A dog most foul: how to deal with dogs worrying livestock

Prepare your land for dog walkers

 Someone can only enter your land (with or without dogs), if you have given them permission or if there is a public right of way. If you’ve allowed someone access, you can later withdraw permission or demand that they keep their dog controlled. And if your land includes a public right of way, you can take pre-emptive action to help safeguard your livestock..

Some dog owners may not know they have a legal responsibility to ensure their dog doesn’t disturb your livestock. It’s a good idea to put up clear signs that ask walkers to keep dogs on leads and respect the welfare of livestock. Where viable, you can also fence off the right of way so that dogs cannot come into contact with your livestock. However, if the right of way is extensive, this could be impractical or costly.

Communicate your concerns

If you know who the dog’s owner is, the next step is to contact them about their dog’s dangerous behaviour and to remind them of their responsibilities under the Dogs Act. You may choose to do this in person, over the telephone or by writing to them. You may even choose to have a letter drafted by a lawyer, as a first step in taking legal action. You could also ask the police to get involved in communicating any breach of the Dogs Act.

If you need to, take legal action…

If mediatory steps don’t resolve the matter, and a dog owner repeatedly fails to control their dog on your land, you could seek an injunction to stop them using your land.

The injunction should detail the number of occasions the dog has worried livestock, the steps you have taken requesting the owner to control the dog and the outcome of these requests.

Alternatively, if dogs pose a repeated threat to the wellbeing of your livestock, you could ask your local authority to divert or remove a public right of way, either temporarily or permanently. Under section 118 of the Highways Act 1980, you can do this if you’re able to establish it is beneficial, and that the public can use an alternative route that is no less convenient or enjoyable[1]. The council will then assess the proposal and the public will be given the opportunity to object. As the applicant, you would normally pay for the cost of this process.

If your livestock is in immediate danger from a dog, you may use lethal force and shoot it – but only if you have a lawful excuse. The burden would fall on you to show your actions were driven by the belief that your livestock was in immediate danger and needed protection. Using lethal force is not without risk, however, and there is a grey area between what is reasonable and what is lawful. If you overstep the mark, there may be repercussions – not only from the owner, but also regarding animal welfare and shotgun licensing.

My livestock has been affected already, what can I do?

 If your livestock is injured by a dog, civil law does offer some protection through compensation, which is governed by the Animals Act 1971 (Animals Act). Under section 3, if a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, its owner is strictly liable for the damage. If you make a claim for damages, however, you will only be able to recover reasonably foreseeable losses and must try to mitigate such losses, where possible.

Depending on the nature of your farm, you may keep animals that fall outside the legal definition of traditional livestock – an area governed by section 11 of the Animals Act. In this scenario, you could still claim damages for negligence or nuisance but, unlike under section 3, you would have the additional hurdle of proving the dog owner was at fault.

Since there isn’t a single course of action to resolve the issue of unruly dogs, the best starting point is to communicate the owner’s legal obligation and your legal rights through clear signage. You can then choose the next course of action depending on how the issue develops.

If you’d like to discuss any of the issues covered here, or receive advice on agriculture law, please get in touch with Russell Reeves.

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