The irresponsible minority of dog owners who allow their pets to roam alone are a major cause of sheep worrying in the countryside, according to speakers from the Kennel Club, North Wales Police and the National Farmers’ Union at last week’s SheepWatch conference in Loughborough, at which discussions were held on how to tackle sheep worrying.
While media reports on the needless suffering caused to sheep are often associated with calls for walkers to keep their dogs on leads, improved recording of incidents has shown that latchkey and straying dogs from rural and urban-fringe homes are the main culprit, especially for the most damaging and repeated incidents.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “It was very encouraging to see such a constructive and evidence-based approach put forward by all the speakers at the SheepWatch conference. While dog walkers must be responsible and keep their dogs on short leads around livestock, it was very heartening to see the consensus that restricting access to the countryside will do nothing to stop the major cause of sheep worrying, namely irresponsible owners who allow their dogs to stray.
“There was also a great deal of agreement that more must be done to tackle the issue, as apart from attacks on sheep, straying dogs can cause human fatalities through causing road traffic accidents and unseating horse-riders, and of course, dogs that stray do not have anyone to pick up after them.
“We were pleased that officers from several police forces supported our view, and that of the National Dog Warden Association, that compulsory registration of all dogs' DNA would do nothing to reduce sheep worrying, as the presence of a dog’s DNA does not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it was responsible for a sheep worrying incident. Furthermore, the significant costs involved in something like this would be better spent targeting the minority of irresponsible dog owners.
“It is clear that the indiscriminate selling of dogs to unsuitable homes and to irresponsible owners by puppy farmers is also contributing to the problem and needs to be addressed, along with a more targeted use of existing dog control and antisocial behaviour laws to deal with people who repeatedly and willingly allow their pets to stray.”
Even when straying dogs do not come into contact with sheep, allowing a dog to stray can give all owners a bad name and fuel calls for further restrictions on dog walking, so the Kennel Club would encourage people to report straying dogs to their local council and the police on 101 or anonymously using Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.