What is sheep worrying?
In this context, sheep worrying is any incident where a domestic dog enters an enclosure containing sheep/livestock, the dog doesn’t have to physically attack the sheep to cause distress and/or death. I am particularly concerned with female sheep (ewes) who are in lamb (generally January – April) in the UK due to the risk of aborted lambs.
Sheep are a prey animal and dogs are a predator. The natural instinct for a sheep on sighting a dog is to run, the natural instinct of the dog is to chase. This chase causes distress to the sheep (prey) which can be enough to cause death to the sheep from heart failure, abortion of unborn lambs and long term implications for the sheep – being barren (unable to conceive).
It is this prey and predator scenario that causes so much misunderstanding with many dog owners. “My little dog wouldn’t harm anything, he’s only playing”! Well this little dog ‘playing’ in a field of ewes can wreak havoc, resulting in the deaths, distress and welfare implications to a whole flock of ewes without touching one of them!
How would you feel if you found your pet dead and then found the death was completely avoidable? The sheep may not be pets, but the farmer has probably reared these sheep from lambs and seen them every day of their lives, spending time and money ensuring the highest welfare standards. The farmer will be upset, emotional and angry.
Many dog owners will also be affected, they will have to live with the fact they were responsible for a sheep worrying incident. Maybe witnessing the death of livestock and even seeing their dog being shot. All because they didn’t or couldn’t keep their dog under control.
As well as the distress and welfare implications, the cost cannot be ignored. The sheep are part of the farmers business and the loss of or distress caused to any of the farmers livestock costs money. The costs can be huge; lost revenue over the expected lifetime of the ewe, disposal of fallen stock, replacement stock etc.
We are privileged to have access to huge amounts of countryside in the UK. This access comes with responsibilities, all of the countryside is owned by someone, it is private property and should be treated with respect. You may be accessing the countryside for recreation but this is a workplace, the countryside doesn’t look the way it does by accident!
When someone makes the decision to get a pet dog they are taking on the responsibility for that dogs welfare for the rest of its life. In particular the 5 points highlighted in the Animal Welfare Act;
- provide a suitable diet;
- ensuring that the animal is able to express normal behaviour patterns;
- provide a suitable environment;
- provide housing with or without other animals as appropriate for the species;
- protection from suffering, disease and injury.
In addition all dogs over 8 weeks old must be microchipped and in addition must always wear a collar and tag when in public.
What can be done?
- Keep dogs on a lead around livestock! It really is that simple but, unfortunately there will always be those who refuse to follow rules and advice.
- Keep dogs under control at all times including when at home.
- Make it compulsory for all dog owners to have public liability insurance for their dogs.
- Bring back the dog licence, to include a theory test to check knowledge of caring for a dog before licence being issued. Licence and theory test to be charged for.
- Passport (charged for) compulsory for all dogs, not able to purchase a dog without proof of licence and public liability insurance. These details to be entered into new owner section of passport.
- Tougher penalties for owners at fault. More dog wardens – paid for by the penalties, fees for theory test, licence and passports.
Anyone saying they can’t afford to do the theory test, get the licence and public liability insurance wouldn’t be able to afford to care for the dog properly anyway.
What do you think?
Too tough? Not tough enough? Please comment and let me know your thoughts and ideas.