With lambing season coming into fruition, it’s that time of year again when we have to take extra care on our dog walks! Particularly in rural areas where the scenery attracts walkers and dog owners, footpaths can pass through farmers’ fields and subsequently sheep fields. As dog owners we can often see open rolling fields and let our dogs off the lead, not realising that just around the next corner or over the tip of the next hill, there are sheep.
It is in a dog’s nature however obedient they are to want to chase other animals, therefore they will naturally want to chase sheep if they are off the lead. No matter how small your dog is sheep will be extremely frightened by being chased and this will cause the sheep to flee in panic. This can subsequently cause the sheep to become injured and in some cases this can be fatal.
If the sheep are carrying lambs then the act of them being chased can cause them to miscarry their young, so although you may not see the harm in sheep running across a field away from your dog, this act can in fact cause significant damage to the sheep and their unborn young.
Sheep worrying is in fact a serious crime as it not only endangers the well-being and in some cases life, of the sheep and their unborn lambs, it can also be an extremely costly act of negligence for the farmers! Some dogs even bite and maul sheep and lambs, as part of a natural hunting instinct, this can cause farmers significant financial burdens in vet bills and medical care.
In addition, if a sheep is chased away by a dog, they can become separated from their lambs and this can then cause the lambs to contract hypothermia and in some cases die from starvation. It is absolutely vital that you keep your dogs on a lead around any livestock and that you follow the basic legislation with regards to walking your dog near sheep. Please find a summary of the legislation below:
“The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. The Act considers sheep worrying to include attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.” (National Sheep Association, 2019).
Link to the Dogs Protection of Livestock Act 1953 Government Legislation Documentation.
If the legislation is not followed, in some cases farmers have the right to shoot dogs on their land. This is only in extreme cases, but it is simply not a risk that is worth taking, for any dog owner. In short, if there is any risk on your walks of their being sheep, even if they weren’t in the field the previous week, they could be there now! Look out for signs on gates and fences as you enter fields and always keep a look out well ahead of where you are walking. Most importantly, keep your dogs on a lead at all times, no matter how well behaved they are! Or another option is to opt for a different dog walking route through lambing season, somewhere with low risk of their being sheep, such as a beach or forest walk.
Keep both you and your dog safe around any livestock and don’t forget – sheep worrying is a crime!
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