What is livestock worrying and what can I do about it?
If a dog: ‘attacks or chases livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock (or in the case of females, abortion or loss or reduction of their produce); or being ‘at large’ (not on a lead or otherwise under close control*) in enclosed, agricultural land where there are livestock’
Then it fits the legal definition of ‘livestock worrying’ and the owner, or person in charge of the dog at the time is guilty of an offence.
*Under close control is not defined within the Act but is deemed to mean dogs which are at heel and obeying commands. [CrombieWilkinson.co.uk solicitors]
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 presently allows for a fine not exceeding £1000 for those found guilty of the offence, plus costs and compensation. Owners can be prosecuted under this act in criminal proceedings (by police); or under The Animals Act (1871) in civil proceedings (by the livestock owner).
Can a Farmer Shoot My Dog?
If the dog is in the act of worrying or is about to engage in worrying livestock on agricultural land, and cannot be otherwise caught or brought under control with all reasonable efforts having been made at the time, then a farmer has a legal defence (not a legal right) to shoot the dog in order to prevent further damage and unnecessary suffering. Police must be notified of any shot dog within 48hrs. In shooting a dog, the farmer must be aware of their legal obligations under the Animal Welfare Act [2006; S4] regarding ‘causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal’, together with legal conditions surrounding the use of a firearm and The Criminal Damage Act (1971; S1).
Should I be Concerned About This?
In a nutshell, YES! Too many owners believe that their dog would ‘never chase or hurt livestock’ and therefore take far too many risks, risking far too many lives without adequate control and prevention measures. Dogs are opportunistic predators – all of them – and we would urge fellow dog owners to fully understand the moral, legal and welfare-based implications of this fact.
A predator is an animal that naturally preys on other animals. This is why your dog might chase balls and other toys, your cat, squirrels, leaves, joggers, bicycles or cars. When dogs do this, they aren’t simply ‘playing for the sake of playing’, but rehearsing their natural predisposition as a predator to hunt, chase and catch. Have you ever seen your dog shred bedding or strip, chew and even swallow the bark from branches? Exactly the same thing – they’re rehearsing ‘stripping the meat from the bone’.
Opportunistic simply means to take advantage of a situation as and when it arises, not necessarily planning to do so and often doing so spontaneously and without warning.
Add to this, the fact that many dogs have been intentionally bred for working requirements – dogs originally bred to locate; indicate; chase; catch; kill or retrieve other animals, are now living in millions of pet homes with owners who are completely unaware of their true purpose and potential.
“A restrained dog is not a trained dog”
Practical Points to Know
Anyone who takes their dog to the countryside for exercise or holidays, must be fully aware of what their dog is capable of and their own responsibilities as the person in charge of them. To help owners understand more, based on the first hand experiences of hundreds of dog owners whose dogs have worried, chased or attacked livestock or other wildlife, we have compiled the following list:
- ANY dog can suddenly and unexpectedly chase and attack livestock or other forms of wildlife
- Dogs don’t chase prey animals in play; they chase to practise and improve their hunting instincts
- The fact that a dog is friendly is irrelevant; predatory behaviour is about instinct, not friendliness
- A predatory dog is not acting out of aggression, predation and aggression are not the same thing. If a dog attacks livestock, it will not by default attack other dogs, children or adults
- Whilst recommended, early exposure to livestock as a puppy is no guarantee alone that the adult dog will not chase or attack them
- Dogs can and do wriggle free from harnesses and slip out of loose-fitting collars (including head collars) very quickly when motivated to chase
- Dogs can and do yank leads from hands in an instant when suddenly presented with an opportunity to chase prey – especially extending/retractable leads
- Regardless of size, the impact of dog suddenly hitting the end of a long or retractable lead at full speed when motivated to chase generates an incredibly powerful force, which does and will pull many owners off their feet
- A restrained dog is not a trained dog
- Dogs can and do escape gardens by any means possible, including digging or climbing/jumping 6′-plus fencing when motivated to hunt or chase
- Dogs can and do escape vehicles and insecure houses when motivated to hunt or chase
- A dog can be easily aware of the presence of livestock or other wildlife from very long distances and can set off in pursuit of animals that owner cannot see – a poorly controlled dog can never be considered to be safe
- Dogs don’t need to be on agricultural land or in the presence of livestock to end up in that situation. Many can and do chase other animals into fields containing livestock before going on to worry and attack those stock
- Dogs which are usually calm and disinterested on their own, can and do behave very differently when in the presence of other dogs around livestock and wildlife – think ‘pack mentality’
- Unless very well trained and regularly tested, the majority of dogs will completely ignore their owner’s desperate commands when motivated to chase. Once it has started, there is no ‘reward’ powerful enough to compete with the reward of fulfilling instinctive, predatory behaviour
- Dogs have no concept of right or wrong, malice or guilt; nor do they understand the ‘knock on effects’ of their behaviour on themselves, their owners, livelihoods or society. Dogs act purely on the basis of what they can expect to happen in response to their behaviour based on past experience of consequences
 When the following recommendations are followed, the probability of a dog worrying livestock or chasing other animals is greatly reduced.
 The puppy is most receptive to livestock avoidance learning, where a negative, startling experience for approaching livestock can be swift, meaningful and lasting for a lifetime. Unless the puppy is required to later work amongst livestock, then there is absolutely no reason nor benefit whatsoever in attempting to create a ‘happy’ association with the presence of stock. Avoidance is literally ‘lifesaving’.
 We strongly support the controlled training and periodic testing of dogs under controlled, replicated, ‘live’ distractions. Our support is based on thousands of experiences, together with the fact that no evidence exists to support the claim that reliable, safe avoidance can be achieved without correction.
What More Can Owners Do?
First and foremost, dog owners need to be fully aware of what their dogs are capable of and why. Whilst any dog can and will worry livestock and wildlife, some have a far stronger, hunting or herding heritage and a far higher ‘prey-drive’. It would be wrong to list these breeds, since that risks creating a breed-stereotype that is neither helpful nor guaranteed, but the first step in responsible ownership is to understand the species, the breed, the history and the requirements.
Attach a Short Strong Lead to a Strong, Well-Fitting Buckle collar
ARDO supports the message that dogs should be kept on a lead when in an enclosure containing livestock, or otherwise in close proximity to livestock, however we firmly believe (as supported by the increasing numbers of attacks and multiple first hand accounts) that this approach alone is insufficient. We would strongly urge owners to read the additional advice below.
When choosing a collar, we would advise owners to avoid those with a plastic snap-connector, which break easily under strain or sudden impact. Instead, we encourage owners to use a snug-fitting, strong, traditional buckle on a quality leather collar in place of (or in addition to) a harness. Harnesses afford the owner very little control in the presence of high distraction. Regardless of the type of restraint, we would strongly encourage owners to heed our message that a restrained dog is not a trained dog.
“There is an irresponsible belief that a high value treat beats chasing sheep – It does not”
Effective, Realistic Training
We cannot stress enough, how important it is to train our dogs right from the start, to become responsive and reliable under temptation and distraction. From the moment we take on ownership of the puppy or adult dog, we take on responsibility for it. We also take on social expectation and legal liability for it. What society expects and law demands is now our responsibility. We cannot ‘blame the dog’ for our training failings, yet all too often they and other innocents pay the ultimate price for such. We cannot train for the unpredictability of life if we do not include the unpredictability of life in our training and we must be sure to fully appreciate the need to fully control our dogs for the safety of other animals. Training with rewards can be both enjoyable and productive, but there is an irresponsible belief that a high value treat beats chasing sheep – It does not. Likewise with dogs chasing deer, birds or other prey animals. Responsible dog training requires us to recognise the limitations of rewards, but not to let such limitations dictate the limits of our training. There is nothing wrong with teaching a dog the concept of “Wrong!”, certainly not where lives and livelihoods are concerned. Remember, dogs act purely on the basis of what they can expect to happen in response to their behaviour, based on past experience of consequences and it is incumbent upon us (their owners) to determine and provide these expectations.
“We cannot ‘blame the dog’ for our training failings, yet all too often they and other innocents pay the ultimate price for such”
Supervised Livestock Proofing With Quality Electronic Training Collars
What is ‘livestock proofing’?
Livestock proofing is the process of teaching a dog to completely and permanently avoid livestock as a result of experiencing a negative consequence for approaching them.
This is an area where ARDO are absolutely prepared to put our head above the political parapet and state an absolute truth; that truth being that when used in accordance with qualified instruction, quality electronic training collars are unique and unsurpassed, not to mention repeatedly scientifically proven in establishing fast, effective, harmless and lasting avoidance between dogs and livestock.
There are various examples of livestock proofing, such as the popular process of ‘putting the pup with the Tup’ – meaning to place a young dog in an enclosed pen with a ram, so that the ram can ‘teach the pup a lesson’ in avoidance without giving the pup any means of escape. Whilst we might support instilling avoidance in the dog, animal welfare is our guiding compass and we are only supportive of the most sophisticated means of doing so. We cannot condone the wholly unnecessary risks of physical injury to the young dog (or indeed the sheep) involved, where technological advancement affords us the means of instilling a far more lasting, far more precise and longer lasting impression on the mind of the dog, without risk of harm to either animal.
The Flaws with Laws
“we must reiterate our undeniable experience that the strongest answer lies in proactive prevention, not reactive prosecution”
Presently (as of June 2020), the political focus on effectively addressing the issue of dogs worrying and attacking livestock has shifted from the singular message of ‘keep them on leads’, to looking at ‘responsible dog ownership’ and amending laws to provide a wider reach and greater penalties. There is talk of DNA testing to match dead stock against ‘suspect’ dogs; increasing financial penalties for owners and the creation of separate offences for ‘failing to report attacks’ within a specific timeframe. Whilst we do not object to these proposals, we must reiterate our undeniable experience that the strongest answer lies in proactive prevention, not reactive prosecution. What remains clear in its absence however, is the advice to owners to ensure that they effectively train, proof and also restrain their dogs.
“Dogs care nothing for consequences they cannot comprehend”
To reiterate: “dogs have no concept of right or wrong, malice or guilt; nor do they understand the ‘knock on effects’ of their behaviour on themselves, their owners, livelihoods or society”. Increasing penalties and widening the prosecution lens for owners means absolutely nothing whatsoever to an opportunistic predator that has never experienced a negative consequence for a completely natural behaviour.
Dogs care nothing for consequences they cannot comprehend.
Please see the links below for ARDO opinion in press: