Dogs that attacked sheep ‘marking their territory’
The pack of dogs that are attacking sheep in Mġarr may be marking their territory or following their instinct to catch prey, according to a dog behaviour expert.
Robert Spiteri said it could also be that it was only the leader of the pack who followed his prey drive and the others followed. Catching that leader could disperse the pack, he said. Over the past week Mġarr farmers have found their sheep butchered by wild dogs that lurk about in the area.
At least 16 sheep have been killed at six farms and many others were injured, including several pregnant ones.
It is not clear what breed the dogs are and how many form the pack as reports varied between two and three dogs.
Tessie Bugeja, a farmer’s wife, said that a neighbour told her she had seen three dogs – two brown ones and a greyish one. She said farmers were closing their animals inside their pens to ensure they were safe.
Animal welfare department director Joseph John Vella said his department first received reports about the sheep attacks in April.
The report was of two dogs but no description was given. Inspections were carried out but the dogs were not tracked down.
Animal welfare officers are carrying out inspections in the area and are in touch with a farmer who will contact them if he spots the dogs.
One of the problems is that the dogs have a wide roaming range and, unless caught in the act, it was difficult to determine whether a particular dog found in the area had attacked a sheep.
Police sources said officers were also keeping a lookout for the dogs during their regular patrols. They too had no description to go by.
Mr Spiteri, who is also a dog trainer, said given that the dogs were not eating the sheep they hunted, one could rule out hunger as a reason for the attacks. This left another two general options: territory and prey drive. The dogs could just be attacking the sheep to mark their territory. They could also be giving in to their prey drive – an instinct which many domestic dogs lost.
He said this drive did not necessarily manifest itself into hunting and killing. Collies, known for their friendly temperament, had a very strong prey drive which they used for herding.
Mr Spiteri stressed that the fact that the dogs attacked the sheep did not automatically mean they would attack people.