My Guide to Successful Dog/Fowl Free Ranging!

agold23

Songster
May 25, 2021
154
381
111
Hi! Just wanted to share some tips on how I successfully introduced my high prey drive dog to my chickens, for those who may be struggling!

Cricket is an Irish wolfhound mixed with Mastiff and lab. She is almost 3 and comes from a very regulated, sheltered home. She is extremely dog reactive and bad manners for which we are seeing a R+ trainer. Before I got my chickens I was worried about how Cricket would react. I read about a dozen forums/websites about dogs and chickens being together and some people have gone to the extent of beating their dogs or tying a dead chicken to their dogs collar… yikes! Using my knowledge of R+ training, I introduced my animals in increments, trying to be understanding of both sides.

1: Boundaries

Leashes are a godsend, literally. Utilize every way of containment you can at first! We started with my flock of 6 in their outdoor run. - As Cricket is reactive with the leash being her trigger, we decided to opt for the chicken containment. - Arm yourself with treats, a leash of possible and patience! You’ll want to start at a far enough spot from the run where your dog won’t react or get excited and you can easily sustain their attention. Ask for engagement/eye contact, there are tons of Look At That and engagement game tutorials on the internet. Slowly decrease distance between you and the birds until you’re able to have a calm dog around the birds.

2. Introductions

Bring your dog outside on a long lead, we used a 15ft one from Dollarama. Make sure they’re calm as the chickens mingle and move around them. I like to use grass as a snuffle mat by sprinkling treats in the lawn as a way to indirectly positively reinforce being calm around them. Let them calmly walk up and sniff the birds (if they allow) and call them back and give them a treat. Continue this until they’ve learned to come back for a treat unprompted. I would grab my chickens and allow Cricket to sniff them, until the chickens decided they had enough.

3. Free range

The goal for dog/bird freeranging is coexistence, neutral on both sides. Once you feel comfortable in your dogs ability to manage itself around the birds, release the beast! By now your dog should be able to manage themselves in a neutral headspace around birds like this and they’ll understand that these are not prey. If you have a dog with extreme prey drive such as a hunting/ratting/retrieving breed, you’ll probably want to slow down the progress between steps. Keep treats on hand, reward for good behaviour/disengaging from the birds. Use your dogs trick knowledge/grass snufflemat to distract and reward them. Hopefully now you have a dog that can be *fairly* trusted around your birds, off leash! As always, when in doubt, leash! It can be a matter of life and death with a chicken if your dog gets too excited and uses their teeth.

As per always, feel free to share your stories, tips and tricks!
 

quackingdom

Crowing
6 Years
Jul 10, 2015
637
522
252
This is a great overview. I think you'd need to break it down into smaller steps and principles for people not familiar with +R and behavior modification, though.

My dogs are good with the birds and we haven't had to do much training. But one of them used to react to us holding a bird, especially if the bird was flapping or upset. She's better now. Some dogs also ignore chickens UNTIL they start moving quickly or making a commotion. So you have to desensitize your dog to a variety of situations.

Bridging the gap between #1 and #2 can be difficult. I wouldn't move on until the dog could be off-leash (with the chickens in a run) and not demonstrate any reactivity even if the chickens are running, squawking, being picked up, etc.

The first time a dog sniffs a chicken, it should either be with a muzzle on the dog or a fence between the two.

I don't think a high prey drive dog should ever be trusted unattended around chickens. Those instincts are sometimes just too strong to break, and prey drive is a lot different from anxiety/fear-related reactivity.

That's my two cents. :)
 

agold23

Songster
May 25, 2021
154
381
111
This is a great overview. I think you'd need to break it down into smaller steps and principles for people not familiar with +R and behavior modification, though.

My dogs are good with the birds and we haven't had to do much training. But one of them used to react to us holding a bird, especially if the bird was flapping or upset. She's better now. Some dogs also ignore chickens UNTIL they start moving quickly or making a commotion. So you have to desensitize your dog to a variety of situations.

Bridging the gap between #1 and #2 can be difficult. I wouldn't move on until the dog could be off-leash (with the chickens in a run) and not demonstrate any reactivity even if the chickens are running, squawking, being picked up, etc.

The first time a dog sniffs a chicken, it should either be with a muzzle on the dog or a fence between the two.

I don't think a high prey drive dog should ever be trusted unattended around chickens. Those instincts are sometimes just too strong to break, and prey drive is a lot different from anxiety/fear-related reactivity.

That's my two cents. :)
Of course! I was being very brief, to be honest I don’t really remember all the steps we took as Cricket catches on very easily and she was only really crazy around them inside the pen for the first few days but she was pretty good after.
 

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