How does Michael Gove get to sleep? He counts dead sheep. That’s because nightmare dog attacks on sheep are escalating. NFU Mutual says they rose by 67% in the past two years. Annually around 15,000 sheep are killed and many others are maimed. Mr Gove told the Conservative Conference he is “reflecting” on this key animal welfare issue.
By daylight, nightmares become reality for farmers when they find dead lambs scattered across fields and ewes with throats torn open. Typically just one dog is involved. It is not always down to an irresponsible owner. Sometimes a powerful dog simply ripped the lead out of their hand. On other occasions the dog was off the lead because the owner did not realise sheep were nearby. Mistakes happen. Yet when a big dog gets sight of prey its primeval instincts make it very hard to stop. For farmers the results are emotionally traumatic and economically ruinous.
Fortunately there is an emergency way to stop these attacks. E-collars are used by 300,000 dog owners across the UK to interrupt the pursuit. The message gets through. The dog stops.
Unfortunately this one proven way to stop dogs before they reach the sheep is under threat. Defra is minded to copy Welsh Labour, which banned e-collars in 2010. So can Mr Gove at least fall asleep comfortable that Welsh users of e-collars are now keeping their dogs permanently on leads? No – attacks have soared. And teeth have not just been bared on livestock but people as well.
South Wales Argus: attacks by dangerous dogs not involving livestock
If Defra dared to look at long-term scientific studies they would understand the effectiveness of e-collar training in stopping attacks: “no dogs showed interest in or attacked a lone sheep in the path test… The owners reported no negative effect on the dogs’ behaviour.” [Christiansen et al.]
If a scientifically proven technology does get banned, owners will seek to control their pets through head harnesses and prong collars. Are these less aversive – or more? Yet when has consistency ever weighed heavily in Defra’s musings? Does anyone think it is about to tackle the vastly more powerful electric livestock fences?
Technophobia is a bad look for Defra. Its policies should not be dictated by eco-Luddites on Twitter.
Five years ago, Michael Gove’s colleague Jeremy Hunt sought to ban every e-cigarette on the market. How mad that looks today. The European Parliament stepped in to save DH from that folly. Product standards sufficed. Let’s hope wiser heads in the UK Parliament make the same point on e-collars.
Following the failed Welsh experiment it’s time to listen – and not to silence the lambs.