Livestock is a worry
It is vital to acclimatise your dog to farm animals so they don’t chase them — with potentially fatal consequences, warns David Tomlinson
If you are going to work your dog on a shoot, there is one thing of which you can be certain: sooner or later you will encounter livestock. In arable East Anglia it may not happen often, but almost anywhere else in the country it is likely to occur on many, if not most, outings.
As a responsible gundog owner, the last thing you want is for your dog to show an unhealthy interest in farm animals. Curiously, none of my many gundog training books make much mention of familiarising your dog or dogs with livestock, but it is one of the most important aspects of training.
I was reminded of this because, for the past 10 years, I haven’t had to think about livestock; my dogs weren’t interested and so were relaxed around animals. Now, as the owner of an energetic and curious seven-month-old sprocker, Emma, I am aware that she has yet to meet either sheep or cattle, though she is already steady to both chickens and horses. That is a good start, but a flock of sheep, bobbing away, is a hugely tempting target for a young dog, and at the moment I have no confidence that she won’t chase.
That’s why I am about to embark on a programme of familiarising Emma with sheep. There are a few local flocks I can introduce her to, while attached to a retracting lead that can be reined in if she does show any sign of wanting to pursue the animals. Past experience suggests that it doesn’t take long for most dogs to discover that sheep are really boring and chasing them isn’t a rewarding pastime.
One of my spaniels was walked daily as a puppy through a field of sheep and took no notice of them. However, on her first walk on Exmoor she encountered a ewe and her grown lamb and decided that they looked good for a bit of sport. Quite why she decided to chase them remains a mystery, except that a sheep on a heather moor is a very different prospect to one in a grassy paddock in Kent. But chase them she did.
Caught in the act
Fortunately, she pursued them back towards me, so was caught in the act. Severe verbal chastisement took place and she never looked at another sheep for the rest of her life.
Cattle are a rather different proposition to sheep, as they have the ability to trample both you and your dog if they really want to. Every year there are tragic reports of dog walkers who have been killed by cattle, though often the dog escapes. Cattle, especially youngstock, are curious animals and the sight of a dog will often draw them to take a closer look. Danger arises when a herd crowds
“ostriches are birds with small brains and a very powerful kick, so keep away”
Cattle are curious animals with the ability to trample both you and your dog