Are landowners legally entitled to shoot dogs who worry their livestock? Here is what the law states

As police across Yorkshire step up patrols in rural areas to prevent livestock being attacked by dogs, The Yorkshire Post looks further into the legal rights landowners have when it comes to protecting their sheep.

There have already been 12 "sheep worrying" incidents in North Yorkshire so far this year, with every single district in the county reporting at least one dog attack on livestock. Half of these were reported in April.

"Worrying" covers attacking, chasing in a way that could cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce, or simply being "at large" - that is not on a lead or otherwise under close contorl in a field or enclosure containing sheep.

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There have already been 12 "sheep worrying" incidents in North Yorkshire so far this year, with every single district in the county reporting at least one dog attack on livestock. Half of these were reported in April.

All property receives a degree of protection by law, so injuring or killing a person’s dog could give rise to a possible criminal damage charge.

The main question is whether the landowner had a lawful excuse to shoot the dog. They will have to show that they acted in belief that their property was in immediate need of protection and that their actions were reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.

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The Animals Act 1971 does provide some statutory defence to farmers who injure a dog in order to protect their livestock.

To be ale to rely on the defence, landowners will need to demonstrate that:

1) There are no reasonable means of preventing the worrying (or the dog has been worrying livestock);

2) The dog has not left the vicinity;

4) There are no practicable means of ascertaining its owner. What constitutes the necessary practical steps will depend on the circumstances, but it could extend to trying to ascertain whether anybody in the immediate vicinity is the owner, and who would have the ability to bring the dog back under control.

In addition, if a dog is shot, it is crucial that the local police are notified within 48 hours.

Shooting a dog can also give rise to potential firearms difficulties.

If a rifle or other section 1 firearm has been used, then, unless one of the conditions on which the certificate was granted covers such use, there is a real risk of prosecution for failing to comply with the certificate conditions.