Following a spate of serious attacks on livestock by dogs, owners are being urged to keep their pets under control as the country’s farmers gear up for one of their busiest times of the year.

The situation has become so severe in some rural areas that calls are now being made to change the law in relation to dealing with owners whose dogs cause injury or kill farmed livestock.

Farmers’ leaders say that the current method of dealing with rogue and out of control dogs is not working and more needs to be done to punish pet owners who allow their animals to worry livestock.

Police also say they want the law to be clearer and more succinct in its delivery of justice to those who own dogs guilty of worrying livestock.

Currently, local authorities can use the Dog Control Orders to bring problem pets to book, but farmers are worried that the implementation of this is open to interpretation and is not standardised across England, with the result that rogue dogs and their owners can get off relatively lightly.

One study by an UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare found an estimated 15,000 sheep were killed by dogs in one year, putting the cost to the farming sector at least £1.6m.

Ken Fletcher, editor of the Guardian’s sister title The Scottish Farmer, said: “Most farmers accept that Scotland’s right to roam legislation is a good thing, but are worried that the process of dealing with the problem of sheep worrying by dogs and the enforcement of the responsibilities that pet owners should exercise have not kept pace with the public’s right of access.

“The last thing a farmer wants to do is to exercise his right to shoot dogs that are worrying his livestock and so that is why we are urging responsible dog owners to stand up and be counted. Let us be clear, there is no such things as a bad dog, only irresponsible owners.”

Dog owners are urged to be alert to where sheep and their lambs are, and not to take dogs into fields with lambs, calves or other young animals. Most sheep are pregnant at this time of year, and consequences can be serious if the sheep are frightened. Dog owners are reminded to keep their dog under control at all time, and that farmers can legally shoot a dog if it’s caught worrying livestock.