1. Come check out hundreds of awesome coop pages (and a few that need suggestions) in our 2018 Coop Rating Project!

Training/Teaching a dog about chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by lcahill, Oct 7, 2013.

  1. I'm not sure this is the best place to put this but I have some questions regarding training/teaching dogs.
    I have two dogs. One is a 4.5-5 year old female (mama) and the other is a 3 year old female (daughter of the first). They are a mix breed. Lots of blue heeler, corgi, australian cattle dog type looks and personality. The litter we chose the daughter from appears to have been sired by a lab breed. They are undeniably the best childrens dogs I have ever seen or met. My kids have climbed on them, layed on them, ridden them (before getting caught and disciplined), etc. These dogs have never shown any aggression towards the children, they have never nipped, and only once can I recall even the slightest growl of dislike. They are very submissive dogs: they love their bellies rubbed and will plop down for that treatment readily. They are not spayed.
    When we got chickens this spring, aggression reared it's ugly head towards the birds. Collectively they have only killed one chicken, but countless times have gone after them. What can I do to teach them that the chickens are off limit? Or is it not reasonable to think this behaviour can be broken? I feel it can but what are the opinions of others and suggestions?

  2. HEChicken

    HEChicken Crowing

    Aug 12, 2009
    BuCo, KS
    My Coop
    Personally, I don't believe a dog can be taught to ignore its natural instincts when it comes to predatory behavior. I know there are others on here who will disagree with me and swear that their dog, after killing chickens, learned to leave them alone. But that tendency always seems to rear its head again at some point in the future when the dog is left alone with them for too long and succumbs again to the temptation.

    That is not to say that there are not poultry safe dogs. I have two of them. But I adopted them as non-puppies, and since I already had the chooks, I did a home trial with each dog prior to committing to adopt, to make sure they had no interest in chasing the birds. Neither showed any interest and one is actually a little afraid of them. More than two years later, they sleep in the chicken yard at night to help keep predators at bay, and when my auto door opens in the morning, the birds come spilling out and I never worry about the dogs doing anything to them. During the day the flock free ranges and little chicks quickly learn that these two dogs are no threat to them.

    But - if you have dogs that have already learned that chasing chickens is fun, I don't think you can ever get them to that point. You might be able to get them to the point that they will leave them alone when you are out there with them - but I would never leave them alone. Just my two cents.
    3 people like this.
  3. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Crowing

    Apr 12, 2013
    Boulder, Colorado
    I too have chicken safe dogs and they both started out that way. The only advice I can offer is to only have one dog out at a time when working with it and the chickens. Pack mentality. It's not as fun to chase the chickens by yourself. Your dogs have some strong instincts bred into them to chase and herd that you might not be able to train out of them
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2013
    1 person likes this.
  4. rojororeo

    rojororeo Songster

    May 14, 2013
    I tend to agree. We have 2 dogs. One is semi-ambivalent about the chickens... he lets the be for the most part, aside from sniffing, but he tends towards chickenness himself with small animal pets, lol. Afraid to get swatted or yelled at.
    The female.. whole different ball of yarn... She goes after the chickens any chance she gets. Heck, we had a very established house cat when we brought her home from the pound.. she never did anything to said cat (and she was declawed!!)... but now we have outdoor barn cats- all bets are off, and we are struggling to teach her that a running cat, or even a still grooming/sunning cat is not prey... Just using that as an example of how hardheaded that instinct can be... I truly don't think we could ever trust this dog with chickens...
  5. Alicatt

    Alicatt Chirping

    Sep 10, 2013
    catskills, New York
    Until you know, keep them on a leash. My chickens don't free range unless dogs are in. One dog, also a heeler mix is used to free ranging himself. He gives me a hard time, tries to slip out. Other dog has a father that's a known killer; he just gobbled up a feather!! He will probably Never be loose around my birds if I can help it. I have hope for the heeler. Half the time he ignores the chicks and does his own thing. Other times he rushes the pen to see them scatter, I believe if they run he will definitely chase. If he catches them... well, he is a dog...
    I should have made them spend more time together when my chickens were babies. Work with your dogs. They are herders. It's possible they learn that the chickens are to be protected. I would keep them on a short leash, and force them to walk through the flock. Sit and watch the flock, wait til dog is CALM. Start with mama dog, she may in turn teach the pup. Do this as much as possible. Be firm, and don't let dog get excited around them. Make her sit, or lie down. Be in control, heelers have LOTS of energy, take her on a long walk first so she is more relaxed and used to listening to you. This is my plan, I have faith someday my heeler will be off leash with the chickens, but never alone with them. God forbid he get bored!
  6. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Crowing

    Apr 8, 2008
    OP, how well trained are your dogs? Do they reliably obey the "leave it" command every time?

    If your dogs are not well trained and used to training, then you'll have to start at the beginning BEFORE you let them anywhere near the chickens. Teach sit, and down, and make sure you get a good down-stay and leave it before you do anything else. This may take a year (and professional help if you don't know much about dog training).

    If your dogs are already well trained, start with the down-stay and let some chickens (potentially sacrificial birds, so don't use your favorites) eat some scratch and walk around them, praising the dogs the whole time they stay in the down-stay. If they go for the chickens, a sharp "leave it" should make them desist. Offer a treat for a successful "leave it." Train them to leave the chickens alone the same way you train them not to eat your children's toys.

    Once they handle the chickens walking around them during a down-stay, allow them to be around a bird or two while closely supervised, with you ready to tell them "leave it" at the first sign of their interest in the chickens. Remember the treats!

    You may not be able to leave them out unsupervised with the birds for a while, until you feel pretty comfortable that they know that birds are not for eating. Then watch through some place like a garage door window so the dogs think they are alone, and see if they go for a chicken. Be vigilant and ready to rush through that door hollering "leave it" if they go for the birds. There's lots of research that shows that dogs know when humans can see them, and change their behaviors accordingly. You want your dogs to think you can see them even if they can't see you!

    It is possible to train dogs to leave chickens alone. My pitbull/mastiff mix wanted to chase chickens for about a year, but we have trained her that chickens are not for chasing using the above method. She now pretty much ignores chickens, and yesterday I saw a clutch of 12 week old birds walk all around her while she was lying in the yard and she didn't even flinch. She still chases rabbits out of the garden (we encourage this) and chases the cat for fun (they're good friends, the chasing is a game) but she leaves the chickens alone.
    5 people like this.
  7. Thanks for the replies all. Currently we are working on the obedience with the dogs. They do understand sit and down, but stay and leave it are 25% at best. It is a work in progress and it is slow goings due to my work schedule and my wife's homeschool schedule. With that being said, I also understand that they may never be "good" around the chickens. They never get alone time with the chickens but the younger one has grabbed one by the tail while my back was turned through the hen house door. I've been working with them since March and it has gotten better but I do think, with these dogs at least, I won't get much better than what I have now. Both dogs love to rush the pen fence and watch the hens scatter. After I let the chickens out to roam the dogs noses are to the ground immediately tracking around when they get let out from the house afterwards. When the one killing did occur, it wasn't horrific. It was like they played too hard and when the chicken stopped "playing" they were not interested anymore.
    I don't ever expect to leave them unattended with the chickens but my goal is for them to listen to my commands. The biggest issue is that the momma dog was beaten and abandoned before we adopted her. It took nearly 18 months to gain her trust and love. She would flinch and pee the floor if she saw my hand move. It was horrible. Now I can be firm with her and she listens well. She has learned I am not going to hurt her. I guess now we are at the point of training the both of them obedience.
    Thanks for the input and keep it coming.

  8. Bear Foot Farm

    Bear Foot Farm Crowing

    Mar 31, 2008
    Grifton NC
    If the dogs are smart, a couple of sessions with a shock collar will solve the problems
    This dog used to chase chickens.
    TWO shocks is all it took to turn him into this:
  9. rojororeo

    rojororeo Songster

    May 14, 2013
    OH HOW I WISH!! Our problem dog is actually super smart... Top of her dog class, etc... but I am starting to wonder if some sort of mental problem can exist in dogs. She has certain things she does, no matter how many times she is corrected with a shock collar (heck even BOTH collars on her at the same time), or any other way for that matter, she will do it again still later. She also has an extremely high pain threshold (even the vets are amazed at what they can repair on her without numbing), and she is by far the *most* stubborn creature, human or animal, that I have ever met. My husband and I both grew up basic training our dogs with great success... not this one... I am fairly certain this is all the reason that she was in at least 2 homes before us... and that she would have been put down ages ago by someone else, and if it wasn't for us being as stubborn as she is and her being our daughter's dog and not being forgiven if we ever did that... Urgh.. dang dog, as she sleeps next to me, all curled up and innocent looking! Ugh
  10. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Crowing

    Apr 8, 2008
    Yeah, but the smarter they are, the sooner they realize that you have to see them in order for them to get a shock--and that they have to have the collar on, too. Our dog would stay in the yard when she knew we could see her, then take off when she knew we couldn't, even with the shock collar. Same thing with chasing the birds. We found we needed to go the route I described above and that shortcuts just wouldn't cut it long-term.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by