With lambs and ewes in the field at this time of year, dog walkers will be reminded regularly of the need to keep their dogs under control when they are near livestock. However, there are also a troubling number of incidents where horses have been chased by dogs, sometimes resulting in injury.
Both civil and criminal law might be applicable, if a dog were to chase horses in a public place. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control, whether on private land or in a public place. Dog owners should note that it is not necessary for the dog actually to cause injury, provided that someone could be injured by the dog.
Anti-social behaviour legislation might also become relevant, if a dog owner repeatedly allowed their dog to be out of control – they might then be prevented from exercising their dog in a certain place, which could extend to private land. With regard to the civil law, horses fall within the definition of livestock for the purposes of the Animals Act 1971. This imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog that chases or attacks livestock and accordingly a claim for damages could be brought against the person in control of the dog, for losses including the cost of treating any injury to the horse and personal injuries if the rider was hurt.
Furthermore, the law of negligence would impose a duty of care on a dog owner to take steps that are reasonable in the circumstances to reduce the risk of injury to others. Precisely what needs to be done to satisfy this duty of care will vary with the circumstances, but it could easily be argued that keeping a dog on a lead, or otherwise under close control around horses, would satisfy the test, and allowing a dog to roam out of sight or without the owner being able to recall the dog safely would not.
Many riders have come to us with concerns about dog walkers, which were exacerbated by people exercising in greater numbers in certain areas near their homes during lockdown.
Horse riders could consider putting up signs on their own land to encourage dog owners to keep their dogs on leads around horses, as it may be the case that while the dangers dogs can pose to livestock such as sheep are well known, the risks posed by dogs around horses are not.
Riders who are affected might also consider using social media or going to their local paper to try to raise awareness in their area.