There’s a reason why dogs are called ‘man’s best friend’. They are companionable, faithful and good for our health, reducing stress, loneliness and depression, not to mention all those calorie-burning daily walks.


Most farmers own at least one dog and they have always been a part of my life. I’ve had working dogs, like my border collie Peg, who was such a hit with Countryfile viewers before we retired the old girl earlier this year, as well as house dogs, such as my Hungarian wire-haired vizsla, Olive, and our miniature dachshund, Minnie – both fabulous breeds and, in terms of height, opposite ends of the scale.

But with all the joy of being a dog-owner comes responsibility, and while the majority of people are sensible with their pets, it breaks my heart every time I hear about livestock being attacked by dogs. It’s happened far too often on our own farm, when dogs have been let off their leads to run around, only to go after the sheep – with horrific consequences. Take it from me, you don’t want to see what’s left of a ewe after it’s been mauled by a set of sharp teeth and claws.

The law is clear – a farmer has a legal excuse to shoot a dog if their sheep need to be protected from an attack.

It’s rarely the dog’s fault and more to do with owners having no control of their pets or believing that their animal is ‘only playing’ with the sheep.

The law is clear, though – a farmer has a legal excuse to shoot a dog if their sheep need to be protected from an attack. No farmer wants to do that and shooting would only ever be a last resort, but I wonder how many pet-owners know it’s a possibility? On one occasion, a dog that attacked our flock had to be put down; it was a sad outcome for all concerned, but if a dog harms or kills once, there’s a high risk that it will do it again.

Dog being walked

While it’s hard to know exactly how many farm animals are maimed and killed every year, one estimate puts fatalities at more than 15,000. That doesn’t include the many attacks each year that go unreported. What we can be certain about is that the cost to farm livelihoods is on the up. The latest figures from the insurers NFU Mutual reveal that claims involving dog attacks on livestock rose to more than £1.5 million last year. According to the business’s rural affairs specialist, Rebecca Davidson, it could get worse.

“There’s a new generation of dog owners whose pandemic puppies are coming of age, and they simply don’t know how their dog is going to behave around livestock.”

However, the Countryside Code offers really clear practical advice to dog walkers and is available at their fingertips (literally) in the online version. It says:

• Keep your dog under effective control to make sure it stays away from wildlife, livestock, horses and other people unless invited to approach.
• Always keep your dog on a lead or in sight.
• Be confident your dog will return on command.
• Make sure your dog does not stray from the path or area where you have right of access.

As a reminder, we recently put up new signs on the two-mile Wildlife Walk around our farm to emphasis the open-access rule, that dogs must be on a short lead at all times from 1 March to 31 July and at any time of the year when livestock are nearby. If it’s enough to save one lamb (and one dog), then it’s more than worthwhile.

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Main image: Adam Henson with his border collie Peg./Credit: Jason Ingram