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Staying legal in Scotland

Here is a summary of the key points of legislation affecting dogs around sheep in Scotland, to help you feel confident that you and your pet are staying within the law when in farming areas.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. The Act considers sheep worrying to include attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Sheep escaped from their keep that are still on agriculatural land are still protected by this act. Sheep escaped and are off of agricultural land can no longer be protected by this act. Sheep that have escaped onto amenity land should be reported to the council. If there is concern sheep can and/or have escaped onto a highway or there is a concern that the escaping sheep may injure themselves or be suffering a welfare concern then the County Council Trading Standards team should be contacted as the principle agency for regulating livestock welfare.

Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, access rights do not allow members of the public on to land with a dog which is not under proper control.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) lays out the responsibilities of people enjoying their access rights and of those who manage the land. It offers guidance for people enjoying the countryside with their dogs and says: “In exercising access rights, you must keep your dog(s) under proper control. You must also ensure that your dog does not worry livestock.” The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says ‘proper control’ means different things in different situations, but when around sheep you should:-

  • Not take your dog into a field where there are lambs. Go into a neighbouring field or onto adjacent land. In open country, keep your dog on a short lead (2 metres or shorter) when there are lambs around and keep away from them.
  • Keep your dog on a short lead or under close control if you need to go into a field where there are sheep. The SOAC defines ‘under close control’ as close at heel and responsive to your commands. Stay distant from the sheep.
  • Keep your dog under close control in more open country where there are sheep and stay away from them.
  • The SOAC reminds dog owners that in some cases a farmer has the right to shoot a dog that is attacking their livestock.
  • If you are handling a group of dogs, make sure that they do not cause alarm to livestock.