So, What is Sheep and Livestock Worrying?
Anyone in the business of farming will know that sheep usually represent a significant part of the income stream.
Moreover, the loss that farmers face from dead livestock can be substantial (e.g. if a dog chases or attacks sheep).
The most common form of sheep worrying occurs when dogs attack animals in a physical manner – particularly when ewes are carrying lambs.
Note: Dog walkers should also be aware that canine faeces carry diseases that may kill a flock and affect their unborn lambs (e.g. when excreted and left on grazing land).
Is Sheep Worrying a Criminal Offence?
The police treat all offences that relate to dogs extremely ‘seriously’. Furthermore, because sheep worrying is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom, getting caught can result in a large fine or a spell inside a prison.
Reporting Sheep Worrying Anonymously
You can telephone the local police force number 101 if you witness any incidents of sheep or livestock worrying (or make an anonymous call to Crimestoppers).
Police Advice for Dog Walkers
Anyone who is walking a dog in a rural area where there may be sheep and other livestock animals (e.g. cattle, horses, goats) should:
- Always have a dog on a lead and under control in any public areas.
- Be even more vigilant during lambing season (e.g. early Springtime in the United Kingdom).
- Refrain from letting the dog off its lead if it may pose a danger to other animals or people.
- Only give total control to people who feel confident about walking dogs in public.
- Understand that there may be no obvious livestock animals in a field on any given day, but there may be flocks and herds at the same location next time you go there.
Note: According to the laws in the United Kingdom, landowners can protect livestock by shooting dogs if they believe they are worrying sheep. But, they must notify the police within forty eight (48) hours if they resort to this course of action.
New Measures in the Kept Animals Bill
The crackdown on sheep and livestock worrying in England and Wales gained additional reinforcement – through the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
Police can respond to incidents of livestock worrying when the improved powers take full effect. As a result, they will be able to:
- Seize dogs considered unruly or dangerous.
- Collect evidence for use in the courts.
- Take action to reduce the risk of further incidents.
Note: New measures remove outdated laws allowing the police to seize dogs ‘only’ to identify the owners. Thus, they needed to return the animal to its owner after they identified the person.
The new measures are part of the government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare which introduces a greater focus on:
- Expanding the locations and scope of livestock species covered by the new legislation (e.g. donkeys, emus, enclosed deer, and llamas). The added locations include roads and pathways (providing livestock animals do not stray into a public road).
- Empowering the police to capture and detain dogs (e.g. if they believe it might pose a severe ongoing risk to wild animals).
- Allowing the police to take samples from dogs and livestock as part of their ongoing investigations. A lack of evidence previously hampered a successful prosecution in crimes of sheep and livestock worrying.
- Modifications to ‘powers of entry’ for police officers. As a result, they can enter any premises to identify and seize a dog (including items considered as evidence of an offence having taken place).
- Making it easier for UK courts to issue dog control, disqualification, and destruction orders after prosecutors secure a successful conviction for the offence.
National Sheep Association (NSA)
Allowing a dog to worry livestock is already an offence and it can result in a fine of £1,000. Even so, the reforms address some of the challenges in enforcement to help ensure legislation remains effective.
The full implementation of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act took place on the 14th of July 1953. Since then, livestock has doubled in England and Wales, along with a significant increase in dog ownership and regular treks to public places in the countryside.
An annual increase in incidents shows up in the NSA Sheep worrying survey 2021. It underlines the substantial emotional and financial cost to British farmworkers.
One of the noticeable outcomes of the pandemic is people having more time to walk dogs than in previous years. The NSA highlights this as one of the main reasons behind an increased threat to livestock animals and farming livelihoods.
Note: The government also raised the maximum custodial penalty and introduced tougher prison sentences for animal cruelty offences (e.g. from six months to five years).
Related Help Guides
- Things dogs hate: A guide for beginners.
- Printable list of toxic foods for dogs.
- UK rules for controlling dogs in public areas.
Note: The main section contains more advice and information about dogs including how to buy a puppy and the current microchipping laws.