Farming: Owners of sheep-worrying dogs need bitten

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Ben was about the poorest sheepdog around, and I can say that from pretty close observation as he was the shepherd’s dog on my father’s farm.

The shepherd had rescued him from the cab of the knackery lorry with his previous owner obviously weary of his inability to be a proper sheepdog.

However, did Ben show any gratitude for this last-minute rescue? Not one bit as he lay in his kennel awaiting the arrival of the postie’s van so he could display is ability to run alongside and nip the wheels.

There was never the same activity when he was asked to do what good sheepdogs do and help move sheep. Frankly, his performance produced a string of oaths but little action.

The result was I became much fitter as I was often sent “way bye” as a substitute for Ben, who lay there with nary a muscle moving.

Since those days, I have observed and envied the intelligence of good sheep dogs working with skilled handlers who know how to get the best from them.

I have also seen dog owners with no control over their dogs blithely watching as their hounds scatter flocks of sheep. That is not funny, and neither was the You Tube video of the uncontrolled dog spooking a herd of deer.

The next step in this type of behaviour is a reversion to the dogs’ heredity instincts when the chase becomes the hunt and livestock are either killed or maimed as a result; ugly, heartbreaking stuff.

This week, the National Sheep Association (NSA) produced statistics which showed the scale of sheep worrying and killing that goes on with dogs and it is pretty shocking.

For every case recorded, it reckons there are another ten going unreported.

The average dog worrying case sees three or four sheep injured and about the same number killed.

These figures produce an average cost of about £1,500 per incident although the NSA stresses that figure does not cover many of the other consequences of sheep worrying that only appear much later.

The most common additional problem reported was abortion in early pregnancy, but other issues following a dog attack included prolapses in later pregnancy, injuries causing lambing difficulties, mis-mothering of young lambs, blood injuries causing flystrike, fat lambs suffering a check to daily liveweight gain and injuries preventing fat lambs being sent to market.

What the survey does not quantify, nor can it, is the emotional upset. If you are like Gordon Stoddart, from Penicuik, whose loss of sheep from a dog attack was told in Saturday’s Scotsman, you have worked alongside these sheep, fed them, looked after them and regarded them as more than just a part of a business.

He and other farmers and shepherds who have gone through the aftermath of a dog attack on their sheep may, through working with animals, be used to life-and-death situations, but little, I would suggest, prepares anyone for seeing farmed livestock lying bloodied on the ground with their sides torn open or bite marks on their necks.

The traditional belief is that most sheep worrying is caused by packs of dogs but that is not verified in actuality, where more than half the cases involved one dog.

Another belief surrounding dog worrying is that it is dogs belonging to strangers who cause the damage but 97 per cent of dogs involved in attacks were local to the scene.

In almost half the cases, there was no dog owner around when the attacks took place, and remembering the days when I was a local councillor and was dealing with such important issues as dog fouling, most damage took place in the winter months.

Under the cover of darkness, lazy dog owners just kick their pets out of doors during the winter months with no regard as to what they are doing or where they are doing it.

If that is the problem, what is the cure? The survey has identified the reaction of the police to this crime as mixed and varies from area to area.

Now we have one police force in Scotland, let us hope for standard vigorous action against the miscreants, and by that I do not just mean killing the killer dogs.

The only solution would seem to be in penalising owners, because I believe most problems stem from incompetent or feckless people; many of whom like to use big angry dogs to prop up inadequacies in their personalities.

Owners should pay for financial loss from sheep worrying and I would also remove any right to own a dog.