It’s finally Spring - beautiful flowers blooming, the better weather (hopefully) on the way, and the fields full of lambs, calves and other baby animals.
So it’s time to ask yourself one very important question - would you bet your dog’s life on their ability to recall?
Perhaps that sounds like an over-exaggeration. But sadly that could be the reality if you are unable to recall your dog from livestock if you need to, and the farmer is forced to take legally-permitted action to protect his animals by shooting yours.
The NFU estimates that over 15,000 sheep are killed each year by dogs, and those numbers have been on the increase since lockdown and more people have been walking in the countryside, many of whom may be first-time dog owners and not realise the risks.
Deaths can be caused by bite/injury, stress causing unborn lambs to be miscarried or simply the stress of being chased causing a heart attack, as well as being driven into danger e.g. into rivers, over cliffs or getting stuck in fencing.
This statistic doesn’t account for the vast numbers of sheep being injured not resulting in death. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many other animals that could suffer similar effects, including deer.
Now, you’re probably thinking: “my dog would never do that”.
But are you sure?
A whopping 60% of dog owners, as surveyed by the NFU, don’t believe their dogs are capable of hurting livestock, and yet 50% admit their dogs do not come back when called.
In the vast majority of cases, the dogs that chase livestock are not BAD dogs. They’re just doing what their natural instincts tell them to do (chase), particularly when the sheep is doing what their instincts are telliing them - e.g. to flee.
So it’s up to us.
As responsible dog owners, we need to take action to protect our dogs, be vigilant and take steps to ensure the worst doesn’t happen.
- First and most simply - keep your dog on a short lead when you are walking in places where you know livestock are or could be grazing.
- Give livestock a wide berth if your dog is likely to be excited by them - keep well away if you are crossing their field or choose an alternative route if possible
- Teach a RELIABLE recall. That means your dog comes back to you straightaway even when surrounded by distractions, every time you call them.
- Be AWARE of your surroundings - farmers move livestock around frequently and that field that was empty last week might suddenly be full of sheep or cows. Make sure you’re paying attention to what’s going on around and ahead of you so that you can recall your dog quickly if needed and interrupt any behaviours that may cause problems (e.g. stalking).
If in doubt - don’t risk it!
No one, least of all the farmer, wants to see dogs being shot for exhibiting natural behaviours. So it is up to us to make sure our dogs act appropriately while on walks and keep them on leads around livestock - even if you’re sure they’ll be fine.
It’s simply not worth the risk.