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Tuesday, 21 October 2008 18:52

Dogs That Kill Sheep

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This is a major problem where town meets country and is getting worse. Here are some basic facts based on research in Western Australia.  New Zealand dogs are no different. 

It's a myth to believe like so many people do, that their little pet dog could not possibly go out and kill.  Any dog is capable of killing sheep, and the fact that it's in the garden when the owners are at home, or is back on the door step sleeping in the morning. This is no proof of innocence.  Attacks can happen anytime but 80% are between 5am and 7am.  You cannot breed this killing instinct out of the species.  If you did they wouldn't be dogs!  Just notice the number of dogs that you see going home at about 7.30 am as you drive to work, some dragging chains.  Been in the section all night have they? 

The image of killer dogs going around in packs is a myth.  Ninety percent of dogs that kill sheep are pets, working on their own or with another dog  and they come in all sizes and breeds. 

You can't predict which dogs will turn out to be killers.   They can be pets for years or top working dogs, and then all of a sudden something triggers off a desire to be a dog, and they go out and hunt to kill.  One common factor to all sheep killers though is that they are wanderers.  Wandering dogs near stock, can very easily become killers.  Wandering dogs are the key 

Most dogs that kill sheep don't have a mark on them.  This is because after their bit of fun, they regularly go and have a swim and cool off.  Check the collar (if they have one - most don't), as blood stains can be seen in the leather. 

 Killer dogs have a set pattern.  They enter and leave properties by a set route, and have usually been around the area they kill in for a few visits before they get to work.  These dogs are predictable and stick to their pattern.   They like to travel near water or up valleys where scent is funneled down to them. 

The cold of winter and the heat of summer are the off season for sheep killing.  It's more comfortable at home!  But the cool of the Autumn or the freshness of Spring get them going.  They like the damp spell after rain and the full moon for their sport. 

You can predict the breed and size of dog from the kill pattern such as where the sheep is attacked.  Experienced dogs will actually kill a few sheep and not maim many.  Learners will maim a great number but not be able to kill any.   Dogs have got to learn to kill sheep - and they do some awful damage while they are learning.  If it's a food kill, only one sheep will be killed.  Generally it’s all a big game of chase and catch for the dog or dogs. 

A dangerous combination is a large and small dog.  The big dog heads and catches and the little dog goes in for the kill.  Heading dogs and terrier combinations are lethal.  They can be very cunning too and quick.  Many of them can disappear and kill a sheep or two in no time, and nobody notices them disappear.

Dr Clive Dalton

Clive did a Ph.D. in sheep breeding at the University of North Wales at Bangor. After lecturing at Leeds University, he came to New Zealand to do research with MAF. Because of his communication skills, he moved to the Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre to be fully involved in interpreting science for practical application by farmers.

After 14 years he moved to teach at the Waikato Polytechnic where he taught young future farmers. He won the 1993 Landcorp Communicator of the Year award and the 1999 Sir Arthur Ward award for agricultural communication.

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