Countryside walkers urged to keep dogs on lead

As people prepare to flock to the countryside this Easter, NFU Mutual is urging all dog owners to keep their pet on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby.

The warning follows the latest figures from NFU Mutual which show the cost of dog attacks on livestock increased more than 50% between 2019 and 2022.

Last year the leading rural insurer found UK farm animals worth an estimated £1.8 million were severely injured or killed by dogs compared to £1.2 million in pre-pandemic 2019.

NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, Hannah Binns, said: “The Easter holidays see many people exploring the Great British countryside, but they must remember these idyllic rural destinations are key to farmers’ livelihoods and are home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is underway across the UK, so it is crucial all dog owners act responsibly by keeping their dog on a lead in areas where livestock are nearby, especially near vulnerable sheep and lambs.

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw many people owning dogs for the first time, but tragically this has been followed by a sharp increase in the cost of livestock attacks.

“It is hard for people to imagine their friendly family pet could chase, injure or kill another animal – but all dogs are capable of this, regardless of breed or size.

“Even dogs chasing sheep can have serious consequences. We’ve heard reports from farmers where sheep and lambs have drowned, suffocated, been run over or chased off cliff edges because of out-of-control dogs.

“Even if a dog does not make contact with a sheep, the distress and exhaustion from being chased can cause a pregnant ewe to miscarry or die. It can also separate young lambs from their mothers, which can lead them to become orphaned.

“If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, either to the police or a local farmer, so that the injured animals are not left suffering.”

The warning comes after NFU Mutual’s survey* of over 1,100 dog owners found that despite 64% of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46%) believe their dog was not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64%) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside.

However, almost four in ten (39%) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

In England, the Midlands was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks on livestock costing an estimated £313,000, followed by the South West (£273,000).

With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside as the weather improves and at a time when sheep are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is calling for them to:

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that even small dogs can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby 

* 1,119 UK dog owners were interviewed by PetBuzz between 22/12/2022 and 06/01/2023.

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