Sheep Worrying

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sheep's face

Sheep Worrying on the Increase

The BBC recently reported that

“the number of dog attacks on sheep in [in Scotland] has risen by 67% in two years, according to the latest rural crime figures

(Dog owners warned 'no excuse' for sheep worrying)

It’s a harrowing subject. Sheep mauled and injured, dogs shot or destroyed, criminal proceedings against dog owners. It is suggested that the instances of sheep worrying are under reported by as much as 50%. So the situation may be worse.

Personal Experience

The report got my attention. As a dog owner I have experienced the worst case scenario first hand. Its a subject I have worked a lot with (mentioned in a much earlier blog post).

11 years ago, one of my hounds got shot for worrying sheep.  It is still difficult for me to talk or write about it.  The biggest issue has been shame. Shame at letting my dog get into a vulnerable situation, shame at the distress caused to the farmer, his family and his sheep, shame at how it affected my young daughters and shame at what people must think of me. I’m the sort of person that won’t park on a yellow line for fear of getting in trouble. I believed no responsible dog owner would let this happen.

I had always been aware of the risk of dogs chasing sheep. Maybe I had been too focussed on it, in the wrong way, reflecting on the old adage of ‘what you resist persists’. I have made attempts, before and since, to train against it. But I don’t feel it will ever be enough.

These days I will avoid walking my dogs through livestock. In the event that I find livestock are close by I will always have my dogs on a short lead. It is just not worth the risk. I also make sure that I have secure fencing around my garden so that my dogs can’t roam. I concentrate on safety. There was a time when I would have felt that I was restricting their, and my, freedom with this approach. Now I have learnt that some boundaries are necessary to lead a good life.

Why the increase?

I am wondering why there is an increase in sheep worrying? What could be causing it?

The report also said

“Farmers have blamed the double-digit rise in dog attacks on livestock on more ill-equipped dog walkers taking to the countryside.”

Over the last 11 years I have come across two other personal accounts about sheep worrying.

The first was when I was talking to a farmer. They described a time when they had a working farm and were going through a divorce. By their own admission they said their two dogs weren’t getting enough attention because of the other things going on in their life. One day the dogs disappeared. A year later the farmer discovered that they had both been shot by a neighbouring farmer for worrying his sheep.

The second was a story I came across through Facebook. This was from a dog trainer who had working dogs. During a busy period when the trainer reportedly had a lot of things going on, the dogs had had less work to do than usual. Somehow the dogs got out during this time and attacked sheep. His dogs were destroyed. He was so horrified that this had happened to him, he shared it on social media. He gave his motivation for sharing. 'If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone'.

What strikes me about these stories is that they are accounts from people that ‘know’.   People that know dogs, work with livestock and know the risks. So it CAN happen to any one.

Other Causes

I noticed that in both accounts, the dog owner confessed to having other things going on in their lives that led them to ‘neglect their dogs needs’. This seems to me to be key. It could be simply that the dogs were not getting their usual exercise which led them to find their own fatal outlets. But it might be something more complex.

Studies are showing that dogs mirror our emotions. So it follows that when an owner is stressed and feeling overwhelmed the dog will also mirror the feeling of stress and overwhelm. The consequences for the dog is that he or she needs to get rid of that energy, to get back into balance.  Certainly when it happened to me I was under a large amount of stress, as a working mother with full-time job, with a long commute and various other issues going on in my life.

The BBC report states that more dog walkers are taking to the countryside. We go for walks in the countryside to make us feel better. To get away from the hustle and bustle. Could there be a link between stressed humans and the increase in sheep attacks? I know when I moved to the country and brought dogs into my life I was looking for something to help me feel better. Pets are known to improve our health. Work pressures, financial insecurity, relationship issues, ‘austerity’, Brexit, global politics, there’s plenty to get away from. When we go out to get away from it all and walk our dogs, how much of that are we holding onto? How much of it is affecting our dogs?

Our Mental Well-Being

Maybe, just maybe, the stresses being put on our human lives are part of the reason for the increase in sheep worrying.

So maybe part of the solution, along with improving the bond with your dog and taking precautions to prevent disasters, is about attending to our own mental well-being. That way we might be addressing the true cause rather than dealing with the symptom. Just a thought. I would be interested in yours.

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