‘Complacency kills’ as cost of dog attacks on livestock in Scotland more than doubles


COMPLACENCY among some dog owners alongside an inability to control their pets has seen dog attacks on Scottish livestock cost an estimated £123,000 last year, more than double the 2022 cost, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

The shocking statistics comes as NFU Mutual’s latest survey of over 1,100 dog owners released today (Monday 26th February) found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68% and 64% respectively.*

Worryingly, less than half (49%) said their pet always comes back when called.

Almost eight percent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals. More than half (54%) felt they did not need to take active measures to prevent their dog from chasing.

If present at an attack, 57% of dog owners would intervene to stop it, 22% would report it to a local farmer and 11% would call the police.

Across the UK, dog attacks on livestock were estimated to cost £2.4 million last year, up nearly 30% compared to the previous year

Martin Malone, NFU Mutual Scotland Manager, said: “The doubling in the cost of dog attacks on livestock in Scotland is incredibly alarming for the country’s farmers and crofters, especially as the 2024 lambing season gets underway and pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are vulnerable.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers about the complacency and naivety of some dog owners who regularly allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside, seemingly unaware of the carnage the dog could cause, then are horrified when an attack happens.

“There have also been incidences where dogs have chased, injured and killed sheep and the owner is nowhere to be seen.

“Farmers are also living in fear of repeat attacks, which cause horrific and needless suffering to livestock and can traumatise all involved dealing with the aftermath.

“All dogs are capable of chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“We’re urging all dog owners to be responsible for their pet and keep them on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock. If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, to a local farmer and the police, so that the injured animals are not left suffering in pain.”

NFU Scotland Policy Advisor for Rural Business, Rhianna Montgomery, said: “We are disappointed to see that the impact and cost of livestock worrying on Scottish farmers and crofters has increased significantly, suggesting a surge in instances of worrying and attacks by dogs. We need to understand the reasoning behind this increase in irresponsible dog ownership and ensure that we are doing everything we can to promote the message to the public. 

“Dog owners need to be aware of the pain and suffering their pet has the potential to inflict when they attack livestock, as well as being aware of the repercussions.

“We continue to encourage farmers to report all incidents of livestock being attacked by dogs to ensure that our hard-won changes to legislation hold all irresponsible dog owners to account.”

Inspector Jordan Low of Police Scotland added: “Protecting livestock is an important issue and a priority for the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) membership.

“Livestock worrying and attacks can result in injury, miscarriage and even death. The damage and distress caused not just to the animals, but the farming business is considerable.

“It is also a crime. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to ensure their dog is on a lead and under control when livestock is present. Failure to do so can result in a fine up to £40,000 or a 12-month prison sentence.

“Police Scotland through SPARC is committed to working with its partners to increase public awareness of the legislation to protect livestock from dog attacks and irresponsible dog owners will be prosecuted.”


Case study: Pauline Mitchell, Banffshire

Despite installing hundreds of metres of double fences to protect her livestock, Banffshire farmer Pauline Mitchell is still regularly having sheep killed and injured by out-of-control dogs. 

A young, in-lamb Texel X ewe was the latest victim, found dead by a field gate with its throat ripped out less than two hours after Pauline had last checked the flock.

“All the sheep were crowded in a huddle in a corner of the field, so it was obvious they had been chased by a dog,” she said. 

“It’s a continual problem – we’re in a spot which is very popular with walkers, and many let their dogs roam free despite us having livestock in the fields.

“We’ve put in double fencing and grown thick hedges to separate our livestock from walkers and we’ve put in hard-core trails in the most popular locations.

“However, people still encourage their dogs to get into the fields to run round while they walk on the fenced paths. It’s very frustrating. They can’t seem to grasp that all dogs have an instinct to attack grazing animals and even chasing them can cause serious injuries.”

The worst attack was 15 years ago when two spaniels rampaged through the grazing fields killing 28 sheep. As well as causing a series of sheep deaths and injuries, dogs have also worried Pauline’s cattle, chasing them round fields until they smashed down fences to escape. 

“With the help of The Crown Estate footpaths and fencing have been installed over the years for the safety of walkers and to separate them from the livestock,” she added.

“We’ve also grown thick hedges along many walks and installed gates to protect sheep where possible.”

Part of a family who have farmed in the Scottish Highlands for generations, she farms in partnership with her father, Charles Irvine. They currently 400 Texel X ewes and a hundred suckler cows on a holding of 1,400 acres including 700 acres of upland grazing. 


With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is calling for them to:

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby

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