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Livestock Worrying - Everything Dog Owners Need To Know

Livestock worrying – it is one of the biggest issues faced by farmers today. However, it can also be a major problem for dog owners if they are unprepared to keep their dog under control in farmland. If your dog is caught livestock worrying, you could face a severe fine, and in some cases, farmers are even entitled to shoot.

You may not think that your beloved dog would ever harm another animal, but unfortunately it is in many breeds’ nature to chase wild animals. Whatever the temperament of your dog, you never know when they could worry livestock – whether playfully or otherwise – causing real damage and repercussions.

So what do you need to know about livestock worrying, and how can you prevent your dog from doing it?

The issue of livestock worrying

You might assume that livestock worrying is only a concern for farmers or those living in the most rural areas, but the truth is that this is an issue every dog owner needs to be aware of. Currently, this is a hot topic among the agricultural community because, believe it or not, cases are on the increase.

According to NFU Mutual, livestock worrying costs have increased by 67 percent in the last two years, costing the agriculture industry an estimated £1.6 million. What to a dog owner may seem to be an isolated accident can cause terrible losses for farmers, as dogs can severely injure ewes and lambs, causing livestock deficits.

Insurance can cover the costs of replacing stock, but it cannot solve the stress that worrying causes to the animals themselves, negatively impacting breeding programmes for many years. For smaller farmers, this can be detrimental to their livelihood.

Of course, livestock worrying could also harm your dog, too. Should your dog chase cows, for example, they may sustain injuries as the usually-docile females may try to protect young calves. After all, a heifer is much stronger than any dog!

Livestock worrying can also be a criminal offence. As Sheepdog Training explains: “As a dog owner, or a person for the time being in charge of a dog, you could be committing an offence if your pet worries livestock on agricultural land. Worrying includes attacking or chasing livestock in a way that might reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering.”

How to prevent your dog livestock worrying

So, how can you ensure your dog doesn’t get caught up worrying local livestock? These tips will help you to prevent getting in trouble and help you to support local farmers by walking your dog with respect.

Socialise your puppy before three months

The first key to preventing livestock worrying is to normalise the presence of farm animals for your dog. This is achieved through socialisation, and the sooner you do it the better. If you are able to socialise your puppy with farm animals in a safe environment before they reach three months old, the risk of them worrying livestock later on is reduced significantly. Your dog will not be surprised or scared by farm animals, so they will not react by chasing or attacking, meaning a harmonious walk for all.

Keep your dog on a lead

Of course, the easiest way to prevent livestock worrying is to simply keep your dog on a lead when walking it through farmed areas. Whenever you are walking through or adjacent to a field, be sure to put your pet back on the lead to keep them under control.

Remain alert

If you really wish to keep your dog off the lead on a walk, make sure to check every area you enter for livestock first. There may be sheep around in a nearby field or pasture, so you must be one step ahead of your dog and ready to put it on a lead should you need to. Also keep an eye out for signs asking you to put your dog on a lead, and make sure you pay attention to them.

You must always ensure you notice livestock before your dog, or be able to respond quickly when they first notice a farm animal’s presence. Look out for warning signs in your dog – they may wag their tail more, twitch their ears or pick up a scent. This is a warning to get your dog on the lead quickly before they go running off in search of the animal they have detected!

Use a designated dog walking area

The National Sheep Associatio also suggest seeking dog-specific areas to walk your pooch in. They say, “NSA is aware of several throughout the UK, which exist in the form of fields for hire such as the SpringRise Playground for Dogs in the South East of England and/or public parks with designated dog walking areas.” You can find your nearest facility on their Dog Walking Fields map.”

There are also various designated dog walking fields around the U.K. which offer securely fenced areas specifically for dogs to exercise and enjoy themselves off a lead.

Master basic training

You may follow all of these precautions, but you never know when you might encounter livestock unexpectedly. Because of this, it is essential to have mastered the basic training commands with your dog to ensure they obey your orders should they come across a farm animal.

There are a number of specific courses you can attend to prevent livestock worrying, such as Tobin Bird’sSheep Proof your Dog and Cotswold Pet Services’ courses.

However, every dog owner should have the three most important commands down. Teaching your dog to sit, stay and recall will prevent your dog running ahead and finding livestock before you through gates or around corners. It is also vital that you can get your dog to return to you if it does begin to chase sheep, so you can get it back under your control.

In this case, the command, ‘leave it’ is also instrumental. Show your dog something it is interested in, and reward it if it does not react. When it does react, state ‘leave it’, take it away from the situation, and then try again, rewarding it when eventually the command sinks in. This command will then work to prevent your dog chasing livestock.

Train your dog in different situations

However, many dogs will behave under normal conditions at home, but get overcome with excitement or fear when they encounter livestock or a different environment. Therefore it is important to train your dog in as many different areas as you can, such as fields and woodlands, to ensure it will respond regardless of external stimuli. You could even try adding in extra distractions, such as throwing around a tennis ball, to ensure your dog pays attention to your commands no matter what.

Use a whistle

One aspect that is important to consider is that, when you’re out and about on a walk, your dog may not hear you recall them. Perhaps you are too far away, or there is farm machinery or animal noise drowning your voice out. So it’s a smart idea to carry a dog whistle on your walks, as your pooch is guaranteed to hear it and understand the recall command. Try practicing this at home first alongside your recall training to ensure your dog will be obedient on your walks.

Take a distraction on walks

Finally, if nothing else works for a somewhat free-spirited dog, try taking a distraction along with you. Carry a few treats or your dog’s favourite toy as a distraction if your dog takes interest in sheep. This will provide an incentive to stay away, but it should be a last resort and cannot be used in the place of efficient training.

Clean up after your pooch

One important aspect to note is that, even if your dog does not worry cattle, they can still cause problems for farmers if you don’t pay attention to what they are doing on a walk.

As Countryfile notes, “Dog faeces left in farmer's fields aren't just unpleasant - the diseases they carry can also pose a serious risk to livestock and other dogs, costing the average herd £3000 a year.” This is because dogs can pick up infections from eating things they shouldn’t in agricultural land, which they can then pass back on to livestock.

In fact, a report by FAI farms has revealed that the disease Neosporosis is the most commonly diagnosed cause of abortion in cattle in the UK, with 17% of dairy cattle demonstrating exposure to the parasite in England. It is also dangerous to dogs, so it is fundamental to keep an eye on what your dog gets up to when walking through farmland.

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