Old Chalk New Downs said no-one liked to think of their pet as a ‘potential killer’ but warned it could be a reality as the brighter weather draws closer.
The Old Chalk New Downs project in the North Downs, south east England, has teamed up with the NFU and the South Downs National Park to encourage dog walkers to take the lead after dog attacks caused £1.6m worth of industry damage last year.
An Old Chalk New Downs spokesman said: “What many cannot imagine, is how quickly instinct will take over in what is normally a calm, domesticated and very loveable companion.
“None of us like to think of our dog as a potential killer.”
The new initiative hopes to provide awareness by encouraging people to ‘take the lead – and use it’ and for those who live near land with grazing livestock, to ensure their pet cannot escape ‘and take itself for walkies’.
It also hopes to spread awareness of the affects loose dogs can have in the countryside through neospora in dumped dog poo and the costly fines for pet owners if convicted of the crime.
Alison Ruyter, a warden at Kent Wildlife Trust, said her own experience highlighted how every dog was capable and there were ‘no sizes or ages more likely to do it than others’.
She said: “My old dog spent her life pottering around our fields with the sheep. She never looked twice at them.
“Then one day we went to the lambing sheds on our friend’s farm – luckily she was on a lead, because all of a sudden she ‘switched on’.
“She caught a smell and was fixated. At the grand age of 16.”
Ms Ruyter wanted to encourage people ‘a dog is never sheep proof’, despite its previous experience or behaviour around livestock.
She added: “I have always found a sunny May bank holiday is always the flash point for livestock attacks on my sites. People are completely unprepared for their dog’s reaction to sheep, goats or cattle.”
Isobel Bretherton of NFU South East said more needed to be done to tackle the growing problem is livestock worrying.
“Of course, owners want to walk their dogs in the countryside, but they must be responsible and understand that farmers need to protect their animals and their livelihoods.”
To keep your dog out of trouble and spare the livestock any stress or harm: