This pic was taken the day before Patches "played" with a chicken to death.
I have a little over a year-old Pitt mix named Patches. She has been raised around kids, cats and other dogs. I put a lot of time and money into training her and while she still has a lot of "puppy energy", she is eager to please and pretty well trained with the basics. About 8 months ago, we got our first chickens. We introduced them slowly and under close supervision. Things seemed to go well; Patches would gently sniff and nudge them with her nose. We even caught her bringing them her toys and treats, dropping items next to their tractor. When the cats would get too interested, she would stand between the cat and the chickens. We thought "Great! This is working out! Maybe we can free-range them once they get a little bigger." We even called the chickens her "babies" and encouraged the interactions they were having. Unfortunately, that misjudgment on our part proved to be fatal to two of our pullets. I had started to free-range them in our fenced in backyard, slowly decreasing supervision, but still with my doors and windows open so I could peek out at them frequently. They were doing great, even riding on the back of Patches.
One day, I heard a commotion and ran out there just in time to catch what I am assuming was a stray cat jumping over our fence and a pullet laying dead on the lawn. I thought for sure it was the cat, not my dog, who had been hanging out with the chickens without issue for weeks. I decided that until they were fully grown, they were only allowed to free range with somebody out in the backyard. Well, the very next day, I was out back WITH them free ranging and me doing yard work. I saw patches throwing around what I thought was a sock. It was not a sock... It was another dead pullet.
I was ****** at my dog, but mostly at myself for not being more careful. We wanted to free range, but that was not looking like a possibility with our chicken-killing dog. Our options were to keep the chickens cooped, or get rid of the dog; neither one is what we wanted to do, so I began to research training dogs to be around chickens. One of the things I found was to train the dog that the chickens are "MINE", not hers. We went with this idea. I stay at home, so I had the ability to put in the work and train consistently. Patches was no longer allowed to "play" with chickens. In fact, she wasn't even allowed to LOOK at them. Any time she walked too close or perked her ears looking at them, I yelled "MINE!" and clapped or made some other loud noise. Not once did I use physical force. I spent hours every single day, going over this again and again for 6 months. Chickens are completely off limits to Patches. Now, if they are in her way, she will wait until they move rather than try to squeeze by them. She won't make eye contact at all. There is no sniffing, no playing, not even a tail wag allowed if she's looking in their direction. And even though we have a big yard for her to run in, we started taking her for a mile-long walk twice a day, every day. (We use that time also to show her who's "pack leader", ie; not letting her walk ahead of us, stopping when she pulls on the leash, etc) In the past month or so, we have been cautiously optimistic, letting her out with the (much bigger) chickens and so far, she has maintained the behavior and disinterest, even when she thinks we are not looking. (But, I am ALWAYS looking) lol It is still a risk; I am aware of that, but so is any free-ranging.
SO... the best part and conclusion of this story: A couple nights ago, right around dusk, my 12 yo son was playing in the backyard and came in screaming. A HUGE, nasty possum had gone after the chickens, but before any damage was done, Patches caught and dragged the spitting, hissing possum to the opposite corner of the yard, where she held it until we got out there. We were amazed and the chickens were safe!
Again, I am feeling pretty cautiously optimistic about the whole situation, 'cautiously' being the key word. I know a lot of people have the same concerns with their dogs, and I'd like to be able to say that it CAN be done, but I also had a lot of other factors that are in my favor that not everybody else has, such as the young age of my dog, breed, temperament, and above all else the TIME to train and train hard. I'll update you guys every few months on how it goes and if the retraining was an actual success or not! Fingers crossed! Thanks for reading!