In 2023, dog attacks on livestock incurred an estimated £2.4m in costs, marking a significant increase of nearly 30% compared to the previous year, according to new data.

NFU Mutual, in its anti-livestock worrying campaign debut, highlighted this lack of complacency among some dog owners and their failure to control their pets.

A survey conducted by the insurer among over 1,100 dog owners revealed a rise in off-leash outings in rural areas, with 68% admitting to allowing their dogs off-leash last year compared to 64% in 2022.

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Alarmingly, only 49% of respondents claimed their pets consistently returned when called. Despite this, 46% believed their dogs lacked the capability to harm farm animals.

While 54% felt they did not need to take action to prevent their dogs from chasing livestock, as highlighted by NFU Mutual's survey findings.

In the event of an attack, 57% of owners would intervene, 22% would report it to a local farmer, and 11% would contact the authorities.

This report comes during the progression of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill in parliament, which aims to bolster police powers in handling such incidents.

While industry bodies welcome this legislation, NFU Mutual's rural affairs specialist, Hannah Binns commented: “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.

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

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She continues to emphasise that all dogs are capable of causing harm regardless of breed or temperament.

South-west England is the worst hit region, with an estimated £359,000 cost to dog attacks on livestock, followed closely by the Midlands at £331,000.

One particular incident in Lincolnshire involved Yorkshire terriers worrying a flock of mule ewes, resulting in the drowning of seven sheep in a pond, over two incidents by the same dogs, near Coleby.

The affected farmer, Richard Ogg describes the attack: “That evening I saw a post on Facebook about some dogs escaping from a nearby house. I went out immediately to check the sheep were all right – but it was too late: I was confronted with a scene like a horror film.

“Since we lost the ewes, I’ve been checking the sheep more often – but we can’t be there every hour of the day and you can’t fence a field to stop small dogs getting in.”