Dog owners are being urged to keep their pets on a lead when walking in the Yorkshire countryside, following a rise in sheep deaths.

After twelve months of capturing information on sheep worrying incidents, the National Sheep Association (NSA) says too many dog owners are still not acting responsibly enough to prevent a high number of injuries and deaths to livestock.

NSA says the number of dog attacks on sheep per year in the UK is impossible to judge, as many go unreported, but predicts the problems stretches into the thousands. It has collected information on 100 of those attacks to gain a better insight into what is happening.

The data showed more than half (57 per cent) of attacks happened in private, enclosed fields with no footpath and, therefore, no permitted access to dog walkers. Up to 72 sheep were injured in one attack and 30 killed in another with an average across the dataset of 3.2 sheep injured and four sheep killed per attack. Costs ranged from £60-£17,000 – an verage of £1,580 per incident.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, continues: “With 52 per cent of cases involving just one dog, it goes to show that a single animal does not need any encouragement from other dogs to cause a great deal of damage. I know it is not nice to think your pet can be violent, but attacking sheep is an instinct that goes back tens of thousands of years – so however passive you consider your dog to be under usual circumstances, it is vital you keep him or her on a lead at all times around livestock and stick to public footpaths.

“Given the tight returns in the sheep sector, a dog attack can genuinely affect farmers’ livelihoods, sometimes making the different between profit and loss for a family business. It is not just deaths that cause the problem, as worrying by dogs can cause abortion in ewes, birthing difficulties at lambing time and abandonment of young lambs by their mothers. Fleeing sheep can also cause untold damage to fences, or even worse if they break through onto a road, while blood can attract flies and cause really nasty infections. Veterinary intervention can be costly and recovery times can interrupt when lambs and ewes are usually sold.”

As well as keeping dogs on leads, NSA also urges owners not to leave their dogs outside unsupervised for long periods of time to ‘entertain themselves’. The NSA data shows that in 45% of attacks the dog owner was not present, which shows it is impossible to know how far a dog will roam or what they will do when left to their own devices.

Mr Stocker says, “Farmers take pleasure in seeing dogs and their owners enjoy the great British countryside and hugely appreciate the majority of people who act responsibly and keep their dogs on leads.

“We know the problem is with a minority of owners but would like to see the dog community work with us to raise the issue and encourage responsible behaviour across the board. More than three-quarters of attacks we investigated were not the first incident a farmer had experienced, which means that small minority are causing untold stress and financial problems. Let’s all work together to spread the word that there is no excuse for leaving your dog unsupervised or not using a lead around livestock.”

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