I want to free range- how to introduce my dogs to my flock.

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by ckelley, Jan 26, 2015.

  1. ckelley

    ckelley Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 26, 2015
    Southern Colorado

    We currently live in town with a fairly large yard. We are looking to move to a new home on 2 acres in the next few months. Over the years we have managed to acquire 4 dogs and 2 cats. I'm not worried about the cats, but I am going to list my dogs from the oldest to youngest.

    10 year old- German Shepard- Very gentle, I don't think he will be an issue.
    7 year old- West Highland White Terrier- Very aggressive mouser- I have no idea how she will react to birds.
    5 year old- Black Lab- Has never been aggressive, but he is from a bird breed.
    2 year old- Mutt- (18 lbs) He could be an issue, still very much a puppy but very smart and trainable.

    Here is the dilemma- My dogs are great with my cats and my children. No aggression, dominance or herding issues. I think that once they recognized the chickens as being a part of "their" pack, they would just leave them alone. We are planning on running underground fence along the perimeter of our property. We could easily restrict the dogs to only part of it, but that would reduce their ability to defend the flock from other threats, and it does not guarantee that the flock will not encroach on the "dog" yard.

    I want free range birds, and I am looking at the Wyandotte's for cold endurance, size, temperament, and eggs. I want to eventually expand and get some pea foul. I NEED my dogs to be bird friendly. We will be getting our chicks in about 3 months. How do I go about doing this?

    This is my planned approach- as of right now: Build my brooding box in a "common area" (like the garage) where my dogs and cats can check them out but make it Fort Knox. Introduce my dogs one at a time to the whole flock by bringing them into the box with me and making them lay down for an extended period of time. Let the chicks walk on and explore the dogs and not let the dogs react. Do this every day until the chicks can go outside and then repeat it in a small outdoor pen. When I can trust them (relatively speaking) then I will try 2 dogs at once and continue until I can have all four dogs with the chickens.

    My concern it the pack mentality and how they loose any sense when they chase something as a pack. They will chase one of my cats but not the other in my back yard, they soon get bored and move on to something else.

    Any tips, suggestions, stories?

  2. FoxHead

    FoxHead Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 26, 2015
    Greenville, MI
    I think your introduction methods sound really great. And you're exactly right "How will they act as a pack?" That is a big question that you should always be asking yourself when you let the four out. A lot of it will all depend on the vibe as they go out.
    My dog has good interaction with my chickens this far, and it partly is from the slow introduction. He is very gentle with chicks in my hands, and respects the free range birds space. But I am always right there too. There's been plenty of times he and I go to the door, and for whatever reason his energy feels intense, back in he goes.
    My dog, Tommy, is a Miniature Bull Terrier. Aggressive mouser, and bunny killer. He has a very good recall, and knows when the tone in my voice means business. But when I had a stout English Bulldogge as his brother, all bets were off. They weren't bad dogs, but the tone in my voice didn't mean anything other than "don't come back" when we were outdoors. It was always party time for those two. Every situation is different for every dog(s). I think you have a great jump start just with how aware you are of your dogs, and the situation.
    At times, Tommy gets really close to the birds just to check them out, and some times it's the rooster. It's all good so far, but I worry that the rooster may kick him one day. And I worry that one day Tommy may spook a bird and have a bad reaction.
    Just remember, they are all animals. The dogs may make you proud, or disappoint you. Love them just the same. [​IMG]
    1 person likes this.
  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Sounds like you understand how to train dogs...but it will be a long slow road, you probably know that too.
    Best to have a safe runs to confine dogs and chickens when needed.

    You can still totally free range eventually but good to have safe places until dogs are fully trained so no one gets into trouble and sets back the training process......plus who knows what the predator load will be at your new place, having a secure run to keep your chooks safe could be very handy, as many free rangers have learned.
    1 person likes this.
  4. duluthralphie

    duluthralphie Chicken Wrangler extrodinaire Premium Member

    Jul 11, 2014
    Orrock township, Minnesota
    Your ideas sound, sound.

    I used a wireless fence to train my bird dogs (2 labs).

    I wrapped a wire around the birds area and slowly introduced the dogs to the birds, they soon learned getting to close gave them a shock.beep.

    I did this for months and it gave the birds a safe area.

    I would then feed the birds with the dogs at my feet, while enjoying a brew> ( I sat in my comfy camping recliner)

    if the dogs paid the least little interest in the birds I yelled, no,, off or leave it. ( my dogs know all 3 commands.

    After a while the dogs just accept the birds. Now they are friends and the dogs have learned the chickens leave tasty little treats behind them....

    My dogs now help keep predators in control, I leave my dogs out with the birds with no damage and I would expect none. Of course I just have two dogs. When I am out there I reinforce the birds are off limits when I get a chance.

    It took months but it works..
    Good luck on the training..
    Need a used wired wireless fencer?
    1 person likes this.
  5. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 15, 2014
    Work them on a short leash at first. Remember that "a dog in motion tends to stay in motion" (no matter how well trained) so when it comes time to allow them a little freedom around the birds, keep a long drag line on the dog just in case you need a little control. Also, because you will eventually be working with more than one dog at a time and will have 3 times as much to pay attention to and keep track of, you might want to put an extra measure of safety in place by using muzzles. A muzzle won't prevent a dog from killing a bird (they'll still be able to crush the bird) but it will prevent puncture injuries and might give you that extra second or two to intervene that would make a difference. I would definitely use a muzzle during the training of any dog that already had a history of successfully completing the stalk/bite/kill sequence just as an added precaution.

    I'd also think about how you are going to manage the birds during your planned training. You might decide that you want to work the dog 15 feet from the birds, but your birds won't care about your plan. I've found my birds never seem to cooperate with my training efforts and it wasn't uncommon for them to decide to run and flutter exactly where I didn't want them. Have someone there to help you--at least at first. That way they can manage the birds so you can focus on managing the dog(s).
    1 person likes this.
  6. ckelley

    ckelley Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 26, 2015
    Southern Colorado
    Many thanks for the responses!

    I do plan on building a large enclosed run and I may just have to keep them separate until they/I get it figured out.

    The muzzle is a good idea, I might try it for my smallest two- they are the least predictable.

    I like the idea of moving the underground fence, but I don't know how well they will adapt.

    I might just cut out an area that they can not have access to near the chickens and their run- so they don't rush the coop to get the chickens spooked and riled up- and allow them to run the rear perimeter (It is completely enclosed on the back- I am converting open livestock stalls in a shed ) and near the front give them a 30 foot buffer. Maybe their proximity to the coop will deter predators?

    I want to dogs to be able to "patrol" the perimeter of the entire yard. My 8 year old is very adventurous and the dogs do a good job of tattling on her (When she is not helping them to dig massive holes under my deck....)

    I am concerned with snakes to be honest. We live in a very arid area and when it is too dry they will seek out lawns with sprinkler systems. The dogs and I hope chickens, will help.

  7. HighStreetCoop

    HighStreetCoop Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 28, 2014
    Oakland, CA
    My Coop
    A lot just depends on the dog. My Mastiff could care less about the chickens. He'll give them a sniff (and usually get an indignant peck in return), but even when they're flapping and running he's just not interested in them. He'd rather take a nap in the sun (or on the sofa, LOL!).

    His sister on the other hand (who belongs to my BFF) is WILD about them. She whines and shakes and drools and paces outside the coop. So we have to close a gate to the coop half of the yard when she's over and I don't think ANY amount of training would make me feel comfortable with her loose near them.

    So, same breed, same litter even, but completely different reactions.

    First meeting (Venetia the hen giving him the hairy eyeball).


    Him enjoying the sun on Sunday. The chooks are loose behind an Omlet net fence five feet away. He doesn't care at all.

    1 person likes this.

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