Training the Puppy: How to Be Nice to the Cat, Chickens, and the Tortoise

Training the Puppy: How to Be Nice to the Cat, Chickens, and the Tortoise

When we started talking last year about getting a new dog, the safety of the hens and the tortoise were one of my bigger concerns with bringing a new dog into our household. An untrained and unsupervised dog can easily hurt or even kill chickens or tortoises out of fun or boredum. When we first got baby chicks 11 years ago, I learned everything I could about training a dog to be trustworthy with chickens. But back then, we started with an adult dog with baby chicks in the house in their brooder. It was relatively easy. We had the dog lay down on the bathroom floor near us and let the chicks walk around the room and all over us and the dog. Every time the dog ignored the chicks, he got treats and praise. He quickly learned the chicks were part of the family pack, and the chicks got accustomed to his presence. I kept the chicks in a pen until they were about 3 months old when I let the dog outside with them. Eventually after about 4 months, they all got along and got to roam the yard together. I am trying a different approach to a similar problem now that I have old hens and a young dog.

Scotch Collie dog scottish collie
This is a current photo of Corgie

As I mentioned in a prior post, Corgie’s litter came from a house with two tortoises, a bunny, and chickens, so at least I knew it is probably not in his nature to be a small pet killer.

Buster, our middle aged cat, had been around our Golden Retriever, George, since he was 5 weeks old. The cat enjoyed the company of the dog and even seemed to mourn the loss of his buddy for a few weeks after his passing. Buster pulled out all the hair from his tummy and tail from the stress. From day one when Corgie came into the house, Buster wanted to be close by where he could see the new puppy and keep an eye on him. He even slept on the dog crate the first day with puppy inside. Buster made sure the puppy quickly learned appropriate boundries with cats.

Puppy and cat sleep together
Once Buster discovered that the back half of the crate had a warming mat, he made the crate he moved in with the puppy for afternoon naps

I don’t think the dog and cat have agreed on who the boss is yet, but I think Buster is really trying hard to be in charge. Now a days, it is funny to watch the two play together and even better when Buster nussles up close to Corgie and marks him with his face and tail. Corgie really likes it when Buster chases him around the backyard. When Buster doesn’t want to play, Corgie gets the hint pretty quickly and makes sure to avoid getting swatted or scratched by the cat. Corgie’s moves look like something out of The Matrix movie. Sometimes Corgie gets too excited or rough with the cat, but overall, things seem to be going okay between the two.

puppy on leasjh with hens  free ranging the backyard
Corgie had to be on a leash early on while the chickens roamed the yard

The tranistion to having a good dog with chickens has not been near as simple as it was with the cat, and it is taking much more patience on my part. My little flock were used to George’s calm demeaner with them, but he also never once made a sudden or aggressive move toward them. Corgie on the other hand initially saw the bantam chickens as something very interesting and he would get excited when he managed to get them to startle due to a sudden movement. We started his training slowly with only letting Corgie watch the chickens from outside the chicken run. A few weeks later we started spending about 30 minutes a day letting the chickens out in the yard but keeping the puppy on a leash. He had a hard time containing his enthusiasm in those first couple of meet ups, but quickly understood with praise, treats, and verbal corrections, that I wanted him to pay attention to me and not the chickens. Once he was about 3 to 4 months old and slightly more calm when the chickens were out wandering around, we still kept the leash on him, but I let it drag around on the ground behind him while I kept an eye on everybody. There were a number of times he started to chase after them, and I had to quickly stomp on the leash to stop him and give him a stearn sounding ‘No!’

This 20 second video is quick glimpse taken last month of Corgie out in the backyard with the bantam chickens

Corige is almost 6 months old now and he is currently off leash while the chickens are wandering in the yard in the afternoons. He is difinately not to the point we trust him to be out in the backyard by himself with the chickens yet, but he hasn’t tried to chase or startle them for weeks. The only problem now is, Corgie likes to eat chicken poop! Yuck! Its so discusting. He cautiously follows behind them at distance. He also comes running right along with chickens for black oil sunflower seeds whenever I call the chickens over for their treats. I had read that collies can be kind of cat like, but I never read they were chicken like.

Scottish Collie training with chickens
Corgie followind the chickens around the yard last weekend

Tiger Lily, our California Desert Tortoise, interactions with him have been kind of strange. The poor tortoise was hauled out of her favorite secluded spot in the back corner of the garage a half dozen times this past winter, the few times the weather got over 75 degrees. I did it hoping that Corgie would get enough exposure to her to imprint on him that she is just another family pet. Tiger Lily decided her hibernation, actually I think the term is “brumation,” was coming to end at the start of March. We were extra watchful about Corgie’s time in the outside while she was out forgaging around the yard for grass and flowers. Just like with the chickens, he was super curious about her. All the times he had seen her before, she was lethargic. Now she was active and an eating machine. The last few times she has emerged from the garage, it seems like the dog is suspecious of her. He tries to get out of her way but keeps a watchful eye on her. One warm afternoon a few weeks ago, she actually backed him into a corner and crawled across him.

This was the first day Corgie me Tiger Lily
This was the first time Corgie me Tiger Lily our desert tortoise

Corgie is making good progess on his training to be nice to chickens, the cat, and tortoise. I am optimistic he may even one day be as trustworthy as George used to be. Maybe he can even learn to herd the chickens back into the coop, especially Hei Hei, our not so smart Silkie, who forgets how to get back into the coop on a regular basis? I am hoping.

Dog with tortoise intimidating him
Corgie moved away for the tortoise three times and she backed him into a corner and eventually walking across him. He was such a good boy and left her alone.

It has been raining here a lot over the week, and I would have prefered to to be out in the garden this time of year. My daughter and I have been sewing masks for the grandparents and the family, and I am starting to feel cooped up. The one bright spot this week is I started picking the first few ripe bananas yesterday. I feel very blessed to be able to live somewhere that we can grow some of our own fresh fruit, especially now that we are only getting groceries once a week. I hope you have a Happy Easter tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Training the Puppy: How to Be Nice to the Cat, Chickens, and the Tortoise

  1. Happy Easter to you. I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your garden blog, even though your climate is completely different to where I live.

    1. Thank you for the compliment! It is so nice to know others appreciate a little bit of what I share, eventhough my posts focus mainly on Southern California gardening. What part of the country do you garden in?

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