Spring is in the air, the school holidays are just around the corner, and we’re all keen to get back out and about with our dogs in the gorgeous countryside. However, lambing season is also in full flow, and that brings with it a responsibility as dog owners to ensure we do not cause stress or injury to livestock.
Some recent stats shared by NFU Mutual show a worrying increase in the risk of attacks on sheep:
Nearly three quarters (73%) of dog owners are now letting their pet roam free in the countryside (up from 64% last year)
Almost half of dog owners (49%) admit their dog doesn’t always come back when called
1 in 6 dog owners admitted their dog has escaped from home in a recent survey
Farm animals worth an estimated £1.5m were injured and killed last year
Your dog may be the most well-trained or docile dog in the world, but a sheep doesn’t know that. Every dog is a possible threat, especially when off-lead, and can cause a huge amount of stress to a pregnant ewe. Every dog also has it in them to chase (their natural prey drive) – no matter how slow, passive, or obedient they normally are – which could cause a ewe to miscarry or die from shock. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
The good news is that there are some very simple steps that you can take to ensure the safety of sheep and your dog while still being able to enjoy the countryside during lambing season.
Always keep your dog on a short lead around livestock. Expect the unexpected - if you can’t see what’s in the field ahead, put your dog on a short lead until you are sure it’s empty. Farmers regularly move livestock around so what may be an empty field today may not be tomorrow.
If a farmer has signposted an alternative route to avoid livestock – please use it.
Make sure your garden is escape proof – many dog attacks on sheep have been as a result of a dog escaping without the owner’s knowledge. Check all fences and boundaries are secure.
Ensure you have enough poo bags with you (sound advice at any time of year) – worms in dog faeces cause serious disease in livestock.
Lastly, enjoy the countryside – it’s great for your wellbeing and that of your dog. Having to put your dog on a lead for a short period of time is not a big inconvenience when you think about it. It’s a small price to pay to keep you, your dog, and livestock safe.