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Make sure your dog is nothing to worry about

The Countryside Alliance urges the public to keep dogs on leads in the countryside after livestock worrying has risen 30% over the last year.

To anyone who is not familiar with the concept of 'worrying', you might not think much of it if your dog runs off to a local field where livestock is kept. You may think that simply calling your dog back to you will do the trick, and that if the dog has caused no physical harm – that you can see – then no harm done.

Livestock worrying is a serious issue facing many farmers today, with unsuspecting dog owners knowing no different. We are in the middle of lambing season so believe it is time to ramp up the awareness of livestock worrying by reiterating the detrimental, and sometimes deadly, consequences that worrying can have. All kinds of livestock, from sheep and lambs to cattle and horses are affected by worrying. Some are being savaged on site, whilst others are impacted in different ways. This can include ewes aborting due to stress and animals dying of exhaustion after being chased. As a passer-by, you never know the extent of the damage that may have been caused.

The wider public must start to acknowledge the damage that can be done by out of control dogs near livestock. The more we raise awareness and educate on what to do in such situations, the better. This guide on our website, although directed at sheep worrying specifically, is a good place to start.

We might be in lambing season now but it is important to remember the importance of keeping dogs under control and on a lead when near livestock at all times. There may be signs asking you to keep dogs on leads or advising you that livestock is nearby. We would also encourage you to divert from or restrict your footpath use – especially during lambing season – to ensure the safety of both the livestock and your dog.

If your dog is involved in livestock worrying, there is a chance you will be sued for compensation due to vet bills and other costs that farmers have to take on after the incident. It is also important to note that some farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs that endanger their livestock. 

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill is currently making its way through parliament which, if passed, would give police greater powers to crack down on irresponsible dog owners whose pets attack livestock. Government plans to strengthen the law on livestock worrying were stalled when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was withdrawn in June last year but this latest Private Member’s Bill, introduced by former Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey MP, has government support.

The main changes to the law proposed in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill include:

  • Increased powers for police to seize, detain and destroy dogs found worrying livestock. A dog found worrying livestock more than once can be destroyed by the police under the Bill.  
  • Increased power for the police to take samples and impressions to assist investigations and be used as evidence in prosecutions. One of the main reasons livestock worrying prosecutions fail or never reach court is due to lack of evidence. The Bill would help address this.   
  • Extending the application to additional species including Lamas, emus, enclosed deer, and donkeys.  
  • Extending the application to paths and roads in circumstances where the livestock have not strayed into the road, in addition to agricultural land. For example, a farm track which is not used for anything other than moving animals from A to B would not be classed as agricultural land under the Dogs (protection of livestock) Act 1953. The  new law would apply to those tracks and paths.  

Taking action to prevent livestock worrying is far greater than simply keeping dogs under control or on leads, but it is certainly the right place to start.

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