Sheep worrying explained by farmers

I appreciate it may be confusing for the public to understand why famers are asking you to keep your dog on a lead when their Collie, Kelpie or Huntway may be loose in a field herding livestock.

However, it is vital to remember, these dogs are highly skilled and have been specifically trained to work with livestock. Farmers use their dogs to guide the sheep, they are not aggressively chasing causing stress or danger which is often what occurs when a dog unfamiliar with stock is loose.

These Collie dogs are maintaining a safe distance from the sheep to prevent stress, guiding them in the correct direction

What is sheep worrying?

Livestock ‘worrying’ includes dogs attacking (i.e biting) livestock or chasing livestock in such a way that will cause injury or suffering.

The problem is dogs that are unfamiliar with livestock get excited and noisy, causing sheep to become frightened and panicked with catastrophic outcomes.

Yes there is no denying livestock worrying has an financial impact on farmers, however, the main reason farmers actively advise the public to be mindful is because of the distress and horror of the aftermath. Bloodlines can be irreplaceable for farmers regardless of financial compensation.

Sheep worrying is a crime

There are different definitions of what sheep worrying is, but these include if the sheep are bunching together or moving away from the dog. Understand more by following these links:

Scotland – Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

England & Wales – Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

Northern Ireland – Under the Access to the Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1983

A person found guilty of livestock worrying can be fined not more than £1,000. The police also have the powers to ‘detain’ a dog suspected of worrying livestock if there is no owner present, can can also obtain a warrant to enter premises in order to identify a dog. In some circumstances, farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs if they are endangering their sheep.

More about the law can be found here. 

Responsible actions dog owners should take

Many people believe their dog isn’t capable of such acts of violence and often dog attacks initially start as fun, with the dog somewhat unaware of the impact. However, the level of aggression is likely to increase. Whether the dog is acting out of playfulness or aggression, both have the same detrimental affect.

  • Keep your dog on a lead and under control.
  • Don’t allow your dog to roam freely or as an example leave your pet unattended in a garden they may escape from.
  • Don’t take your dog into fields where there are lambs, calves or other young farm animals.
Photo taken of sheep grazing on the Rob Roy Way (Aberfeldy – Pitlochry stretch)

The impacts of sheep worrying:

  • Death of livestock – either through the attack itself or as a result of stress.
  • Excess stress to breeding stock can cause ewes to abort lambs.
  • Ewes expose theirselves to dangerous situations in order to escape, i.e. getting stuck in ditches, falling down cliffs, suffocation.
  • Exposure to infection through open wounds.
  • Mis-mothering issues if lambs become separated from their mother.

What should you do if you come across sheep worrying or your dog breaks loose?

It is essential if you spot a case of sheep worrying and/or your dog has broken free of their lead posing a potential risk you report this immediately to the livestock owner, a neighbouring livestock owner or the police (999). You can also report a case on the sheep watch uk website (link below).

Ignoring a case could result in prolonged suffering for the animal. We have chosen not to share any graphic images of sheep worrying cases in this blog, however, searches online will show the brutal reality.

According to Sheep Watch UK about 15,000 sheep are killed each year by pet dogs, when dogs are off the lead in a field with sheep or other livestock. This does not include the many attacks that go unreported each year.

Useful and relevant links:


When you take your dog into the outdoors, always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control. Be responsible and follow the Countryside Code.

During lambing time farmers are working long hours under a lot of pressure, a dog attack can have not only a severe impact on livestock but also the farmers mentality. It is important to remember that dog attacks can happen at any time of year not just lambing time (Spring). We urge you to enjoy the countryside in a sensible manner throughout the year!

James & Isla