The National Sheep Association (NSA) believes recently released statistics highlight a concerning rise in behavioural issues in pet dogs and a steady increase in dog ownership that could be to blame for a spike in sheep worrying attacks by dogs post the covid pandemic.
Across the UK sheep farmers are faced with the ongoing stress and worry associated with attacks on their livestock. This serious issue has been of growing concern during recent years with evidence gathered from NSA sheep farming members indicating a worrying rise in attacks on sheep in the past few years.
Evidence to support this trend comes with figures released by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) suggesting half of UK vets have seen a rise in clients with concerns about their dogs’ increasingly aggressive behaviour .
It is estimated that around 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a dog in the first year of the covid pandemic. ‘Pandemic puppy’ owners were more likely to be first-time dog owners that may be unaware of the risk to livestock from dogs who are allowed to run off their lead in the countryside, potentially chasing and attacking sheep.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “NSA survey results from the past few years combined with recently reported figures from industry partners show a concerning increase in the number of cases of sheep worrying by dogs since the covid pandemic began.
“With dog ownership increasing so significantly during the covid pandemic and this latest research from BVA suggesting dog aggression is on rise and dog owners do not know what to do about it, it is no surprise we’re seeing more cases. Action must be taken, to educate people about the responsibilities of dog owners and to strengthen both the law and law enforcement around protecting livestock.”
Periods of lockdown may have prevented new dog owners from accessing adequate training and socialisation for their new pets, factors that are crucial in the development of puppies’ future behaviour.
Concerns over dog behaviour were also highlighted in a People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) survey in 2022. This showed 45% of dog owners had concerns walking their dogs with reasons for this including 11% of dogs not returning on recall, 10% concerned about their dogs’ behaviour during walks and 6% stating their dog was too strong for them.
Mr Stocker continues: “With 29% of the UK population now owning a dog there is little surprise sheep farmers are regularly faced with the distress of sheep worrying attacks. As dogs are natural predators they will often follow their instincts to chase sheep if given the opportunity. Chasing and barking as well as a physical attacks can be enough to severely distress sheep with often devastating consequences.
“But this really does not have to be the case. If dogs are kept on a lead and walked at a distance away from sheep the risk is significantly reduced. Farmers appreciate the British public want to enjoy the beautiful countryside while walking their dogs so will be welcomed, but only if they can be responsible and keep their dogs safe, as well as the farmers’ livestock and livelihood.”