Dogs chasing and attacking sheep is causing a major animal welfare problem on UK sheep farms, says the National Sheep Association.
This is never more evident than at this time of year when ewes are heavily pregnant or have young lambs at foot.
With increasing numbers of sheep worrying incidents being reported, the NSA’s chief executive, Phil Stocker, has been calling for dog owners to be extra vigilant during the lambing season, and to keep their pets on a lead around livestock.
“Despite previous campaigns, the number of reported dog attacks on ewes and lambs continues to rise,” said Mr Stocker. “Our members have told us of some really terrible attacks on their flocks that could be prevented simply by dogs being kept on leads around sheep.”
Along with the obvious, horrific injuries dogs can cause when they bite sheep, there are additional risks that being chased by a canine can cause.
Stress caused by chasing can result in pregnant ewes aborting their lambs and further lambing problems when they come to give birth later in the spring.
Also particularly important at this time of year is the fact that being chased and attacked by dogs can break the essential bond that is vital between a newborn lamb and its mother.
Mr Stocker explained: “When lambs are born they create a life-giving bond with their mother. They can identify her within a field full of sheep and know where to get the milk upon which they depend for the first weeks of life.
“If a group of sheep containing very young lambs is chased by a dog, the disruption and stress breaks that bond and can lead to lambs being abandoned, threatening the life of that lamb and causing a great deal of anxiety to the ewe and her young.”
Allowing your dog to worry livestock remains a criminal offence and it can lead to a prosecution, as well as expensive legal fees.
Attacks can also, in worse-case scenarios, result in pets being destroyed.
Previous figures have shown a steady rise in reported attacks and a recent survey carried out by NSA indicated that at least half occurred in private, in an enclosed field with no footpath. This suggests the dogs were either unsupervised or not kept under close control.
Mr Stocker added: “It’s possible that many dog owners don’t believe their docile pet is capable of causing such damage to livestock.
“People trust their dogs, but it’s too late once the animal has chased or attacked sheep.
“We believe the only way to reduce these figures is through education and the enforcement of the regulations. This means encouraging farmers to display signs on footpaths on their land and using the full strength of the law to prosecute owners whose dogs worry sheep.”
He summed up: “While we don’t want to discourage any dog walkers from enjoying the countryside, it is imperative that they make sure their pets are under control.
“If they chase or attack livestock, the results can be devastating for the farmer and the dog owner.”