Responsible Dog Control

Over the last few years, dog control has become a major issue for upland sheep farmers as increased recreational use of the hills clashes with the historic use of the hills for sheep farming

In recent years, responsible dog control has become a major issue for upland sheep farmers as increased recreational use of the hills clashes with the historic use of the hills for sheep farming. County Wicklow has been at the forefront of opening up private land for recreational use since the establishment of the Wicklow Way in 1980 but the growing presence of uncontrolled dogs has the potential to threaten existing access agreements, endanger livestock and wildlife, and to create a public hindrance to those enjoying the outdoors. In general, private landowners welcome responsible recreational use of the Wicklow hills and central to this is responsible behaviour towards dog ownership. and littering. Wicklow Uplands Council has been working with the stakeholders to address this escalating problem through collective awareness and policy adaption.

Dog Control Policy on Private Land in the Wicklow Uplands

After many months of discussion and debate Wicklow Uplands Council, Wicklow IFA and Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association agreed to support the use of signage to prohibit dogs on private land where livestock are present. The new signage was launched in February, 2013 on privately owned land adjoining Glenmacnass Waterfall to mark the start of a broader public awareness campaign. Thirty signs have been installed across the county and this move comes in an effort to alleviate the negative impacts of uncontrolled dogs particularly at key hotspots where recreational use is high and sheep are present including Glenmalure, Glendalough, Glenmacnass and Lugnaquilla. A consistent message is promoted which requests recreational users to respect grazing animals, wildlife and other recreational users and leave their dogs at home. The message is in keeping with the policies of Tinahely Community Projects (for their hill walks), Mountaineering Ireland, and on the Department of Defence lands in Glen of Imaal which is the main access route on the western approach to Lugnaquilla.

The Issue

Uncontrolled dogs are a serious threat to the livelihood of upland farmers. Dogs loose on the hills cause anxiety within a flock of sheep often causing them to be displaced and get stuck in rough ground, vegetation and watercourses. One of the impacts that is often unseen by recreational users is the early abortion of lambs and in the worst incidences; dogs directly attack sheep causing them severe injury or death. This is not just a problem for the landowner in terms of their livelihood but it is also a serious animal welfare issue. The problem is not limited to walker’s dogs with damage often being caused by local dogs which stray from neighbouring properties and their owners are unaware of their whereabouts.

Dog owners also need to be aware of other people walking or recreating in the hills. Whether it is tourists, locals or visitors to the area, many people are genuinely frightened of dogs. It can become very unpleasant to be confronted by a dog especially if they bark or come too close to people.

In addition, much of the uplands either fall within the boundaries of the Wicklow Mountains National Park or is close to sensitive upland habitats, where uncontrolled dogs disturb local wildlife, in particular ground-nesting birds. Wicklow Mountains National Park recently introduced new requirements that dogs remain on a leash throughout their visit to the park.

Walkers are welcome in County Wicklow but are asked to please respect local signage and leave dogs at home if accessing land where livestock are present. There are many places that are suitable for dog walking across the county including Coillte forests but please remember that dogs must be under ‘effectual control’ in these areas. This means that they will return to their owner when called.
Members of Wicklow Uplands Council are invited to submit their views on the issue of dog control and how to deal with this ongoing problem in the WIcklow Hills. Email your views to or post your views on

Public Awareness

  • Many dog owners are not aware of the problems that their dog can create for farmers and landowners in rural areas and to other members of the general public. Some of the key issues are outlined below:
  • Dog attacks on sheep and ‘worrying’ of livestock whereby dogs cause anxiety within a flock of sheep. During the winter months this can prevent ewes from coming into season and prior to the lambing season it is the main cause of still births and abortions.
  • The need for enforcement of the ‘effectual’ control law.
  • The need for dog owners to respect other walkers, local farmers and landowners.
  • The growing problem of dog littering.
  • The need for dog owners to respect the wishes of local landowners identified through signage.
  • The need to encourage both landowners and hillwalkers to report incidents of dogs that are loose on the hills to the Gardaí or to Wicklow County Council.
  • Farmers acknowledge that most dog owners are responsible and keep their dogs on leads, however poor behaviour by a minority can threaten existing access agreements.

(clip above,  from ‘Ear To The Ground ‘ broadcast on Rte 1, the 17th of Feb, 2022)

Reporting of Incidents

If you witness an incident of sheep worrying or damage to livestock in Wicklow, please report it immediately to Wicklow County Council. It is important that all incidents be report as soon as possible following the incident.

If you see a stray dog in the WIcklow Hills please report it immediately to the ISPCA Dog Warden Service Ph: 0404 44873. All incidents of damage to livestock or worrying of sheep and other recreational users should immediately be reported to innitiate a follow up by the local Dog Control Wardens. Reporting of incidents will help us to quantify the problem and to measure effectiveness of a public awareness campaign.

Current Legislation Under the Dog Control Act 1986 & 1992 states that:

Dog Control
Dogs must be under effectual control. Effective control means that your dog will come at your command, if not your dog must to be kept on a lead. This includes your dog being unaccompanied in any public place or not being kept under control in public and excessive barking which causes a nuisance to any person.
The following breeds must be on a leash and muzzled at all times when out in public
  • American Pitt Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Akita
  • Ban Dog
  • Japanese Tosa
  • English Bull Terrier
  • German Shepherd / Alsation
  • Bull Mastiff
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Dobernman Pinscher
  • Rottweiler
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Any crossbreed of these

These dogs must also be lead by a person over the age of 16 and kept on a strong chain or lead not longer than 2 metres. Additionally you cannot lead more than four greyhounds at any time in any public place and they must be led by a sufficiently strong chain or leash.

Dog Impounding
Any dog found in a public place which is not under control of its owner, or which is not registered, can be impounded. In Wicklow stray dogs are taken by the dog warden to the dog pound where they will be held for at least 5 days. Dogs not re-claimed from the dog pound within 5 days may be put down/disposed of.
Dog Licensing
If you own a dog, you are required by law to have a dog licence (exemptions include dogs for the blind and dogs less than four months old).
Dog Identification
Under the Dog Control Act all dogs are required to wear a collar with the owner’s name and address inscribed on it or on a plate, badge or disc attached to the collar.
Dog Fouling
Dog Fouling is an offence under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997. Failure to clean up after your dog s waste can lead to a €150 on-the-spot fine. Failure to pay this fine can lead to a prosecution with a maximum fine of €3,000, if convicted.