Since the beginning of November, dog owners face far higher penalties if their dog attacks or worries livestock. The new rules come from the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 which amends the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 in respect of offences in Scotland.

The 2021 Act was introduced following widespread perception that livestock worrying incidents are on the increase. The numbers given to the Holyrood committee scrutinising the draft legislation did not necessarily bear that out, though failure to report seems common. What was clear was that the existing legislation was no longer a deterrent and addressing the issue gained support from across the political spectrum.

Renaming of offence

The principal offence has been renamed as "Offence where dog attacks or worries livestock on agricultural land". Attacking was formerly part of what was more widely described as "worrying". Re-framing in this way draws public attention to the gravity of the acts involved, whereas "worrying" was perhaps (wrongly) dismissed as trivial.

"Worrying" continues to mean: 

  • chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or, in the case of females, abortion, or loss of or diminution in their produce; or 
  • being "at large" (that is not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep (note this element applies only to sheep and not other livestock).

Widened categories of livestock

The categories of livestock involved have been widened to reflect modern farming practices – llamas, alpacas, deer, buffalo and enclosed game birds are now all included within the term "livestock", alongside the original "cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, or poultry".

Increased penalties

The previous penalty was a maximum fine of £1,000. The original proposal for the amending legislation was for a fine of up to £5,000 and/or up to 6 months imprisonment. The final terms of the 2021 Act provide for a fine of up to £40,000 (mirroring penalties for animal welfare offences) and up to 12 months' imprisonment.

Given the current presumption against imposing short prison sentences (under 12 months), the likelihood is that offenders won't be imprisoned. However, making this a crime that carries the possibility of a prison sentence (rather than only ever a fine) means that there are various other options available to a sheriff including Community Payback Orders requiring unpaid work, awareness or educational courses.

New additional penalties are also available to the court, including:

  • an order disqualifying a person from owning or keeping a dog for any period – up to lifetime; and
  • an order requiring a person to prevent any dog they have charge of from going on land the person knows or ought to know is agricultural land on which livestock is present or likely to be present

Breaches of such an order can attract fines of up to £5,000.

Additional police powers

The police are also given greater powers to gather evidence. Previously, the police could only seize the dog from the land where the attack took place, and the only purpose for seizing a dog was to identify its owner. Under the 2021 Act, it will be possible for the dog to be seized from any land (though not from inside premises), not just where the offence happened; and the purposes for which the dog can be seized are extended so as to include gathering of evidence.

These additional powers seem likely to be the critical provisions in terms of the ability to prosecute more cases and should also make the benefit of reporting clearer to farmers that have suffered an attack. Previously, if the police couldn't get there in time to seize the dog, then there could seem little point in reporting; if you can identify the dog or take a picture, then it might be that a farmer could report, and the police would have the ability to try to trace the dog.

Resourcing of the police will clearly be an issue in whether these powers can be put into practice.


Ultimately, the hope must be that these far harsher penalties are recognised as an acknowledgement of the devastation attacks can cause for farmers – and lead to radical decreases in the occurrence of incidents.


Kate Donachie

Legal Director

Alex Buchan