death of affected sheep.
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The consequences can be felt at this time of year with spring fields full of heavily pregnant ewes at risk of miscarriage, and newborn lambs at risk of being separated from their mothers when stressed.
The RSPCA’s DogKind report in 2019 revealed 24% of owners’ dogs had previously chased livestock, wildlife and other animals. All dogs are capable of causing problems, including barking, chasing and biting.
Sam Gaines, dog welfare specialist at the RSPCA, said: "Sadly our inspectors have seen the tragic consequences of livestock worrying and know all too well the devastating impact this has on farmers and their animals.
"It’s always been a focus for us, especially at this time of year, to hit home the message to dog owners that no matter their dog’s breed, how obedient they are or how strong they think their recall is, the only safe option is to keep their pets on the lead whenever they’re around livestock.
Even the act of a dog simply chasing a sheep for a few moments can have a devastating impact.
"Spring can be a particularly difficult time, with heavily pregnant ewes aborting due to stress and young lambs getting separated from their mothers if the flock is disturbed."
Sheep worrying concerns
As Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease, sheep farmers are concerned an influx of walkers, unaware of the risks posed by their canine companions, could result in an even greater number of sheep worrying incidents than has already been seen this year.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker commented:
Sheep farmers across the UK have suffered an increase in sheep worrying attacks by dogs over the past year, as dog ownership has increased and walking in the countryside has become one of the few activities to be enjoyed during lockdown – but dog owners must be responsible for their pet.
"Please keep your dog on a lead whenever there is a chance sheep could be nearby and avoid walking closely to them if at all possible.
"You may not consider your dog capable of causing suffering by barking, chasing and attacking sheep, but it is an instinctive response."
Sam Gaines continued: “There will be lots of dogs this year that, as puppies, were not socialised with other animals due to lockdown, and so their first experience of livestock could be as an adult.
Owners need to understand that they may show a lot of interest and this can be problematic even if the dog doesn't chase.
"If they’re at all worried about their dog’s behaviour they can visit the RSPCA website to find a suitable behaviour expert to help," she concluded.