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Did you know you can face a £40k fine or prison if your dog attacks farm animals?

By John Davidson

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Dog owners are being urged to ensure their pets are under control around livestock as the lambing season gets under way.

Research from rural insurer NFU Mutual found that more dog owners were aware of tougher punishments for sheep worrying since new legislation came into force in 2021.

But many were still unaware that even chasing sheep can cause a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry due to distress and exhaustion.

The survey of more than 1100 dog owners found that despite 64 per cent of owners admitting their dogs chase other animals, almost half (46 per cent) believe their dog is not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Sheep can be killed even if a dog chasing them doesn't make contact.
Sheep can be killed even if a dog chasing them doesn't make contact.

NFU Mutual’s research also found that 29 per cent of dog owners in Scotland are now aware they could be fined up to £40,000 if their pet attacks livestock, a significant rise in awareness from four per cent in early 2022.

Thirty-two per cent of owners also understood they could be imprisoned for allowing their pet to attack farm animals, compared to 22 per cent this time last year.

And four in 10 dog owners surveyed felt Police Scotland were now taking dog attacks on livestock more seriously.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force in November 2021, following a successful Members Bill brought by MSP Emma Harper, supported by Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, NFU Scotland and livestock owners after several attacks on farm animals by out-of-control dogs.

Initial estimates from Police Scotland show 262 cases were reported in 2022, down from 301 in 2021, while NFU Mutual’s estimates suggest the cost of dog attacks on Scotland’s livestock fell by almost a third (31 per cent) last year.

Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual Scotland manager, said: “It’s encouraging to see the new legislation with serious penalties for irresponsible dog owners is taking effect.

“But the situation facing many of Scotland’s livestock is still harrowing, with dogs chasing, injuring and killing sheep each year.

“Farmers and crofters near tourist areas are living in fear of repeat attacks, which cause horrific suffering to sheep and can traumatise their families as they deal with the aftermath.

“That is why we are calling for dog owners to be responsible and accept their pets, however friendly, are capable of chasing and attacking farm animals and should be kept on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock.”

Advice for dog owners heading out for walks includes keeping dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept, but let go of the lead if chased by cattle; be aware that even small dogs can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals; report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers; and never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields.

Meanwhile, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has launched its annual survey into the impact of sheep worrying across the UK. For the past 10 years the NSA has gathered data from UK sheep farmers on the issue.

The survey is open until March 15 and can be completed at www.sheepworrying.org.uk

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Sheep farmers across the UK nations are regularly faced with the dreadful consequences of sheep worrying by dogs. Attacks not only compromise animal welfare but also cause great stress, anxiety and financial loss to farmers themselves.

“NSA urges anyone previously affected by this issue to complete this year’s survey. Your contribution helps to create a more accurate representation on the intensity of the issue, critical for NSA when working towards increased understanding of the problem.”

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