Dogs should be kept on lead as sheep deaths rise, says NSA

16th May 2013

After 12 months of capturing information on sheep worrying incidents, the National Sheep Association (NSA) says too many dog owners are still not acting responsibly enough to prevent a high number of injuries and deaths to livestock.

NSA says the number of dog attacks on sheep per year in the UK is impossible to judge, as many go unreported, but predicts the problems stretches into the thousands. It has collected information on 100 of those attacks to gain a better insight into what is happening.

The data showed more than half (57%) of attacks happened in private, enclosed fields with no footpath and, therefore, no permitted access to dog walkers. Up to 72 sheep were injured in one attack and 30 killed in another with an average across the dataset of 3.2 sheep injured and four sheep killed per attack. Costs ranged from £60-£17,000, providing (what NSA considers to be a very conservative) average of £1,580 per incident.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, continues: “With 52% of cases involving just one dog, it goes to show that a single animal does not need any encouragement from other dogs to cause a great deal of damage. I know it is not nice to think your pet can be violent, but attacking sheep is an instinct that goes back tens of thousands of years – so however passive you consider your dog to be under usual circumstances, it is vital you keep him or her on a lead at all times around livestock and stick to public footpaths.

“Given the tight returns in the sheep sector, a dog attack can genuinely affect farmers’ livelihoods, sometimes making the different between profit and loss for a family business. It is not just deaths that cause the problem, as worrying by dogs can cause abortion in ewes, birthing difficulties at lambing time and abandonment of young lambs by their mothers. Fleeing sheep can also cause untold damage to fences, or even worse if they break through onto a road, while blood can attract flies and cause really nasty infections. Veterinary intervention can be costly and recovery times can interrupt when lambs and ewes are usually sold.”

As well as keeping dogs on leads, NSA also urges owners not to leave their dogs outside unsupervised for long periods of time to ‘entertain themselves’. The NSA data shows that in 45% of attacks the dog owner was not present, which shows it is impossible to know how far a dog will roam or what they will do when left to their own devices.

Mr Stocker says: “Farmers take pleasure in seeing dogs and their owners enjoy the great British countryside and hugely appreciate the majority of people who act responsibly and keep their dogs on leads. We know the problem is with a minority of owners but would like to see the dog community work with us to raise the issue and encourage responsible behaviour across the board. More than three-quarters of attacks we investigated were not the first incident a farmer had experienced, which means that small minority are causing untold stress and financial problems. Let’s all work together to spread the word that there is no excuse for leaving your dog unsupervised or not using a lead around livestock.”

More information:-

  • NSA and Farmers Guardian recently issued a press release on the 739 dog attacks reported to the police in 2012 (up 7% from 2011). This information, obtained via a Freedom of Information request from Farmers Guardian to 51 police forces, can be viewed at
  • For more information, please contact Joanne Pugh, NSA Senior Communications Officer, on 07807 237982 or

NSA Survey Findings:-

101 separate dog worrying incidents in England, Wales, Scotland Northern Ireland found the following results:-

  • 75% of attacks were witnessed by somebody, even if it was not the farmer.
  • The majority of attacks reported (57%) occurred in private, enclosed field with no footpath and no permitted access for dog walkers; 29% of attacks were in private fields with a footpath and the rest were on common/access land (9.5%) and country parks/nature reserves (4.5%).
  • When a farmer was aware of the number of dogs involved, they usually reported just one dog attacking (52% of cases). Occasionally it was two dogs (35% of cases) and although a pack of seven dogs was reported in one incident, more than two dogs was rare (13%).
  • 89 reports to NSA included information on how many sheep were injured and killed. This showed a range of 0-72 for injuries and 0-30 for mortalities. Mortalities included sheep put down after the attack due to the severity of their injuries. On average, each attack saw 3.2 sheep injured and four sheep killed.
  • 34 farmers were willing to give an approximate cost of the attack to NSA and these ranged from £60-£17,000, giving an average of £1,580 per attack.
  • The most common additional problem reported was abortion in early pregnancy, but other issues included prolapses in later pregnancy, injuries causing lambing difficulties, mis-mothering of young lambs,  broken fences caused by fleeing sheep, blood causing flystrike, fat lambs suffering a check to daily liveweight gain, and injuries preventing fat lambs being sent to market.
  • When a farmer was aware of the attack, the owner was present in just under half (45%) of cases. Usually (97%) the owner was local rather than a visitor.
  • Where a farmer was aware of what happened to the dog(s) afterwards, 29% were reported as destroyed and 62% of those were legally and regrettably shot by the farmer.
  • Of the cases reported, 77% were not the first incident experienced on the farm. Of those, the number of previous incidents ranged from 1-30 with an average of 3.8 previous attacks.
  • Attacks happen throughout the day and night, although slightly more (39%) occurred in the morning than the afternoon (15%), evening (30%) or overnight (20%).
  • Nearly half of all attacks reported occurred in winter, with attacks occurring in other months spread evenly between spring, summer and autumn.
  • There were very mixed reports of police being very helpful or completely disinterested, depending on the police force and individual responding. Local dog wardens are sometimes of more help, but this was also variable.
  • Only six cases reported to NSA have been taken further and prosecution considered. The outcome of four of these is known, with two dog owners ordered to pay costs/compensation and another two dog owners given a formal police caution.
  • Private settlements were pursued in 13 cases (some successfully) and an insurance claim made in another 14 cases, but not all farmers are insured for dog worrying and others have concerns about high excess charges (£750 in one case) or hikes in premiums.