My Dog with the Chickens

My Dog with the Chickens

A big concern for many chicken owners is dogs, especially their own.   Pet dogs are probably the number one predator that kills chickens.  A backyard chicken can look like a fun toy to play with to most dogs, especially when the chickens are spooked.    My dog was probably no exception.  He is a bird dog by nature.  He is obsessed with squirrels, has caught wild birds before, and I have to keep a careful eye on him when we are next to the duck pond.  He has actually jumped in after the ducks once when I wasn’t being observant, despite being on a leash. Had I tried to keep hold of the leash, he would have pulled me in with him. Based on this experience, when I first got chickens, the dog was my biggest worry.

Chickens in the backyard with the dog
George hanging out with the chickens. He is more interested in his ball than the fact that Amber is picking through his tail.

Now adays, I have no worries about George and chickens.  I would love to take full credit for his training, but in reality, I have been blessed with an obedient golden retriever that is very eager to please and quick to learn.  George should really get the credit.  Training might not be  as easy or the same with all breeds.  I spent many months of gradual exposure, with rewards, and close supervision to train George to be a good dog with chickens around.  I started training him when the chicks were just a few weeks old in the brooder in the house.  There are lots of tips on for training dogs to be with chickens.

Here is what I did with my dog, George:

  •    Chick Weeks 2-6=Inside in the bathroom with the chicks walking around out on the floor, I had the dog lay down and just hang out with us while we held the chicks.  I did this daily.  My dog got positive reinforcement and treats for not looking at them or letting them peck and walk on him.  He was told to just lay down or sit there.  I verbally scolded him if he appeared interested in the chicks.
  •    Chick Weeks 6-8=Outdoors I had a Fenced pen or tractor for chickens while the dog was outside.  No unsupervised time for dog to be around chickens at all.  During this time, he got the smell them, see them regularly, and see that they were part of the family.
  •    Weeks 9-12ish=I started letting them out together in the yard with no pen, but supervised.  Same treats and praise to ignore chickens/ Scold if watched them.
  •    Weeks 12+ I would play ball with the dog and sometimes try to spook the chickens by throwing the ball in their direction.  The dog would ignore the cackles and fluttering. At this point, I was comfortable with George and the chickens outside with out me.

Other chicken keepers would tell you, that they would never completely trust a dog to be alone around their chickens.  I disagree. I do not feel that way about George.  I think it depends on the dog and the breed.  We had a hawk attack a couple years ago.  Poor George was stuck in the house while I was away from home, but the chickens were out.  He almost hurt himself trying to get outside to go after the hawk.  When I got home, probably within minutes after the attack started, I opened the back door seeing George’s panic and he bolted out to chase the hawk off the chicken.  I was devastated about loosing a chicken to predator, but now my chickens aren’t out unless George is too.  He is a really good dog.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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