A fresh plea has been made to protect sheep as more pet owners let their dogs run free in the countryside, with attacks reaching £1.5m last year.
With peak lambing season underway, dog owners are being urged to ensure their pets are under control at all times when livestock are nearby.
NFU Mutual research released today (2 March) has found that almost three quarters of dog owners (73%) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – up from (64%) a year ago.
This is despite around half (49%) saying their dog doesn’t always come back when called.
The rural insurer has also released a worrying estimate, claiming that farm animals worth £1.52m were injured or killed by dogs in the UK last year.
Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said the 'horrific' attacks were causing 'unbearable suffering' to farm animals and anxiety for farmers.
“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," she said.
“It’s hard for people to imagine that their affectionate, family pet could injure or kill another animal and it’s not only physical attacks that can harm livestock.
"Even if a small dog chases sheep and they don’t make contact, they can separate lambs from their mothers or the distress and exhaustion from the chase can cause a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry.”
According to NFU Mutual, in England last year the worst hit regions by cost were the South East, with farm animals worth £266,000 killed or injured by dogs.
This was followed by the Midlands (£242,000) and the South West (£228,000).
Advice for dog owners
With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside during coming weeks, NFU Mutual is calling for dog owners to:
• Keep dogs on the 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
• Don’t let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby