'Distracted' dog owners placing sheep 'at risk of fatal injuries'

NFU Mutual estimates that farm animals worth £1.8 million were severely injured or killed by dogs last year alone
NFU Mutual estimates that farm animals worth £1.8 million were severely injured or killed by dogs last year alone

Distracted dog owners who believe their pets would never attack farm animals are putting sheep at risk of fatal injuries, new research has revealed.

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

Many said they were unaware that even if their pet doesn’t make contact with a sheep, the distress and exhaustion caused by being chased can trigger a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry.

Owners said they were also unaware that young lambs can become separated from their mothers, according to NFU Mutual's research, released today (7 February).

Nearly two thirds (64%) said they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside, but almost four in ten (39%) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

The reality of some dog owners’ failure to control their pets is evident in the latest figures based on claims data from NFU Mutual, which estimates dog attacks on UK farm animals cost £1.8m in 2022.

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).

Hannah Binns, the insurer's rural affairs specialist, said farmers are living in fear of repeat attacks, which can traumatise their families as they deal with the aftermath.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers that dog walkers are becoming more distracted, often on their mobile phones with their pets out of sight and are seemingly unaware of the carnage their dog could cause.

“The pandemic saw a boom in dog ownership as many people purchased puppies for the first time, yet these may not have been trained properly or be familiar with farm animals.

“It is concerning that these now fully-grown dogs will be visiting farmland as we get into spring at a time when pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are vulnerable."

She added: “We are calling for owners to be responsible and accept their pets, however friendly, are capable of chasing and attacking farm animals and should be kept on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock.”