James is a Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution team and primarily handles commercial…View Profile View all
This is the time of year when many people head out into the country for a walk with their dog. They need to be careful to keep it under control when livestock is about, particularly sheep with lambs. A criminal offence is committed under The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 by the owner of a dog or anyone else who is in control of it if it worries livestock on agricultural land. “Livestock” has a wide definition and includes cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry. “Agricultural land” includes everything that one would consider would fall into that category whether it be arable, meadow or grazing land.
“Worrying” is also widely drawn and includes (1) attacking livestock, (2) chasing it in such a way that it could be reasonably expected to cause injury or suffering, or in the case of pregnant females, such as ewes, an abortion, or (3) being at large (that is not on a lead or close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
Whilst this Act provides for a criminal offence to be committed, it does not give the land owner a right to shoot a dog which is worrying livestock.
Civil liability can also attach to the dog owner. For instance, the owner commits a trespass if he or she deliberately sends a dog onto another person’s land. The keeper of a dog that causes damage by killing or injuring livestock could be sued for that damage under The Animals Act 1971. The person responsible is the owner or the person in possession of the dog or the head of the household where the owner is under 16. This Act also gives a defence to a landowner who is the subject of proceedings for killing or injuring a dog that was worrying or about to worry livestock.
The draconian act of shooting a dog should only be used where there is no other means of ending or preventing worrying, or where a dog which has been worrying remains in the area, and is not under control, and the landowner has no practical means of establishing ownership. Landowners need to be careful about the use of firearms where dogs are concerned because if there was no lawful excuse to shoot the dog, there could be an offence under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 and there may also be a breach of a firearms certificate.
Finally, in passing, a reminder that every dog while in a public place should wear a collar with the name and address of its owner inscribed on it or a disc attached to it. If that is not done, the dog can be seized by the police and treated as a stray and the owner can be prosecuted under The Control of Dogs Order 1992. In addition, from 6 April 2016 it has been compulsory for dogs to be microchipped with their keeper’s details and that information has to be kept up to date.
For further information, or to discuss your legal requirements, please click here to get in touch with James.