Knowing the consequences of your dog chasing animals

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17 November 2014
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Knowing the consequence of your dog chasing animals

Running after other animals may be exciting for your dog but as his owner you could receive a fine - or worse. Trainer Carolyn Menteith and legal expert Trevor Cooper explain.

Trainer Carolyn Menteith says: For some dogs, chasing things is their greatest thrill.

This predatory instinct has been handed down by their hunting ancestors; originally it was what got them their food, but it also makes them feel great, and it gives them a ‘brain buzz' that's totally addictive!

Chasing livestock is illegal - in fact if your dog is anything other than ‘under close control' around sheep you are committing an offence. As such the only solution to this problem is to keep your dog on a lead at all times, anywhere he is likely to come into contact with livestock, even if it is just a remote possibility. That is the only reliable way to ensure that he doesn't chase sheep or other livestock and so keep him safe.

However, there are other things you need to think about too, just in case the unthinkable happens and you accidentaly come across livestock where you don't expect it.

First of all, if you live in a rural area or plan to walk your dog in the countryside, it is useful to attend a puppy class that will introduce your dog to livestock safely. It does however need to be done properly.

Be prepared

Too many classes will take puppies out into a field of sheep and get the puppies to walk up to them, be happy around them, interact with them, and will then say they are "socialising the puppies to the sheep". But this is not what you want at all! ‘Socialising' is introducing the puppy to all the things you want him to be social with as an adult. In other words the things, people, and animals with whom you want him to interact, show play behaviours to, and look on as part of his social group.

With livestock, that is the last thing you want. While you may know that your well-socialised dog is charging over to that flock of sheep because he has been socialised to them and only wants to play, neither the sheep nor the farmer who owns them will know that!

What you need from your puppy class is to ‘habituate' the puppies to sheep and other livestock. Habituation is teaching the puppy about all the things that he may encounter in his life that you want to be of no interest or consequence to him. You need to be able to take your puppy into a field of sheep and have him interact with you, listen to you, play with you, and be able to do the things you ask him to do while ignoring the sheep (even if they move or make exciting baaing sounds).

This is a great start but you also have to be aware that some dogs are more fascinated by moving animals than others (any of the herding and hunting breeds are notorious chasers but different individuals of any group or type can find chasing things that move really exciting).

It makes sense to always choose your dog carefully to ensure he fi ts into your lifestyle, but if you live in the country and you can't avoid livestock, it makes even more sense to be absolutely sure.

As well as having your dog on a lead around livestock, you also need to make sure you have your dog under control. A big, strong dog leaping around on the end of a lead while you hang on grimly is no fun for anyone and it can be dangerous. It is important that you train your dog to walk nicely on the lead long before you need to do it next to a fi eld of sheep. Attend reward-based training classes; trainers can help and also advise on ways you can keep control of your dog (using humane equipment such as harnesses or headcollars if needed) so as to keep him, you, and any livestock safe.

If you think your dog is reactive to movement and you can't keep him under control, find a good trainer or behaviourist who can help you with this before it becomes a problem.

Reliable recall

Accidents do happen though and so you also need to make sure that you work on your dog's recall. This may be the most important thing you ever teach your dog,as it could save his life one day.

First of all spend time working in the house making sure your dog has a good recall when there are no distractions. Move on to working in the garden, and then start to slowly add distractions. Build this slowly until you have a good recall when you are out and about no matter what is going on around you. You can't expect your dog to come back to you and not chase things if you haven't spent time teaching him what recall means, no matter where he is or what is going on. This is another area where a good trainer can help you.

If your dog has seen livestock before and has learned from very early on that he listens to you when they are around, if he is always safely on a lead and you have him under control, and if, when it all goes wrong, you have an excellent reliable recall, you should never have a problem around livestock.

When it comes to behaviour problems, far too many people think about the cure when they should be thinking about prevention. It shouldn't be about what to do if your dog starts to chase livestock but how to make sure your dog is never given that chance. It is not your right to have your dog off-lead wherever you want in the countryside and neither is it realistic to expect every dog not to chase exciting things that run away. Let's get responsible!

Caught in the act

Legal expert Trevor Cooper says: Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, it is a criminal offence for a dog to worry livestock on agricultural land.

Livestock is defined as being cattle (bulls, cows, oxen, heifers, or calves), sheep, goats, swine, horses (including asses and mules), or poultry (domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, or ducks). If an animal is not on this list, then there's no offence committed under the Act. A committee of MPs wanted to consider including camelids (llamas and alpacas) but, to date, they haven't been added.

Agricultural land is defined as land used as arable, meadow, or grazing land, or for the purpose of poultry farming, pig farming, market gardens, allotments, nursery grounds, or orchards.

Worrying means:

  • Attacking livestock.

  • Chasing livestock in a way that is likely to lead to injury or suffering.

  • Being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Sheep therefore have more protection under this Act than any other form of livestock, because merely being ‘at large' is sufficient for an offence to be committed - the dog doesn't actually have to do anything to the sheep.

My best advice to dog owners is to keep their pets on short, fixed leads when they are on land where there is livestock.

The offence of being at large in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep does not apply to police dogs, guide dogs, trained sheep dogs, working gun dogs, or a pack of hounds.

If a dog worries livestock, a prosecution can be brought against the dog's owner or the person in charge of the dog at the time of the offence. There is a defence for an owner if they can prove that at the time of the incident the dog was in the charge of some other person whom they reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog.

Paying the penalty

The maximum penalty is a fine of up to £1,000, compensation, and costs.

The police are given the power to seize a dog but only if the dog is found on the land where the worrying has taken place and there is no person in charge of it. The dog can be retained until the owner claims it and pays for the police's expenses.

The council can seize a dog as well, but only using its powers of seizure of stray dogs.

The police can apply for a warrant to enter and search premises, but it seems these powers only extend to being able to identify a dog. In other words they aren't given any specific power under this Act to remove the dog.

There is no provision in the Act for the court to make any order on the dog. Therefore, proceedings are usually also brought against the owner under Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 where the court has the power to order that the dog be kept under proper control (with or without conditions) or destroyed.

Farmers can shoot a dog if (a) it is reasonably necessary to prevent harm, (b) there's no person with the dog, and (c) they report their actions to the police.

Even if there is no criminal prosecution, the owner of the livestock can try suing for compensation. If you have third party liability insurance for your dog then you should pass any such claim to your insurers for them to consider if you are liable.