How to train a dog to get along with chickens OR can it be done?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by TwelvePalmsFarm, Nov 26, 2010.

  1. TwelvePalmsFarm

    TwelvePalmsFarm Out Of The Brooder

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    Aug 20, 2010
    Florida
    Hello, I ready all the great posts related to harleyjo's question about what kind of dog and do they get along with chickens. So many people wrote in that their dogs do fine with the chickens. Now I very interested how you train a dog be good with chickens. We have a German Shepherd puppy (female) who's 4 1/2 months old. We got her when she was 8 weeks old and have been exposing her to the chickens with supervision. She's good as long a we are there, but really wants to chase them. A few days ago she got out of my sight and I caught her with a young chicken in her mouth running around the yard. I had to run her down to get her to stop because she was so excited to have a new toy. Anyway, I took the chicken out of her mouth and scolded her severly. The chicken was fine, not a mark on it; HOWEVER, I realize that she could have easily hurt the chicken or worse. Now I'm really wanting to know how to train a dog to leave them alone. I'm sure there are folks who have done this with success and I would appreciate the help. Thanks, Farmer Jane
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    I've done it with four dogs, one of whom killed a chicken trying to play with it. Never scold or punish. Catch the positive behavior and reward it. Teach the "no" or "leave it" command and supervise and use the command until they ignore the chickens. Watch "It's me or the Dog" on Animal Planet a few times and you will see how it's done. I free range mine because the dogs bark and chase anything like fox or coon that comes around, but ignore the chickens. Haven't lost a chicken since I got the dogs trained. I probably supervised them for 3 months before I was sure they would leave them alone whether I was there to say "no" or not.
     
  3. wood&feathers

    wood&feathers Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Dec 22, 2009
    E. KY
    Hopefully your shepherd has a strong sense of family. We have a Belgian Malinois - very similar, but more hyper and strong prey drive. I didn't think I could ever make her chicken safe, but her strong sense of family helped a lot.

    I acquired chickens when she was about 6 mos old. Vixey would tail them, harassing them around the yard, especially the rooster. I would tell her no, and put her in the house. If she came out and ignored the chickens she got to play ball (she couldn't care less about food treats). I really didn't let the chickens out much during this time - just an hour before dusk or so. Her dog bed was beneath a window with a view of the coop and yard. For 3 months she would sit in there in the late afternoon when I let the birds out, watching as they sat in my lap and had treats. Then one day I was out with her, doing the usual supervised yard time, when she dug up an old deer bone. She lay quietly down and began cracking it and eating the marrow. The flock gathered nearby. Our top hen, Hawk (RIR), approached and watched. They made eye contact for a long minute. Then when Vixey dropped a chunk of cracked bone, Hawk snatched it and pecked out the marrow. The dog looked puzzled for a minute, then continued chewing. She proceeded to quietly share her bone. I think that was when I felt we were OK.
     
  4. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    wood&feathers :

    Hopefully your shepherd has a strong sense of family. We have a Belgian Malinois - very similar, but more hyper and strong prey drive. I didn't think I could ever make her chicken safe, but her strong sense of family helped a lot.

    I acquired chickens when she was about 6 mos old. Vixey would tail them, harassing them around the yard, especially the rooster. I would tell her no, and put her in the house. If she came out and ignored the chickens she got to play ball (she couldn't care less about food treats). I really didn't let the chickens out much during this time - just an hour before dusk or so. Her dog bed was beneath a window with a view of the coop and yard. For 3 months she would sit in there in the late afternoon when I let the birds out, watching as they sat in my lap and had treats. Then one day I was out with her, doing the usual supervised yard time, when she dug up an old deer bone. She lay quietly down and began cracking it and eating the marrow. The flock gathered nearby. Our top hen, Hawk (RIR), approached and watched. They made eye contact for a long minute. Then when Vixey dropped a chunk of cracked bone, Hawk snatched it and pecked out the marrow. The dog looked puzzled for a minute, then continued chewing. She proceeded to quietly share her bone. I think that was when I felt we were OK.

    What a lovely story.​
     
  5. nzpouter

    nzpouter Chillin' With My Peeps

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    new zealand
    we kept dogs with chickens all our life, from daschunds to rotties.... it takes time, common sense and consistency...

    most people forget there are more than 1 species of animal to train... if your chicken starts running and flapping in front of a poorly conditioned dog then you'll have a problem on your hand... most start with a chase then they graduate to that bite down that'll kill your chicken.... and remember, it's not "the taste of blood" (all our dogs are fed raw), it's the thrill of the chase.
     
  6. Mountain Man Jim

    Mountain Man Jim Chillin' With My Peeps

    TwelvePalmsFarm,

    A long time ago I posted the Mountain Man Jim method of training the dogs to live with the chickens. Please do a search on my past posts if you like. I think I called it Puppy Training or something like that.

    If there is one thing I would love to accomplish with my stay on this forum is to get all forum members to train their dogs to work with the chicken. And, for once and for all close the Predators and Pests section of the forum. Our life with chickens changed dramatically once we did two things: 1) trained the dogs to accept the chickens, 2) get a watch dog for the home. We have had zero attacks on the chickens since that time (about 4-5 years).

    I might just repost my scheme of dog training.

    Jim
     
  7. Mountain Man Jim

    Mountain Man Jim Chillin' With My Peeps

    OK, found my writing on this subject. Warning: it's long and maybe repetitive because I think it's a collect of everything I've posted on dog training. So, take what you like [​IMG]

    Chicken Guardian Training

    The following is an outline of a training program we have used to train our dogs to be guardians of the chickens. Or, at the very least not to attack the chickens.

    We have seven chickens and four ducks on a one acre fenced yard. We had more birds but the fox and bobcat relieved us of them. The birds are strictly layers and are free range.

    We have four dogs (2 Labs, 1 Great Pyrenees, 1 Brittany/Border Collie mix), all of whom are good with the birds. We got the Pyr and Brittany as a puppies and it is their training that we are using as a model. The other dogs we adopted at a much older age (3 over the years). We never had a problem with any of them attacking the birds, but they are pretty obedient. Our training also has worked with a visiting Papillion puppy, which learned the rules about the chickens in a couple of days.

    Puppy Training

    Our training method is similar to how a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) is trained. The difference is we are training to the dog to guard chickens not sheep. So, the demands of this training are a bit easier. All we need the dog to do is guard a fenced area and to not eat or chase the chickens. Simple, right?

    Well, as one might imagine, puppies like to chase feathery objects that make interesting sounds, run, flap their wings and fly a mere three feet off the ground; what fun. A key factor in the training is to break the association of chicken with fun. It is a sort of socialization process. Here’s how it goes:

    Level 1
    1. Once house broken, the puppy sleeps in a crate in the chicken coop.
    2. The puppy eats meals near the chickens. We do this by feeding the dog next to the chicken coop with the birds near.
    3. Chicken chores are done with the puppy tethered to you.
    4. No playing is allowed. All other dogs or playmates (children, etc) are not allowed in the area when the puppy is “working” with the chickens.
    5. The puppy is not allowed to chase the chickens. Any attempts are corrected with a snap of the leash and a bark-like “NO”.
    6. Closely watched bird introductions are done. With the puppy on a leash, we hold a bird and allow the puppy to calmly sniff the bird. Excited attempts to “play” with the bird are reprimanded. We are trying to desensitize the dog to the birds, so this is done many times.

    Our puppies get crate trained for various reasons, one of which is so that they can sleep with the chickens. We have the “luxury” of having a large chicken “coop”, hence plenty of room for two dogs to sleep next to the chicken roost. If you don’t have that kind of room in the coop, I would hesitate to crate a dog outside next to the coop. The crate needs to be a safe place for the dog and that doesn’t sound safe. An alternative might be to construct a dog run in or near a chicken run. Or, you can skip the cohabitation portion of the training and increase the amount of leashed socialization with the birds.

    Once Level 1 is working well – this can take a few weeks - we move to Level 2:

    Level 2

    Most of Level 1 still applies, except now we try some limited “off leash” interaction with the puppy and birds. All contact must be closely supervised. It is important that the dog is responding to your commands to not pursue the birds. Commands like “NO” and “Leave It” should be understood by the dog. Obedience of the dog is the critical factor.

    If a chase does begin, one technique used to show your disapproval is to bark a “NO” and approach the dog in a stern manner. I often glare at the dog. This is similar to how an adult dog reprimands a puppy. For this to work you must be close and watchful of the dog.

    Level 2 progresses with more time with the dog with the birds. The goal is for the dog to ignore the birds. No stalking, no excited lunges as birds dart around or fly to a roost, no staring imagining how tasty they might be, nothing. By the end, the dog shouldn’t even look at the birds and if she does she should be reprimanded, LEAVE IT!

    Level 3

    This level isn’t really so much a new level. At some point the dog is left off the leash with the birds. In this level you begin to increase the distance between you and the dog. Hence, the dog is left essentially alone with the chickens, but you are watching from afar to observe and discipline. Important from getting to this point is that the dog obeys enough to stop any bad behavior from a simple, one word command … NO!

    Level 3 lasts a long, long time. As the weeks turn into months, you naturally gain more trust in the dog and spend less time watching over the flock. How long until the “training” ends seems to be determined by how quickly the dog matures and how well the dog obeys (which also seems to be related to maturity level).

    Fluffy (the Pyr) took probably all of 1.5 years before she was calm enough to stop chasing the birds. Molly (Brittany mix) was completely trustworthy with the birds in a couple of months. But as is common for Brittanys, she is incredibly sensitive to criticism. Simply raising your voice is enough to make this sweet dog sink to the ground, hence she usually aims to please.

    Great Pyrenees

    The Pyrs will not mature and become flock protectors until they are at least one and a half years old. Until then, one needs to supervise ALL interaction between the dogs and any fragile livestock. These dogs grow big, fast, and can easily kill a chicken in play or other behavior.

    The Drag

    One problem with Pyrs is that they love to run around and chase other animals; this includes the birds. Fluffy loved to chase the geese when she was at Level 3. She wasn’t being aggressive, but the birds do not do well something that large runs full speed at them. Hence, we borrowed a tool used for LGD training with dogs that tend to run away from their flock of sheep. It is called a drag.

    The drag is a piece of wood on a tether attached to the dogs collar. It is meant to interfere and make running difficult. I’ve seen a couple of drag designs. Our drag dangled right in front of Fluffy’s chest. The chain was only about four inches long and the log was the foot or so long. I used a chain because Fluffy would have chewed through a rope in a couple of minutes. I’ve read about the longer drags, but I wasn’t comfortable having something on a longer tether. I was afraid it could get tangled around her legs or something else or would not be in the right position when she started to run. In practice the drag length I used ended up getting in between her front legs and caused her to run bowlegged which slowed her down, but it didn’t hit her legs too hard. I think the drag in the front also help the jumping on the fence and possible escape attempts.

    It is unclear if the drag actual prevent any chasing of the geese, but it did slow her down a bit.

    Shock Collars

    When our Pyrenees, Fluffy, was a puppy we came to a point where we couldn’t handle her behavior anymore. She was chasing the geese, barking, jumping and climbing over the fencing and ignoring all commands (Pyrs love that game). I bought a shock collar. I never used it and ended up returning it to the store the next day. I did a little research on the shock collars and found that dog trainers don’t recommend their use if you are not trained to do so. It is very tricky to use them correctly.

    But, the main reason I didn’t use the collar was because of Fluffy. She’s a sensitive (emotionally) dog and she takes physical punishment hard. Hurting my poor puppy to MAKE her do what I wanted her to do was not the kind of relationship I wanted between us. She was just doing what puppies do, so instead I started to work with her more. In the end, she grew up and now is a great dog. Heck we even talk about getting another Pyr one day (maybe). So, I’m pleased that I didn’t use the shock collar. I believe we have a better dog for it.

    I question the effectiveness of the shock collars and physical punishment as training tool. The shock from the collar doesn’t have any correlation to the action you are trying to stop. It’s not like the chicken whacked the dog on the head. Some unseen force zapped the dog. The dog is left clueless as to why, how or what she should do now. And, for me to whack the dog because she caught a chicken is equally as puzzling to dog. The dogs simply do not understand the rules people are taught. You can’t sit the dog down and explain, “If you do this again, I’m going to whack you. So, don’t do it again. OK”. In the end, I think it’s easy to end up with a very confused dog.

    Adult Dog Training

    It can be hard to train an older dog to except the chickens. But, we firmly believe it’s possible. It takes time and patience, but the payoff is great. I, for one, love the freedom of letting the girls (chickens) out in the morning before I rush off to work, knowing that they are safe with the dogs. After hearing all of the problems people have had with predators, we think a wonderful solution it is to have dependable flock guardians.

    The breed of the dog can be a factor during for successful training. But, the most important factor for training is the dog’s behavior and willingness to serve. We have three BIRD dogs, heck, they’re bred to hunt down the very thing we’ve asked them to ignore. One of our dogs, Nutmeg, had a very extreme prey drive. We thought for sure she would attack our birds. But, what Nutmeg valued most was her people. All we needed to do was socialize her with the birds and us. Once she understood that the birds were something we cared about, all was good.

    We suggest that starting from square one. Obedience is key. Start training your dogs with the basics. Go to the library and check out every book on obedience training. Your goal is to have a dog that can complete in an obedience trial (I believe in setting lofty goals and then falling somewhat short). Your dog should look to you as the center of their world. Once your dog looks to you for direction, you are in charge. If you love your dog (and your chickens) you will take charge of your dog.

    Once, we got the little six month old puppy (Brittanys are great BIRD dogs) I literally walk around with a bag of dog treats on me (I use their dog food kibble). There are numerous times during the day that I give commands to the dogs. The dogs must WAIT before crossing a doorway, as commanded. SIT before getting food. To gain this obedience, I reward generously, hence the bag of treats.

    One day the puppy, Molly, was watching, staring at the birds. This is not acceptable at her stage of training. I gave her a HEY and a NO command while she was doing this. Once she broke her stare, I gave her a reward. Eventually she learned that it’s better to ignore the birds (you get treats). But, all of this takes time. We believe it’s better to reward than to punish, it just make a more dependable dog.

    Until the dog has completed level 2 you need to separate the birds and dogs. All of our training would go down the tubes if the dog finds out that the chickens are not only fun to chase, but tasty. So, when we got our Molly, for several months the chickens go into the “Chicken Tractor” to allow the puppy to romp and be a puppy. The chickens were let out everyday out for a couple of hours of roaming. At that point the puppy is either watched outside or is inside. As part of the program, the puppy slept and ate with the birds.

    Discipline

    Even though our dogs are going to be mostly farm dogs, obedience is important and there are some commands that are very useful for them to know.

    There’s two commands that the dogs need to know when it come to the chickens; “NO” and LEAVE IT”. NO means to stop what you are doing and LEAVE IT means that this thing is off limits. Here’s how I teach these.

    I’m sure you are thinking NO is an easy one; every dog seems to learn NO very quickly. But, we chicken farmers need NO to stop our dogs in their tracks as they are running full speed after a bird. Here’s what I suggest (I’m borrowing some of this from McConnell’s book). Have treats ready (I use dog food kibble) in a pocket or bag. With the dog on a leash, sit with the dog in the chicken yard. Any time the dog gets too curious about the chickens, make a loud noise to distract the dog and deliver the NO command in a low, growl like tone. There will be a split second where the dog will be distracted, at this point reward the dog with a treat presented right at her nose. For me, this ends up being a quick HEY (to startle the dog), a growling NO and a treat. Also, I used the treat to lure the dog in a different direction. And, at all times when the dog is with the chickens, I am holding the leash.

    In my opinion the tone of the NO is important. It needs to sound like the deep, low frequency growl of a Great Pyrenees. I believe men have an easier time producing this tone. My dear wife often gets excited. Her NO ends up to be more of a high pitched scream, which can be counterproductive by riling up the dog. You can tell if your NO is effective if the dog seems startled and looks at you with a questioning expression.

    Well, that’s plenty on NO. LEAVE IT is taught differently. This is little cruel, but it doesn’t take very long to teach. With treat in hand, I let the dog see it and present it were the dog can get it. I then deliver the command LEAVE IT in a stern, low tone. If the dog tries to take the treat, he gets hit with my hand from under his jaw. This is very startling for the dog, so the force does need to more that a tap, but the action must be quick. If the dog obeys, I give him the treat after a couple of seconds. A while later, I’ll try it again. Usually, LEAVE IT is pretty much understood after the first or second time. The command is useful when your lunch is sitting on the counter or the dog is sniffing a chicken.

    Recall or Come is also important to teach. One way to teach it is to make it a game. Dogs often do not approach people who are looking directly at them, but they love to chase people. Also, the dog will not come if he thinks you are going to punish him or do something unpleasant; like giving her a bath. So, try this, call the dog in a fun, exciting voice and then turn around and start trotting away from the dog. Praise the dog as she starts to come and when she catches up with you praise her and give her a good treat. Sometimes you can entice a dog to come just by turning your head to side. Remember, not to do anything the dog doesn’t like immediately after she comes.

    Our dogs love to have the leash put on. In fact, if one gets leashed, the other dogs get upset and whine. That’s because only good thing happen when the leash gets put on. We go for walks or for car rides or we practice HEEL (which entails LOTS of treats) or visit our cousins, etc. And, the guy holding the leash does his best to never, ever pull the leash. Instead, I just stand still when the puppy pulls on the leash. When she finally stops and turns around to look at me, she gets a treat. This is hard for me, because I feel the need to pull the dog back, but that just turns into a tug of war. I can win that game with a puppy, but not with a 100 lbs Pyr.

    There is technique of “snapping” the leash. I think I finally learned this one. It’s like cracking a whip. What it does is jingle the connection of leash to the collar and causes the dog to turn around as if to say “What the heck are you doing”. To do this right, there is no pulling of the dog, so it takes a little practice, but it does work to get their attention.

    We would suggest that to establish yourself as Alpha, is a little different then the way people used to think about it. If you watch my Alpha dog, you would notice that she never attacks the other dogs. She has established her status by being calm, large, confident and in control. You can do the same by controlling food (meals should be on a schedule and treats given for only good behavior), being the one who feeds them, being quiet (Alpha dogs do not bark at the other dogs in the pack, but they do growl when needed) and when you do need to reprimand, be benevolent, fair and use a low, growl like tone. It is apparently rare for an Alpha to fight or attack the other dogs, so no hitting of the dog (body/hip checks are OK ). Apparently, it is often the Beta dogs that fight.

    How Did We Do?

    How did we do? Well, Fluffy, our Great Pyrenees puppy is now 3 years old. Our chickens run free with the four dogs in a fenced-in acre of yard. At some point after our little program, she apparently attacked a chicken. We expressed our displeasure and took the bird to the vet. After which we have never had a problem. As testament to the breed, we have never had a predator loss with Fluffy on guard duty. She barks a lot, but keeps the fox and bobcat away. It is not as if she actively watches over the chickens, but they happen to be in her territory which she keeps rather secure.

    The Labs on the other hand have been rather useless in guarding the flock. They prefer to lay near the door and beg to come in or to get a treat.

    Molly had achieved Level 2 with two weeks of training. She progressed quickly and after a few months was out with the birds unsupervised. We have had her for almost a year and have never had her attack a bird.

    Part of this could be that she was raised with three dogs that already were chicken trained. When we began to cage a new batch of chicklets outside, Fluffy demonstrated some actual flock guardian behavior. Molly was a little too interested in the “Chicken Tractor” full of fluffy chicks. In an act that we can only describe as being concerned, Fluffy laid in front of the Chicken Tractor, placing herself between Molly and the cage. Fluffy was also observed to confront Molly when she approached the chicks. We didn’t believe she was actually trying to protect the chicks from Molly until she did this several times. Fluffy hadn’t acted like this before, nor has she done so since.

    The chicks are several months old now and the range free with the other chickens. Molly is know to actually walk around the chickens and has never attacked them. So, it appears that our training has been successful.

    Jim
     
  8. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    I've only had to train one dog to chickens and he was 7 mo. old at the time. My other two lab mix dogs came to me trained and trustworthy already. Jake is a lab/BC mix with an extremely high prey drive and by the time he was exposed to chickens he had already killed many songbirds, coon, groundhog, mice and moles.

    I had already given him basic obedience training so he was very responsive to my commands and any displeasure in my voice. The first day we got the new flock I had some tied up and lying in the yard....he was curious and approached. I gave him my leave it command and made it quite firm, rolled him over and held him by his scruff and told him "My chickens!" He was impressed.

    Next I let him come to me as I held a chicken on my lap and let him sniff and lick it all he wanted...and then I let the chicken do the same to him. He got pecked on the nose for his curiosity.

    After that I went in the house and left the chickens lying in the yard and watched from the window. Whenever Jake walked toward the chickens, I opened the window and yelled, "Those are my chickens!"....which caused him to duck and walk away rather quickly. A couple more times of this and he walked a wide berth around the still-tied chickens.

    Never really had to reinforce this training and the total time took about 20 min. He has been guarding my free range flock along with my GP/lab mix female for 4 years now without a single incident.
     
  9. cat1994

    cat1994 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 12, 2010
    Southeast MO
    I had chickens befor I ever got my pup Evie (black and tan coonhound/rottweiler). She would chase them but my big roo beat her up so now she has a odd respect for them all. But mostly she has a very strong scence of family and thinks that any animal of mine she needs to keep safe. She does have a very strong prey drive, but a even stronger guard drive, it is really a good thing because she kills any pests that come close to the house that would eat my chickens. But she kills bunnies, I don't like this at all!! What I don't get is how she can kill a wild bunny but loves my pet bunny (FuFu). They are best friends, one time he got out of his pen and some dogs came to eat him, but Evie saved him and beat up the other dogs. I hope your dog becomes as good a dog as Evie!!
     
  10. DawnM

    DawnM Out Of The Brooder

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    Aug 21, 2010
    Tacoma, Wa
    I worked with dogs for over 10 years and I also strongly disagree with using shock collars to train them around animals. It may work in the short term but all they are going to do is associate pain and frustration with your birds. The second the collar comes off or they become desensitized your birds may have a very angry dog to deal with. Basic dog training should help. We had 5 dogs before we ever had chickens and they didn't go after the birds once because we told them not to and they knew what we meant. Our 16 year old Coonhound mix even learned to get along with them hoping for extra scraps . He has killed many opossums in his day but was well enough trained we have never had to worry about him with any of our animals. "Leave it" training and lots of socialization around other animals is your best bet at getting the kind of dog you want.
     

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