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Dogs are domesticated animals that have been bred for centuries to be companions and protectors of humans.

 However, dogs may sometimes act in certain undesirable ways, that can be perceived even as gruesome, especially when it leads to attacks on other animals such as sheep.

Dogs have been killing sheep for centuries. Often times, people have thought that wolves were the ones doing the killing, but often times, it is dogs.

 In the rural areas of Australia, dogs kill off sheep by the thousands. This is obviously a huge problem for sheep farmers and the Australian wool industry alike.

 It has become difficult for them to protect their livestock when they are frequently away from the farm.

 So why do dogs kill sheep, and most of all, what can be done to stop them?

Dogs Attacking and Killing Sheep

In the past few years, many dogs that have never before exhibited aggressive behavior have been attacking sheep. 

This has become an alarming trend for farmers with sheep who graze on unfenced pasture and now have to keep their sheep shepherded and on guard.

According to a survey, large flocks of sheep were often attacked by dogs, in particular when they were kept on fully open land and nearby trails or roads regularly used by dog walkers.

In this article, we will explore the reasons why dogs attack sheep and what can be done to stop dogs from killing of sheep. 

Why Do Dogs Kill Sheep?

There is no single answer as to why a dog would attack sheep, but there are several factors that may contribute to it. 

People should know that in many cases, dogs will not intentionally hurt people or other animals. In most cases, they act out of instincts. 

It is a common misconception that dogs attack sheep because they are hungry and want to eat them. Studies show that the reasons behind this behavior are more complex than we may think.

 A dog can attack sheep for various reasons, and it is important to know what may cause a dog to attack a sheep in order to prevent future attacks.

 Following are several possible reasons why dogs may attack and kill sheep.

A Matter of Territory

Some dogs may attack sheep because they are territorial, and they don't want the sheep in their territory.

Sheep are therefore chased away and they may be killed in the process. 

A Matter of Prey Drive 

While our dogs have been domesticated for centuries, some dogs can still exhibit a wild side, so to say. 

Prey drive is what triggers dogs to look for and attack prey. It can be stronger in certain dogs compared to others. 

One possible culprit that causes dogs to gravitate towards sheep is the fact that they emit a strong smell.

 Dogs have powerful noses and the scent of sheep attracts them.

The second reason is the sound of their bleating which may mimic the sound of hurt prey. 

The third reason is that their behavior of running away from dogs excites a dog's predatory instinct.

Dogs may attack sheep who are more vulnerable, such as sheep affected by blindness or lameness.

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"Predatory behavior is a normal (but unacceptable) behavior, and can be very difficult to manage." ~Melissa J. Bain, board-certified veterinary behaviorist 

A Matter of Breed 

Among dogs with high predatory drives are many hunting dogs. 

For instance, in a study, Norwegian Elkhounds, which were selectively bred to hunt moose and other big game were found to be most likely to attack sheep, while setters were found to be less interested.

 Most likely this is because setters were bred to hunt birds and have less courage to attack larger animals. 

Did you know? According to a study, a dog showing intentions of predatory behavior towards sheep stimulates predatory chase in another dog. 

This influential tendency is known as social facilitation. 

Good fences makes good dogs 

Good fences makes good dogs 

How to Prevent Your Dog from Killing Sheep

Preventing your dog from killing sheep can be a difficult task, however, by taking several measures you can prevent your dog from becoming a repeat offender. 

 Here are some tips on how to prevent your dog from killing sheep.

Have a Sturdy Fence

The most important thing to remember is that sheep and the dog should be kept apart. This can be done by erecting a dog-proof fence.

If you already have a fence, the next thing you need to do is make sure that there are no holes in your fence. 

If there are holes, then your dog will most likely find a way to get through it. 

Also, make sure the fence is high enough that your dog cannot jump over it. 

These measures apply to both the area where your dog is confined and where the sheep are kept. 

Keep Dogs on Leash 

If the dog has to walk nearby farms or close to areas scattered with sheep, the dog should always be on a leash. 

The leash should never be so long, that the dog can easily reach the sheep. 

Keep Your Dog Indoors at Night 

If you need to take your dog outside to go potty, always keep him on a leash if you are near a sheep pasture. 

Also, keep your dog in the house at night. Many attacks to sheep occur at night or early morning. 


The act of dogs attacking sheep, not only causes pain and suffering in the sheep, but also has a toll on the farmers' financial and emotional wellbeing.

Farmers confess feeling a sense of sadness, anger and frustration when dogs kill and attack their sheep at a greater extent than if the attacks were carried out by wild animals.  

Most likely this is because, when dogs attack sheep, such accidents could have been prevented and may reflect irresponsible dog ownership. 


Christiansen FO, Bakken M, Braastad BO. Behavioural differences between three breed groups of hunting dogs confronted with domestic sheep. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2001 Apr 26;72(2):115-129.

 Christiansen FO, Bakken M, Braastad BO. Social facilitation of predatory, sheep-chasing behaviour in Norwegian Elkhounds, grey. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2001

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