Scotland saw new legislation introduced this year to clamp down on careless dog owners who let their pets roam free, with penalties of up to £40,000 along with custodial sentences designed to strengthen existing deterrents.
But reports that a new generation of ‘pandemic puppy’ owners don’t know how to control their dogs have raised fears in the farming sector that the all-too-common attacks could get worse in the future.
A survey of dog owners conducted by insurers NFU Mutual at the beginning of the year showed that almost three quarters of owners now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – up from 64 per cent a year ago, despite around half saying their dog didn’t always come back when called.
And while attacks reported to police were believed to cost the industry over £1.5 million, farming organisations say this failed to recognise a large number of unreported cases or the welfare damage to animals and emotional stress suffered by flock owners.
NFU Scotland’s policy adviser, Rhianna Montgomery urged farmers to report any livestock worrying incident to Police Scotland so appropriate action, under the powers of the new Bill, could be taken.
“It is alarming that the results of the NFU Mutual survey suggest that irresponsible dog ownership in Scotland may be on the increase,” said Montgomery.
“We need to inform and educate the public of good practice when taking access in the countryside with dogs, but also make them aware that the new Bill puts greatly enhanced penalties in place to tackle the ongoing blight of livestock attacks by dogs.”
Police Scotland’s National Rural Crime Co-ordinator, Alan Dron said the new powers would hopefully assist in preventing, reducing and tackling the growing number of incidents, adding that increasing awareness among dog owners - whether new or experienced - that their dog was very much their responsibility.
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said it might be hard for people to imagine that their affectionate, family pet could injure or kill another animal, but added that it wasn’t only physical attacks that harmed 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.
“Livestock attacks can have a huge impact on farmers’ and crofters’ livelihoods,”she added, stating that although insurance could cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there was a knock-on effect on carefully planned breeding programmes which could take farms years to overcome.
“We want people to enjoy the countryside and recognise the huge benefit it brings to people’s wellbeing. We’re simply asking for people to keep their dogs under control and on a lead.”