Fordyce Maxwell: Most killer dogs start with the excitement of seeing something run away

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MY FATHER was an intermittent diary-keeper. Occasional bursts of a few days would be followed by weeks or months of no entries. Years could pass without a diary at all.

But among the scattered entries two were outstandingly poignant, both made when he was in his early twenties. One was the Sunday morning pulpit death of his church’s well-liked minister. The other was when, as a young shepherd, he had to shoot a favourite collie for killing lambs.

That one came back to me when I saw the latest statistics for sheep worrying by dogs. Last year the number of attacks was 739, up almost 50 on the previous year.

According to Farmers Guardian magazine, many attacks are unreported and unrecorded because farmers have no confidence in police taking action. And almost half Britain’s police forces didn’t respond when asked for statistics. So the number of attacks, some involving dozens of sheep and lambs, is much higher.

Not all attacks start viciously. Most dogs that turn into killers start with the excitement of seeing something run away from them. Until he caught it in the act my father had not suspected his own collie. In the same way many dog owners are reluctant to believe that their pet would chase or bite anything beyond a tennis ball or stick.

There are others of course, “macho” types who keep potentially fierce and aggressive dogs to bolster their own ego and allow, or encourage, them to attack other animals and threaten people. It’s probably no coincidence that badger-baiting using dogs is increasing at the same time as sheep worrying.

It’s obviously not as bad as when a child is mauled or killed by a dog , but the principle is the same – some dogs, of any breed, enjoy the chase and the kill.

What can be done? There is my father’s remedy if a dog is seen attacking sheep and the farmer or shepherd is a good enough shot. But no one really wants that. What farmers do want are responsible dog owners. The YouTube sensation of a year or so ago, “Fenton, Fenton, for Christ’s sake Fenton”, of a dog chasing deer in a park just wasn’t funny.

If it’s fun for some sad sods police should try harder to find them. Too often it’s thoughtless amateur dog owners.

A vet told the magazine: “Sheep worrying is a big problem in villages where people move into the countryside with Hunter wellies and two dogs and think they can do what they want.”

Be sure that’s not you. «

Twitter: @FordyceMaxwell

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