Sheep in a field

Dogs on leads around livestock – what is the law?

What are the risks of your dog being off-lead around livestock?

No matter how well behaved your dog is, you can never guarantee that your dog won’t run off chasing after sheep on an off-lead walk. Sheep worrying often occurs as a result of stress caused by dogs. Worrying can be fatal to sheep and can cause ewes to miscarry their lambs; they can also become injured during their panic in which to flee from dogs.

As protected by the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. This includes attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Who does this act apply to?

This act does not apply if the dog is owned by, or in the charge of, the occupier of the field or enclosure, the owner of the sheep or a person authorised by either of those persons. It also doesn’t apply if it is a police dog, guide dog, trained sheep dog, a working gun dog or a pack of hounds.

How much can a dog owner be fined if their dog is caught worrying livestock?

Dogs owners can face fines of up to £1000 as well as a jail term of six months if their dog is caught off lead around farms and worrying livestock. To avoid this, Police and the National Farmers Union are encouraging dog owners to keep their dogs on lead around any livestock regardless of the dog’s behaviour.

What rights does the farmer or landowner have if they catch your dog worrying their livestock?

Losing a ewe can cost a farmer £150 to £200 and the loss of a lamb could cost £80-£100. It is understandable for a farmer to become distressed and worried when they see dogs off lead near their livestock as this can cause them financial loss and is a welfare issue to their livestock. Therefore, a farmer or landowner is well within their rights to shoot your dog on their land. No farmer wishes to have to do this however if there are no signs of the owner attempting to intervene and there is no other option, this is usually a last resort. To avoid this situation from occurring, ensure you keep your dog on lead at all times when walking near livestock.