Dogs and Chickens; Everything You Need to Know About Harmonizing These Two Creatures With Each Other
Thousands of people love dogs. Thousands of people love chickens. And, thousands of people wonder how they can make their two loves get along with one another and live together in peace. Training dogs to not kill chickens and training chickens to not fear dogs is a very challenging task which requires extreme patience, diligence, repetitiveness and discipline. Dogs are predators and chickens are prey. While you can try your best, you cannot change instinct. While this can be a bad thing, it is also a very good thing. BY INSTINCT, dogs are animals that seek to please their owners. If your dog is properly trained to obey your every command, you’ll have little trouble teaching him to leave your chickens alone. In this article, you will learn the secrets behind training your dog to behave around your flock, as well as learn many facts and tips about dogs and chickens living together.
Before Harmonizing Behavior, Try Harmonizing Breed
Dog breeds are divided into seven different groups including: Herding, Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Toy, Terrier and Hound. Individual dogs belonging to each of these groups are known for having similar and specific criteria with one another. For example: dogs in the herding group include breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Collies, German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs and Welsh Corgis. They all have a very strong desire and instinct to, you guessed it, herd other animals. Thus, you can expect these kinds of dogs to herd your flock and happily chase them.
Another factor to consider when trying to figure out how your dog will react to your chickens is to find out what sort of animals its breed was originally bred to hunt. For example, a bird dog’s instinct will be very likely to kick into action when they see your chickens flapping around the yard. Of course, however, you can always have exceptions. My dog, a standard poodle bred to hunt and kill waterfowl, pays no attention to my chickens and has never tried once to kill them. While he is very mellow and laid-back when it comes to other animals, this kind of behavior is very rare, especially in any kind of hunting dog. So, while you can try and sort out how your dog will react to your flock by determining its breed’s history and behavior, you can never be 100% sure how your individual dog will react to your chickens in the end.
Chicken breeds are also separated by different categories and groups. You have your bantams, standards and dual purpose breeds. Within these groups there are a wide variety of chickens that can range from friendly and laid-back to skittish and flighty. When trying to socialize dogs and chickens, try your best to pick the calmer breeds, or at least introduce them to each other when the chickens are babies. Trust me, trying to introduce a frightened, unfriendly chicken to a dog with an instinct to hunt and kill, never goes well.
Now, with all this being said, please don’t feel like you have to scratch the whole idea if you have skittish chickens or if your dog’s breed is one known to attack and kill prey. Introducing can still work; it will just require intense training and patience.
Training Is Your Foundation
As with most everything in life, if you don’t have a solid foundation from the beginning, you’re going to have issues when in the future. If you’re trying to introduce your dog to your flock and he isn’t well trained, let me tell you now, it’s not gonna’ work. Before you make ANY kind of introduction to ANY kind of animal, you first have to train your dog. When it comes to introducing your dog to your chickens, making sure your dog knows the commands “stay”, “leave it”, “sit” “come” and, most importantly, “no” are crucial. Also, always make sure your dog understands that YOU are the boss and YOU are in control. A dog that doesn’t understand this is a dog that can’t be trusted to do what you want. Discipline with your dog is key.
Another important tip to teach your dog is focus. If your dog isn’t focused on you and your commands while you are introducing him to the chickens, things could go terribly wrong. Of course it is important to allow your dog to investigate the chickens, but you should be able to catch his attention at any moment. How you teach your dog to pay attention to you is up to you. Some people use treats, others use a shock collar and some people just use their words. My family and I used a clicker with our dog to get him to focus on us. Once you have mastered the art of getting your dog’s attention, you shouldn’t have to use anything but your words.
If possible, your dog should be fully trained BEFORE he is introduced to your birds. (Obviously, training can only go so far without experience and your dog has to experience your birds before he can master being fully trained around them.) You shouldn’t have to deal with a wild, crazy dog when introducing him to your chickens.
Don’t be afraid of saying “no” to your dog. If he doesn’t know the difference between a “good dog” and a “bad dog”, you’re going to have major problems. He must understand that you are his master and that, if he disobeys, he gets in trouble. You’ll probably be saying “no” a lot when introducing your dog to your chickens. If your dog tries to chase them, he should get a “no”. If he shows a very intense interest in them, he should get a “no.” If he nips at them, barks at them, shows his teeth at them or growls at them, he definitely needs a “no”.
Overall, training a dog is very important, whether you have chickens or not. If you want to succeed with introducing your dog to your flock, or any other animal for that matter, he MUST be thoroughly trained and disciplined.
What is the Proper Way to Introduce Dogs and Chickens?
There are many different approaches to introducing dogs to chickens, but no matter which method you choose, just know they all require patience. One of my favorite methods is to introduce the dog to the baby chicks while they are still in the brooder. This way they are contained and not big enough to cause too much chaos. MAKE SURE you have your dog on a tight leash and hold it close and securely. Allow your dog to first see them from a distance. Then bring him closer, (still holding on tight to his leash) and let him sniff and see them up close. (It may take a little while for him to get used to their sudden movements and sounds.) Don’t let him put his head in the brooder at first because he could easily pick one up and eat it! Do this introduction several times a week. As the chicks get older, continue to let them be around the dog. If, and only if, your dog is fine around them once they are adolescents, you can let them run around on the floor with your dog lying down in the midst of them. Again, make sure he is on a leash. (You perhaps might want to muzzle him as well.)
Once the chicks are old enough to be outside, be sure to take your dog out too. Let the chickens free range around him. Hopefully, by this time your dog won’t need a muzzle and possibly not even a leash. (Just be sure you are close by to observe them.) Also hopefully by this time your chickens will be comfortable around your dog as well, which is very important. Chickens who are constantly running away from your dog or flying in his face will only tempt him. One other thing you must be very aware of is your dog’s reaction to being pecked. Chickens like to peck…a lot and they will most likely investigate your dog by pecking at his paws, fur, tail and face. If your dog lashes out at being pecked in any of these places, you’ll need to work on training him to be okay with it.
Sometimes, when introducing your dog and chickens to each other, you need some distractions for each of them. Give them both some treats while they are near one another. This will take their focus off each other and, hopefully, the instinct to react to one another will subside. But, you should only have to do this once or twice at the beginning. If you are still relying on treats/distractions after several introductions, it’s not safe to let them be together.
Always scrutinize your dog’s reactions to your chickens closely. Is he crouched, quivering, whining, locking eyes or staring intensely, ignoring you, twitching his mouth or trying to lunge at the chickens? These are all bad signs and clearly show he is only focused on chasing and attacking your birds. If you see him exhibiting any of these positions, immediately yank on the leash to redirect his attention and harshly say “NO.” If he is a treat lover, then use them to your advantage. Whenever he obeys your commands when around the flock, reward and praise him.
Another way to get your dog used to being comfortable around your flock is to play with him, work on some training or even just relax in the yard with the chickens grazing around you. If you have a partner restraining your dog, pick up one of your chickens and love on them. This shows the dog that the chickens aren’t for killing. If, while you’re holding your bird, your dog shows intense interest or licks his chops, scold him and redirect his focus.
The final stage of introduction is the “test” faze. Take off all leashes and muzzles and go to the chicken coop with your dog. Let him interact with the chickens. Immediately correct his behavior if he disobeys and watch how he handles his freedom with the flock closely. If he is laid-back, calm and friendly towards the chickens, it is a safe indicator that all the training has paid off.
Further Tips and Reminders for Introducing Successfully
•Before attempting your daily introduction with the dog and the chickens take your dog for a long walk and allow your chickens to eat and graze outside for a while. This will get everyone’s jitters out and help everyone, including you, to calm down.
•Satisfy your dog’s instincts in other ways. Purchase dog toys that don’t resemble chickens but are still fun to play with and tear up. Allow your dog to run in a field or at a park for several hours to get all his energy out. Play fetch, frisbee or agility with him. Always love on him so he knows the chickens haven’t replaced him.
•Remember that even if your dog is friendly with you and maybe other animals, he might not be welcoming to the chickens.
•All dogs have a “prey drive” within them meaning they have the instinct to stalk, hunt down and capture prey. While all dogs may not act on their prey drive, know that it is natural for all canines.
•Try your best to raise friendly chickens so that you can easily pick them up, catch them or hold them while introducing.
•Feed your dog well! Being around tasty chickens while having an empty stomach will not end well.
•Remember that you are the alpha and your dog should obey your every command.
•Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a female dog’s instinct to protect baby animals will kick in and she will instantly fall in love with your chicks.
•Be strict yet patient with your dog. If things aren’t going well with the introducing, stop for the day and try again tomorrow.
•ONLY leave your dog alone with your chickens after several months (or even years) of successful introducing. It’s one thing for a dog to obey with you around but it’s another thing to put the safety of your birds in his paws.
•Muzzles are extremely helpful and, as long as your dog isn’t afraid of them, can be a wonderful addition to the introductions between chickens and pooch. Also, try a muzzle with your dog being off leash around the chickens.
•Try and teach your dog that your chickens are “part of the family” and not to be thought twice about.
I hope this article helps you and answers some of your questions. Remember, not all dogs will respond to chicken-safety training. Also remember that you cannot change instinct. Introducing chickens to dogs is a process to not be taken lightly and requires patience, and a lot of it. Don’t rush the introductions. Some dogs will respond to training easier than others, especially if they aren’t trained to hunt and kill birds or other creatures.
A dog who can be trusted around chickens is a rare and special one. Do not expect all dogs to become buddies with your birds. Chickens fear dogs and dogs kill chickens, by instinct. But, also remember that a dog’s primary goal is to please his master, and, if trained properly, will get along with your flock eventually.
Have questions, comments or any tips you’d like to add of your own? Please leave them in the comment box down below.