Monday, 15 February 2010

Worrying Sheep.

(No. 674268-fe & Stevey)

I feel that we should address a question that comes up time and again in Rodney’s four ale bar which concerns sheep recently attacked by a dog, usually with several injured. And what is the legal position regarding shooting a dog under these circumstances?
Well firstly, though the owner of a dog worrying sheep is committing a criminal offence, the law creating this offence does not empower the farmer to shoot the dog. These days a farmer who shoots someone’s marauding dog is quite likely to be charged with criminal damage. If he is, then his defence will be likely to show he has reasonable excuse as he was protecting his sheep, which are his property. The farmer would have a similar defence to a civil action taken against him for shooting an offending dog.
He would also need to have notified the police within 48 hours of the shooting. As to using a rifle to shoot a dog, it must be appreciated that a dog is not vermin, as vermin is, by definition, wild. Therefore, a rifle conditioned only for the shooting of vermin or pests would not be conditioned to shoot a dog, unless the certificate had printed on it (as some do) an additional condition authorising the holder to use the rifle for the shooting of animals for the protection of other animals
With reference to the above, if you have to resort to shooting dogs. You must ensure that you do so when they are in the act of "worrying" the sheep, for once they have stopped, you no longer have that option, shooting a dog (no matter how guilty) whilst it is laid asleep on someone’s front door step is in the eyes of the law an offence.
It is now widely acknowledged that even though our dogs have been domesticated for a long time they have not lost their basic instincts - they are merely redundant and need channelling. These instincts include a very strong predatory drive.
So many dog owners throw their hands up in horror when they hear of a dog that has chased or worried sheep? If it is their own dog that is guilty, often they cannot believe that their dog could even think of such a thing. Remarks like "He's never been aggressive before, I can't understand it " are often heard. Are they unaware of their dog’s instincts or do they think that only dogs from council estates have them?
It infuriates when a sheep worrier is described as an evil dog. Is a cat condemned for catching small birds and rodents? Are they accused of being aggressive or nasty for doing what comes naturally? No. So why persecute dogs for doing the same thing – that which comes naturally.
If a terrier is a good ratter or a lurcher a good 'rabbiter' they are admired for their skills. If a dog chases and occasionally catches a poacher, whilst some may not like it, it is generally accepted. It is just considered to be just part of the countryside.
But worrying can be most vexing and can totally mess up an otherwise perfect walk. However it is not said then that we have an aggressive dog. Chasing livestock is quite rightly unacceptable. How do our dogs know this? As with many we make for our dogs this probably doesn't make any sense at all to them!
We can teach dogs not to chase sheep and we can prevent it happening in the first place. Angela who runs Livestock Coming Together Classes and Workshops where dogs are introduced to stock and then taught how to behave around them. Potential chasers are identified at an early stage and the problem is solved before it develops. Please contact Angela on East Effscott (5962) if you would like details of the Living with Livestock Workshops
Livestock worrying is no laughing matter when you live in a rural area. Trying to avoid sheep around abouts here is like trying to avoid a cab in London! Sheep seem to be the main problem here in Hampshire. The cows are too big to argue with! In an area where Collies are the predominant choice of dog for the average family, sheep worrying can be quite a problem.
Most people, in this area, have to exercise their dogs near livestock. It is therefore essential that these dogs are taught how to behave around livestock and that their owners have full control of them at all times. Whilst it is acknowledged that dogs should be kept on leads when livestock are present, there is always the possibility of a stray animal suddenly appearing.

Dogs with stock problems fall into one of five categories:

These dogs are the most common. They only react to the sheep if they or moving or if they can get them to move. They may nip them, as with many collies, but no major damage is done. It is not aggression. This is no different to them nipping us when they get over excited. If they catch up with them, they lose interest. Problem eliminated through training and socialisation.

Bay Dogs
Dogs that fall into this category usually show interest when the sheep are moving or they can get them to move. They differ from chasers in that once they have caught up with the sheep, they then either 'hold the flock' to a fence or sometimes bring them back to their owner. They take this no further and are easily called away. Problem eliminated through training and socialisation.

These dogs usually focus on the weakest sheep when they do or do not move. Separators take the predatory sequence a little further. Once they have the flock moving they will pick out a weaker sheep and separate it from the flock. They will then ignore the rest of the flock. They may just hold the 'chosen' sheep or may even nip it, but they do attack it. Problem eliminated through training and socialisation. Sometimes aversion may be needed.

Learnt Killers
These are dogs that through watching programs on television, for example, have learnt to kill. Once experiencing the thrill of the chase, this instinct comes to the surface. Once this type of dog has killed they need to be treated as Born Killers. Problem minimised through training. Aversion not effective, therefore not used.

Born Killers
A dog of this type is born the urge to kill. That is, it's predatory instinct have always been to the forefront rather than suppressed as with other dogs. Whilst early socialisation can reduce the probability of this instinctive behaviour developing, you cannot train the urge to kill out of a dog. You can simply control it. Problem minimised through training. Aversion not effective, therefore not used.

Angela does not condone the use of the electric shock collar. Research has shown it can actually elicit aggression in some cases. She does not condone putting a dog in a confined area with an aggressive sheep. This has limited success and can have an adverse effect in some cases. Some dogs can develop a deep hatred of sheep resulting in the desire to attack becoming even stronger.
However, allowing a dog in a field with a sheep that will stand it's ground can have a beneficial effect. In a field, the dog has the opportunity to make the right decision.