Widely misunderstood by both prosecuting authorities and by owners, we frequently find ourselves advising on the legalities regarding dogs worrying livestock. Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 an owner is liable if a dog worries livestock on agricultural land. This act is owner liability/punishment based. For any orders to be imposed on the dog, proceedings would also have to be brought against the owner under Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 in that the dog is dangerous (in the ordinary sense i.e. in its general disposition rather than on this occasion only)
“Livestock” includes cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses and poultry. For ‘cattle’ the legislation means bulls, cows, oxen, heifers or calves. ‘Horses’ includes asses and mules, and ‘poultry means domestic fowl, turkeys, geese or ducks. Game birds are not included unless the birds are taken into possession i.e. in a release pen or laying pen, once released from a pen they are considered wild and therefore they do not belong to anyone. Other livestock not protected include Llamas and Alpaca.
Agricultural land includes land used as arable, meadow or grazing land or for the purpose of pig or poultry farming, market gardens, allotments, nursery grounds and orchards.
‘Worrying’ is where a dog is
a) Attacking livestock,
b) Chasing livestock in such a way that it could reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering or, in the case of females, abortion or the loss or diminution of their produce (milk yields etc).
c) Being at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
Sheep dogs, police dogs, guide dogs, working gun dogs or a pack of hounds (in Scotland “a dog lawfully used to hunt”) are exempted. An offence is not committed if at the time of the worrying the livestock were trespassing, the dog belonged to the owner of the land on which the trespassing livestock were and the person in charge of the dog did not cause the dog to attack the livestock.
There is no right to shoot a dog under this Act if it attacks livestock merely that the person in control of the dog has committed an offence.
There are no powers to seize and detain a dog other than for identification purposes.
The Animals Act 1971 (England and Wales) & The Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 (Scotland)
Civil liability arises from the Animals Act 1971. Anyone who is the keeper of a dog that causes damage by killing or injuring livestock could be financially liable for the damage caused. For the purposes of the Act the keeper is the owner or the person in possession of the dog. The head of the household is liable where the owner is under the age of 16. The keeper of the dog is not liable where the damage is due wholly to the fault of the person suffering it or if the livestock were killed or injured on land onto which they had strayed and either the dog belonged to the occupier or its presence was authorised by the occupier.
Under this Act there is a defence available to someone who is the subject of civil proceedings for killing or injuring a dog that was worrying or about to worry livestock. This person would have to be the owner of the livestock or someone who was authorised to protect the livestock if they were not the owner.
The defence can be used where there were no other means of ending or preventing the worrying or where the dog that had done the worrying was still in the vicinity and not under control and there were no practicable means of establishing ownership. This means that if a dog were shot whilst worrying livestock and its owner was in the vicinity the shooter would not necessarily be able to rely on this defence as ownership had been established. The person killing the dog must inform the police within 48 hours of the killing or injuring of the dog. Without defence the killing or injuring of a dog may be regarded as criminal damage.
Lawful Excuse - A person shooting a dog without lawful excuse may commit the offence of criminal damage, however, Section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 recognises that a person cannot stand idly by and watch his property being destroyed. A person will have lawful excuse to damage or destroy property (a dog) belonging to another if:
1) at the time of the act he believed that the person who owned the dog had consented to its destruction or would have so consented if he had known of the circumstances. It is very unlikely that any dog owner would consent to its destruction for chasing animals or game, but if the person killing the animal can convince a court that he genuinely believed this to be the case he will be found not guilty.
2) he was doing it to protect his own property, provided that his property was in immediate need of protection and the means used to defend it were reasonable. As game, once it has been released into the wild, is not classed as property the killing of dogs to protect it is not a lawful excuse.
So, unless there is lawful excuse for killing or injuring a dog, the offence of causing criminal damage will be committed.
Use of Firearms - Using a rifle to shoot a dog worrying livestock may cause the shooter to end up in more trouble than expected. Firearm Certificates bind the use of a firearm by additional conditions, which usually only permit their use on specific game and pest species or for target shooting. The police will rarely agree to add suitable conditions to allow the shooting of dogs when there is a requirement, as this would most likely leave them open to criticism. If a person is subsequently faced with shooting a dog with a firearm they may be prosecuted for failing to comply with their certificate conditions. However the police should not be prosecuting cases where the Animals Act 1971 defence applies, and where the decision to shoot the dog was done as a last resort in difficult circumstances.
There are no additional conditions attached to shotgun certificates, but where shotguns are used it should be at a sensible range so not to wound dogs unnecessarily.
The Countryside and Right of Way Act The Countryside and Right of Way Act (CROW Act) sets out public rights of access to open land and the restrictions to these rights. Although CROW allows anyone on to open access land (land you can access without having to use paths, including mountains, moorland, heaths, downs and registered common land) for recreation, the Act states that the public can only go on this land if they keep dogs on a fixed lead of 2 metres or less near livestock. The owner of open access land can close areas containing sheep to dogs for up to six weeks once a year, as a safeguard during lambing. Trained guide and hearing dogs are still allowed in these areas during this closure. Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
The Countryside Code in England and Wales The Countryside Code offers advice on walking your dog near livestock, as well as other information on how to enjoy a safe and responsible trip to a rural area in England and Wales. Excerpts from the Countryside Code say: “When you take your dog into the outdoors always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control … It is always good practice to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals … Keep your dog in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command … Ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have a right of access.”