Family Dogs Terrorize Sheep

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 430/20
Publication Date: 08/02
Order#: 02-029
Last Reviewed: 8 December 2016
History: This factsheet Replaces the Infosheet "Family Dogs Terrorize Sheep"
Written by: Craig Richardson - Animal Care Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Tactics
  2. What You Can Do About It

Where does your dog go when you're not looking? Does it lead a secret life? Family dogs do terrorize sheep.

An Australian study of 1,400 dogs that attacked livestock found most dog owners, when approached by authorities, refused to believe their dog could have killed or injured any sheep. They believe their dogs are too small, too young or too friendly to harm sheep.

The researchers caught dogs from 3 months to 12 years of age, intact and sterilized dogs of both sexes, purebred and mongrel, all attacking livestock. Most of these dogs were well fed, friendly, family pets, running at large. Selective breeding has not suppressed the tendency of any breed of dog to attack and kill livestock. Animal behaviourists say it is not possible to predict whether a particular dog will attack sheep or not.


Dogs chase and attack sheep for fun. They rarely kill the sheep immediately. The sheep usually die later from their injuries or from infection, or they must be destroyed. Livestock evaluators have described the aftermath of dog attacks as "excessive mutilation". In contrast, coyote attacks are quick. Often coyotes select one sheep to kill and eat, and leave the rest of the flock alone. Sheep flocks that experience a coyote attack are often not as stressed or noisy as those suffering from a dog attack. Dog attacks last longer and involve more chasing. Sheep attacked by dogs will have torn ears and hides, as well as bite marks on the neck, head, hind legs and flanks.

Dogs may harass injured sheep every time they get up to run away. Animal behaviourists believe the movement of the sheep away from the dog stimulates the dog to give chase. Sheep chased by dogs have drowned in streams, or have died from suffocation by piling up in fence corners or sheds.

People often think that roving packs of dogs cause most livestock predation problems. Of the 1,400 dogs caught or observed attacking livestock in the Australian study; 40% of attacks were by single dogs, 51% of attacks by a pair of dogs — usually a male and a female, and just 9% were by 3 or more dogs.

Authorities used specially trained tracking dogs to find the trail of the offending dogs and followed them to their homes. If 2 or more dogs were involved in an attack, they were usually from the same home or were neighbours. These dogs were mostly approachable family pets. Dog owners think that it is not possible for their pet to be attacking sheep because their dog is not vicious and has never bitten anyone. Owners should understand the reason why a dog attacks sheep — it's all for the love of the game. Dogs do not bite people because they are being predatory; they bite people because they are dominant, frightened, or because they are protecting something or someone.

What You Can Do About It

Dogs can only attack sheep if they are allowed to roam. If loose, dogs may attack sheep at any time of the day or night. Be a responsible pet owner. Do not let your dog stay out all night to run or leave your dog loose to roam all day while you are at work. Have facilities for your pet that will keep it on your property at all times. A dog left to roam your property, where you don't have adequate fencing to contain it, may leave at anytime it chooses.

Attacks on sheep flocks are emotionally, as well as financially draining, for shepherds. Surviving animals usually do not produce as well ewes may abort unborn lambs and injured animals endure pain and must be treated. The shepherd must spend time and money to prevent future attacks. It is important to remember that you are legally responsible for your dog's actions.

For more information:
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