Destroying dogs that attack
NSA recommends that farmers only shoot dogs as a last resort, as the legality of a shooting depends on whether a farmer had a lawful excuse for shooting the dog in that individual circumstance. If it is necessary to shoot an attacking dog, please bear in mind the following points:-
- Dogs are counted as property so shooting a dog could trigger a criminal damage charge.
- In order for a shooting to be legal, you would have to show that you acted in the belief that your property (i.e. the sheep) was in immediate danger and that your actions were reasonable under the circumstances. What counts as ‘reasonable’ can differ in individual cases, depending on the situation. If, for example, you have had problems with a particular dog before and the owner has ignored requests to keep it under control, this would be a relevant factor. It is important to remember that you are not entitled to shoot the dog if it has already left the vicinity and is no longer a direct danger to your sheep, even if you fear it might come back and pose a threat in the future.
- There is also the possibility of the dog’s owner suing you for trespass to goods. The Animals Act 1971 offers you the defence that you were protecting livestock if you can show that you reasonably believed that either: the dog was worrying or about to worry the livestock and there were no other reasonable means of ending or preventing worrying; or the dog had been worrying livestock, had not left the vicinity and was not under the control of any person, and there were no practical means of finding out who owned it
- You must report the shooting to the police within 48 hours. If you do not, none of these defences will be valid in civil proceedings.
- Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to dogs (or other protected animals). The factors used to decide whether the suffering caused by shooting a dog is unnecessary include: whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced; whether the act which caused the suffering was for a legitimate purpose, in this case protecting property or another animal; whether the suffering was proportionate the intention of the action; and whether the conduct was wholly that of a reasonably competent and humane person.
- Although the Act makes allowance for what it calls ‘the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner’, the law is based so heavily on circumstance that it is very difficult to know if your actions will count as this. You are at particular risk of falling foul of this Act if you fail to kill the dog cleanly with one shot. Offences can be punished with up to six months’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to £20,000. You could also be disqualified from keeping animals.
- Shooting a dog also puts you at risk of committing a firearms offence. You could be prosecuted for breaking certificate conditions if you use a rifle or other section 1 fire arm to shoot a dog, unless the certificate conditions allow such use. Chasing a dog in order to shoot it has been known to lead to prosecution for trespassing with a firearm. Firearms offences are usually punished with imprisonment unless they are minor technicalities. A police review of your right to possess firearms will almost certainly result from shooting a dog. Your certificates may be taken away with no guarantee of them being returned.
The information here is correct to the best of NSA's ability and cannot be used to defend action taken by individuals when a case of sheep worrying by dogs occurs.