Top Tips for a happy, safe dog walk around sheep
Across Devon we’re really lucky to be able to enjoy many miles of public rights of way that cross farmland and grazing sheep. Every year 16 million ewes give birth in the UK, lambing takes place anytime between November and May, but the birth rate still peaks in spring. By following a few top tips you can ensure that you and your dog have a happy, relaxed walk and that grazing sheep are safe from harm and distress.
What is sheep worrying?
Sheep see all dogs as a predator, regardless of whether the dog is friendly or not, and the size of the dog makes no difference. Worrying includes attacking or chasing sheep. Chasing by dogs can do serious damage to sheep, even if the dog doesn’t catch them.
What are the consequences of sheep worrying?
Sheep fleeing from dogs are often seriously injured or even killed by their panicked attempts to escape. In a panic sheep may escape onto roads, clifftops or other dangerous locations. This stress alone can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs. Dog bites to sheep can result in additional welfare and health issues or the sheep having to be put down at a later date.
How can I prevent my dog from worrying sheep?
There are some very simple steps you can take to make sure your dog doesn’t worry sheep:
Follow signs on farm land – if a sign says that sheep are nearby, put your dog on a short lead, even if the sheep aren’t visible.
If you’re not sure whether sheep are present – keep your dog on the lead, it’s not worth the risk!
When you have a puppy or new dog, spend time familiarising them with livestock in a safe manner, to reduce the risk of them chasing or attacking livestock as adult dogs.
In the UK 7 out of 10 attacks on livestock are caused by unaccompanied dogs, make sure that your dog cannot escape from your garden. When out on a walk always keep your dog in sight and train a good recall. If you aren’t confident that your dog will return to you when called keep it on the lead.
Dog poo and sheep
When walking across farmland it’s really important to pick up after our dogs. Dog poo left behind contaminates the grass that the sheep eat. This can result in worms and parasites being passed to sheep, other dogs and wildlife. The eggs of worms and parasites can survive on the ground for a long time (some up to 3 years) which is why it’s important to clear up whether the field is currently being grazed or not. It is also important to regularly worm your dog. Diseases transmitted to sheep from dog poo can be fatal and can cause impaired vision and neurological symptoms, all of which are easily avoidable by picking up.
Keeping your dog safe
Most farmers are happy for responsible dog owners to enjoy the designated footpaths crossing their land. However, it is an offence to allow a dog to worry sheep and in some circumstances farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs if they are endangering their sheep. If you’re not sure whether livestock are nearby, keep your dog on the lead.