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Legal advice for farmers

It can be difficult to know where you stand with the law on sheep worrying, but these excerpts from the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and The Animals Act 1971 are specific to dog attacks. Also below is information about destroying dogs that attack sheep and advice on what to do if your sheep are worried by a dog.

The NSA Legal Helpine offers members 30 minutes of free advice from a national law firm on any topic, including sheep worrying. You can call about any number of topics and recieve half an hour's advice on each. Details of the helpline are available in the members area of the website.

Criminal Proceedings

  • The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 says that if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the owner and/or the person in charge of the dogs is guilty of a criminal offence: “If a dog worries livestock on any agricultural land, the owner of the dog, and if it is in the charge of a person other than its owner, that person also, shall be guilty of an offence.”
  • Criminal proceedings can be brought with the consent of the chief officer of police for the area in which the land is situated, but the occupier of the land and/or owner of any of the livestock in question can also bring criminal proceedings without the support of the police. 
  • The Act gives the term ‘worrying’ a wide meaning, including: attacking livestock; chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock (or in the case of females, abortion or loss or reduction of their produce); or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field containing sheep.


  • The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 details a number of defences to livestock worrying. These state that the offence cannot apply to a dog owned by the sheep keeper, the owner of the field, or a person authorised by either of those persons; the offence cannot apply to a police dog, a guide dog, a working gun dog or a trained sheep dog; the offence does not apply if the livestock are trespassing and the dog is owned by, or in the charge of, the occupier of that land or a person authorised by him, unless the owner or person in charge of the dog causes the dog to attack the livestock; and the offence does not apply to an owner who proves that at the time when the dog worried the livestock it was in the charge of someone else, who he reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog.
  • A person found guilty of livestock worrying can be fined not more than £1,000.

Police discretion

  • The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 says the police can seize and detain a dog where:  the police officer has a reasonable cause to believe that the dog has been worrying livestock on agricultural land; and no person is present who admits to being the owner of the dog.
  • If a constable is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed and that the premises in question are where the dog is kept, the police may issue a warrant authorising a constable to enter and search the dog owner's premises in order to identify the dog.

Civil proceedings

  • Civil proceedings can be brought where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, under The Animals Act 1971. Any person who keeps a dog which causes damage by killing or injuring livestock is absolutely liable for the damage, but the sheep keeper would have to demonstrate his damages using standard legal principles.

NSA would like to thank Burges Salmon Solicitors for their help with this information.

The information here is correct to the best of NSA's ability and cannot be used to defend action taken by individuals when a case of sheep worrying by dogs occurs.