Dog owners are being urged to keep their pets under control, as horrific attacks on sheep and other livestock continue to take their toll on south west farmers.

New statistics released today by leading rural insurer NFU Mutual, reveal the cost of dog attacks on livestock was £200,000 in the south west last year.

A survey of dog owners reveals that 63 per cent of dog owners are letting their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

Roz Hills, south west regional manager for NFU Mutual, said: “A significant number of dog owners still don’t realise that their much-loved pet is capable of attacking and killing large numbers of lambs and sheep. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause sheep to die or miscarry their lambs.

“Although we are encouraged that 95% of dog owners would put their pet on a lead if a sign warns livestock are nearby, we’re alarmed that more than half are leaving their dogs unsupervised outside their homes when they are out – particularly when one in six admits their dog has escaped from home.”

As peak lambing season approaches, NFU Mutual is calling for dog owners to ensure their pets are under control at all times when livestock are nearby and to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

The research found a steady increase over the past two years of dogs who are able to go outside unaccompanied when their owners aren't in (56% in 2020, rising from 52% in 2019 and 43% in 2018). One in six owners admitted their dog had escaped from home in the past.

“This confirms farmers’ fears that a significant number of dog owners are letting their dogs roam free unsupervised. Whether they don’t know or don’t care about the carnage their pets are causing, these dog owners are giving a bad name to the responsible majority who do keep their pets under control.”

England saw an overall increase of 15% in the cost of livestock worrying. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all saw falls of 30%, 15% and 61% respectively.

With many families expected to visit the countryside during school half-term holidays, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept

• Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals

• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police

• Familiarise puppies with farm livestock from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs

• Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby

Advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from NFU Mutual’s website: