As spring approaches, dog owners and walkers look forward to exploring new places on foot and enjoying relaxing countryside walks, but it’s likely they will meet grazing livestock along the way.
A survey carried out as part of the charity’s #DogKind campaign revealed 24 per cent of dog owners reported that their dogs had chased other animals, and of those only 29 per cent sought help - prompting the RSPCA to urge owners to take extra care.
Figures from livestock worrying within five Police force areas also suggest that dogs involved in incidents are more often alone than with an owner or walker present.
Dog welfare expert at the RSPCA, Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Sadly, it seems some dog owners do not think it is a problem that their pets chase livestock, or some believe it’s not something their pet is likely to do.
"Our survey shows almost a quarter of owners have experienced it with their pets and we’re concerned that people may be unaware of the risk or are not taking it as seriously as they should.
“Many dogs, if given the opportunity, will chase or show interest in livestock, and even those who are well trained or usually not ‘bothered’ can worry and give chase. This puts farm animals at considerable risk.
“Chasing sheep in particular can cause serious, lasting injury and have horrible impacts, like the loss of unborn lambs. It’s not enough to think you can call your dog back from chasing livestock, and that is the end of it - the stress alone of being chased by a dog can be enough to kill a sheep, which many people don’t know.
“Livestock such as sheep, cattle and horses can easily become anxious and worried by dogs and walkers.
“It can be all too easy to become complacent when walking your dogs; and yet this is something all dog owners should take very seriously.”
The RSPCA is renewing its efforts to stop livestock worrying from taking place, encouraging dog owners to be mindful of other animals whilst enjoying the countryside, including a focus on ensuring dogs are kept on leads.
Dr Gaines added: “Prevention is absolutely key which means ensuring your home and garden is secure to prevent your dog from escaping. When out walking watch for signs that livestock might be grazing and keep them on a lead around livestock even if an owner believes they have good control over their dog or avoid them completely.
“Dog owners should also remember that it is completely lawful for farmers to shoot a dog to protect their livestock - which no one wants to happen. Owners could also be prosecuted by police if their dog is caught worrying livestock.
“There are very simple ways to stop any of this happening though – ensure you home and garden is secure and escape proof and keep your dog on a lead around livestock. There are plenty of helpful resources on our website for owners to learn more about dog behaviour, and also advice on finding a suitable behaviour expert for those wanting to seek further training for their dogs.
“If dog owners can spread the word about being responsible around livestock that will really help too.”