Dogs: A man’s best friend or worst enemy?

This piece is not intended to give any dog a bad name, it is meant to highlight the danger of bringing your dogs near certain categories of cattle, mainly suckler cows with young calves at foot.

A man’s best friend

A dog can be a man’s best friend, even the dogs in the street/farmyards know this.

Dogs are used on many farms for herding and moving stock, as guard dogs, and to frighten rodents and vermin such as crows, rats, and pigeons away from farmhouses and farmyards.

Again, numerous people use dogs as walking companions and as domestic pets.

A man’s worst enemy

However, a dog can be a man’s worst enemy if the dog approaches some farm animals, such as suckler cows with young calves.

Suckler cows may become agitated and are liable attack both the dog and dog handler if a dog goes near their calf.

So, let sleeping dogs lie, leave them alone to chew a bone if you are intending to go herding suckler cows and calves.

Alternatively, if you are using a 4X4 vehicle when herding stock, leave the dog in the cab if approaching any suckler cows with their offspring in fields.

Cattle attacks on people with dogs

Researchers in the UK carried out a review to identify risk factors into incidents involving cattle and members of the public.

Out of 54 attacks on people reported in Britain between 1992 and 2013, two-thirds involved dogs and one in four proved fatal.

There is a stronger tradition of people walking in the countryside with dogs in the UK, where there are public access rights to certain lands and bridleways.

“We found that walking with dogs among cows, particularly with calves present, was a common factor for an attack,” said Dr Carri Westgarth, a dog behaviour expert at the University of Liverpool.

“One theory for this is that cows may feel particularly threatened by dogs, especially if they have young to protect.

“People then try to protect their dogs, which can lead to a tragic incident occurring.”

It highlighted that injuries from cattle were often under-reported.

John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Officer, said farmers and people in the countryside must keep their dogs under control.

However, he pointed out there were cultural differences between Ireland and the UK where walking across land in the countryside was more common.

McNamara said walking through herds with calves in the spring time is “not to be recommended”.

“People should not be walking in through fields with dogs or otherwise.

“Cattle especially suckler cows will protect their calf at any time of the year. You might just accidentally get between the cow and calf.”

McNamara urged farmers to take extra care during the busy spring time on farms, as he highlighted safety measures such as calving pens with easy access gates.

“Aggressiveness is an inheritable condition and we are encouraging people to breed for docility and get a calm herd.

“Farmers should be calm at all times when they handle animals.”

In defence of dogs

A dog is a man’s best friend, there is no doubt about this. However, take care where you bring your canine, your dog may unintentionally incur an attack from a cow that is protecting it’s young.

Let sleeping dogs lie, keep them under control when herding stock, or when you are out and about walking.

Anthony O’ Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway / Clare Regional Unit.