The news this week includes a tragic story that clearly shows the dangers posed to sheep by dogs. A farmer in West Dean, near Chichester, found 116 of his sheep had been killed in a suspected dog attack. Although none of the sheep had been savaged, the sheep had been herded into a group against a fence, where many had died from shock or being crushed. Many of the sheep were pregnant.
At this time of year, lots of us are keen to get out into the countryside to enjoy a walk with our dogs, but many are ignorant of the harm that a dog can cause to sheep. To a dog, chasing is enjoyable behaviour and few dogs actually want to harm the livestock, but what you may not realise is the trauma that being chased by a dog can cause to the sheep and lambs. Sheep that are chased may die of shock, and pregnant ewes are likely to lose their lambs.
As a responsible dog owner, what can you do? There are two options and the safest is to completely avoid areas with sheep.
1) If you are walking in rural areas, keep your dog on a lead and only allow off the lead time in fields where you are absolutely certain there are no livestock in the field or nearby – a designated dog walking field is safest. Even the most sedate dogs can be tempted by a game of chase with unsuspecting sheep!
2) Dogs can also escape from gardens to worry livestock, so if you live in the countryside or near farm land you should always make sure your fences and gates are secure when allowing your dog out into the garden at this time of year especially.
Consequences can be just as severe for your dog as well as for the sheep. A dog seen chasing sheep is committing a criminal offence and a farmer can legally shoot your dog, and is protected from prosecution for doing so.
So listen up and keep your dog under control on farm land, or better yet steer clear of areas where you can see there are livestock in situ. After all, it’s not just sheep who are nervous of dogs – chickens, ducks, cows, pigs, horses and all manner or farm animals are better left well alone.