Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How To Keep Your Dog From Killing Your Chickens

Recently Farmer Liz was gracious enough to interview me about how to get started raising chickens. One of the questions was, “How do you keep your dogs from killing your chickens?” The answer I gave was pretty simple and short... supervise your dog. It's that easy. 

View to a kill.

I actually get this question a lot – more than you would imagine. I haven't done a post on this mostly because it was either going to be the shortest post ever or, more likely, it will probably hurt someone's feelings. So to everyone who has asked me about dogs and chickens – I bet you think this song is about you, dont you? Don't worry, it isn't.

To avoid this being the shortest post I've ever written (“Supervise your dog. The end.”) I'll expound a little one the subject of supervising your dog and keeping him from killing your chickens. 

Little goats know that Kai wants to eat them. They fear her.

As we learned in this post, dogs are not little people in fur coats. Dogs are dogs. They are predators and natural born killers. All your dog ever wants to do is kill all your chickens all the time. Surely, not your dog? Yes. Especially your dog. Look at him – huge canines, strong claws, forward facing binocular vision... oh yes. Death on four legs. Now look at them hens. Look at your dog lookin' at them hens. He wants to kill them.

I'm always laughing at people who think their Mr. Woofywoof would never do that – mostly because he's a Golden or a Lab. Friend, lean in because I have some educating for you. What exactly do you think that Golden RETRIEVER or the Labrador RETRIEVER is retrieving? Birds that's what. Most of the popular dog breeds are, or descended from, working or hunting breeds. Herding dogs? Sure they'll kill your chickens too. The herding work is just a controlled prey drive. Left to his own devices it's just a big ol' killing spree waiting to happen. So don't be foolish enough to think that your people friendly dog isn't gonna kill all your chickens. Given time he will. 

Zander wants to kill this duck. Oh yes he does. 

Why? Dog love prey. Chickens are the especially loveable because they flap and squawk and run when chased. Dogs think chickens are the funnest thing ever – next to your goats, of course.

So don't blame your dog when you leave him outside, go to work, and then come home to find all our chickens dead. Most likely your dog doesn't even know they are a food source – he was just having fun. Now all he knows is that was the best time he's ever had and you're home and mad and yelling at him.

So who's to blame?


Did the conviction come on you? Now...now... don't shout me down because I'm preachin' so well. I told you someone's feeling were going to be hurt. Can you handle the truth?

(Cut to scene...) OFG in the witness box, sitting bolt upright, wearing full dress attire, her face a mask of rage. The smug young JAG corps drake is clenching his fist in front of him, spitting his questions at her, “You think it's the owner's fault? That their dog killed a chicken?”

“You want answers?” Said OFG defiantly. “You want answers?”

“I think I'm entitled!” Yelled the drake. “I want the truth!”

“You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world where dogs kill chickens every day. The flock keeper has a responsibility to protect their chickens. That means supervising your dogs every minute of every second of every day. And if you don't chicken die. If you don't train your dog, chickens die. If you don't supervise your dog, chickens die.” The courtroom erupts in chaos. (Fade to black)

OK maybe that was a bit dramatic but here is the truth. Sure there are a few dogs that won't ever kill chickens – but that's not your dog. Don't be foolish enough to think that just because your dog is a loveable oaf around you that he isn't still a dog. It's your responsibility to train and supervise your dog and protect your flocks.

So what do you do?

1. Supervise your dog. Where are you? Where is your dog? Why isn't your dog with you? Do you see him with your own eyes? Has he roamed off? Is he on a leash? Is he standing by your side and helping you or is he where you commanded him to Sit and Stay? If you have livestock you need to know where your dog is at all time. Preferably he should be with you or where you put him.

Zander and Kai in the dog yard. Good dogs. 

2. Put your dog and your chickens behind fences. Our property is fenced on all sides and within that perimeter are several fenced in areas. One is the hen/goat yard and across the way is the dog yard. When they aren't with me the dogs hang out in the dog yard and most of the hens stay around the hen yard. The wanderers have figured out not to go near the dog yard.

3. Be the boss of your dog. I've talked about this before and to learn more about it run right out and get Cesar Milan's “Be the Pack Leader” and then also get The Monks of New Skete's “How to be Your Dog's Best Friend (this is written specifically for German Shepherds). Don't let your tail wag the dog..bein' in this case, your dog should not “own” you. 

That little duck is as safe as kittens. Ti and Lucky know to "leave it."

4. Specifically teach your dog “that's mine,” “drop it,” and “leave it.” Your dog at any time, when commanded “leave it”, should immediately stop what he is doing (chasing a chicken) and come back to you. Not only that, he should understand that when you say “that's mine” (whatever “it” is...your sandwich, a chicken, someone else's toy) then “it” is not to be touched. You should be able to say “drop it” and your dog should drop whatever he has in his mouth and let you have it. Reinforce that the chickens/goats/ducks are “mine.” Tell him to “leave it” if he gets too interested in the chickens. And if he's running with a chicken in his mouth then you'd better be yelling "drop it" and running after him.

Your dog should know that you “own all the resources” as my friend SavingDogs says. Everything, including the chickens, are yours and not his. You give the dog everything – he doesn't take anything. For instance, do not ever play tug of war with your dog. It's not really a game to him – it's a power struggle and your dog should not challenge you for the power in the relationship.

You need to reinforce this everyday, all the time. He should sit quietly while you walk out of the house first, he should not pull on a leash but should walk quietly beside you (like this), he should sit before you feed him. In every interaction your dog should know that you are the boss of him. If you don't then he wont take you seriously and will start making his own decisions like, “Say, them hens look mighty fun. I think I'll kill them.”

The key is to have a good working relationship with your dog where he knows the rules and follows them. Your job is to provide him with the best chances of success by creating a situation where the opportunity for failure is limited. Don't give him the opportunity to chase the chickens in the first place. Keep your dog with you or in a dog yard. Teach him what is and what is not acceptable. Don't allow him to make decisions about what is and what is not his to “play” with. You have to reinforce this over and over again.

People sometimes ask me for training tips for the dogs. Then some of these folks spend 5 minutes “training” their dog (usually it's them yelling mindlessly at him) and then wonder why it doesn't “work.” It works, friend, you just gotta put a lot of work into it. Dog training isn't a one time thing – think of it more as developing the relationship with your dog. It's how you interact with your dog every time. Do it once and it's a failure, keep working at it and you'll become a tremendous team.

There's a few things and I don't think you should never do.

First, you know that old wives tale about tying a dead chicken around your dog's neck? For the love of Pete... don't do that. The folklore is that the rotting corpse of the chicken will start stinking and that will somehow dissuade your dog from chasing them. That is just disgusting and a grievous way to treat one of your good and faithful hennies. More than likely the only reason that worked once was because some old farmer somewhere shamed his dog for killing a chicken. For heavens sakes you can shame your dog and still give that hen a descent burial.

I'm not talking about the current dogshaming trend. I'm talking about using your voice and actions to show your dog how disappointed you are in his behavior. You don't even have to do anything special because your dog can read your body language and the tone of your voice. Ever find your dog in the trash and yell, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Then your dog gets all guilty and skulks off? Just do that only amp it up about 10 times and keep it up for a while.

Kai got into a bunch of chicks one time and snatched one up. Not only did we charge at her, yelling angrily, and then launch into a flying tackle to stop her. But we also shamed her. The whole day. After a couple hours she was likely to die. We have a close working relationship with our dogs. They are almost always with us or near us or working with us. Excluding Kai from that and getting nothing but disapproval from us cured her very quickly of her chicken chasing ways. Now she can walk with me thru the hen and goat yard without charging off after them.

Would we ever just let her out in the yard when there are poultry afield? Heck no. Even more than most dogs Kai and Zander are natural born killers. They are extremely “primitive” and pretty much as close to wolves as you can get. Throw in that most members of the “Spitz” type of dogs are naturally independent and stubborn... well, all we are is one “I just turned my head for a minute” away from a chicken massacre. So don't ask more from your dog than their breed may allow. Hunting, herding, and bird dogs especially will be interested in your livestock. So why do we have such cold blooded killaz on our farm?You can read more about that here.

Next, don't get rid of your dog just because he killed some chickens. Using this flawed logic we would have gotten rid of Titan when he was 10 months old. What a tragedy that would have been! Look at him now. Not only is he my #1 Dog... he's also my best pal. You couldn't pry him out of my cold dead hands. If you have dogs and chickens there will be losses and the only one to blame for those dead chickens is you. So get off your lazy carcass, write it off as “these things happen,” and train your dog. This will require effort on your part and if you aren't up to it then don't get a dog or don't get chickens.

Also, don't believe that ridiculous notion that once your dog has “tasted blood” from killing chickens he's going to turn on you or your children. That's just silly.

The other thing I would never do is let your dog play with your livestock. Ever. I've seen videos of people letting their dog chase their goat (owners all laughing in the background) or “running” chickens who are behind a fence. Friend, don't ever be that stupid. All you are doing is encouraging interest and it will end badly. The only thing your dog should hear from you when they get close to your livestock is “leave it” and then your dog should immediately turn away from that chicken/goat/goose/duck and come back to you. Then pat him on the head and tell him, “Good dog.”

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Sometimes you have to be relentless. But there isn't any magic to it. I think there is a rumor out there that the “right” dog doesn’t need any training to be around chickens. However, that dog is few and very far between. For the rest of all dogs everywhere – including your dog - the answer is fencing, supervision, and training your dog.

The good news is that this is successful and is extremely rewarding. A well trained, trustworthy dog is a joy to be around and the best part of your farming day. Knowing that you can walk out into your hen yard with your faithful dog at your side and he actually helps you do your job, well you just can't put a price tag on that. So quit blaming your dog for being a predator, take that rotten chicken from around his neck, and go and get some fencing.

And now I'm going to take all these dogs out and put them in the dog yard. We'll walk right by a gaggle of geese and a bunch of crazy hens. Not only will The Dog Horde trot right on by but they will do it happily, tails high and wagging. They know that the chickens are mine and their job is to “leave it.” Good dogs.


David said...

Outstanding post. Really! This is going into the "someday when I need it files."

Heavens Door Acres said...

What great advise. The biggest problem today with dog ownership is...most people want a dog that comes with a remote control.This, sadly is what our society has become. Hard work and determination will make that hound the best thing that has ever come into your life. You have to "train" your kids to "leave it" and "that's mine" so it should be thoughtless to everyone...you MUST train that hound as well! Even those little ankle biters of fluff...( especially those) need a strong pack leader.

Vera said...

We've had to learn this lesson recently after one of our rotweiller puppies killed two chickens. At first we were very disapointed with her, then I went on line and began learning about dog behaviour. We were going to rehome her, but didn't, instead we persevered. For a while we muzzled her when she was out in the courtyard with the chickens, and started doing everything which you have suggested, and it worked. Two months on she is a 'changed' dog, and we have learnt the ways of dogs with other animals, and we have learnt what we need to do to keep everyone safe.
Nice blog, full of excellent help and wisdom.

Wendy said...

Awesome post. Truthful and well written. Now can you do one on training your children to watch your dog? Or at least close the door when they go outside?

This is exactly what I'm going through right now with my boy, Smitty. With me he's fine. Wouldn't dream of touching a chicken. Outside with the boys... "Oh, they forgot about me, I'll go grab a snack..."

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks Dave! You know I'll only tell you the truth about farming.

Yep, HDA... our culture does just want results with out the work. I love that you said "a dog that comes with a remote control" - thats great!

Vera - I'm so glad that you persevered!!! A great idea to muzzle that pup. You have beautiful dogs and they will be your best assets. Keep up the great work!

Thanks Wendy! And ha! So the thing with the kids - your dogs see them as equals. That really demonstrates how the dogs see your "pack." Don't give the kids more than their maturity level - but maybe teach your dogs to walk the dog on a leash? That's a good starting place. Or let the kids offer treats but the dog has to sit quietly before the kid give it to him.

Unknown said...

Great post. We had to train our Aussie in much the same way. Supervised, on leash for a while, than always supervised. Sam loved to chase anything, being an aussie. We trained her to the point (while watching) that she was chewing on a bone, the chickens came up, I stood and watched, and they pecked on her bone. Sam looked at me, went back to her bone, and ignored the chickens. I had my hubby take a picture, because I figured no one would believe it. But I never left her alone in our backyard while free ranging the hens. It wasn't worth the risk.

Winona said...

Wonderful post! We have learned most of this through trial and error. This is a post I will keep to refer back to if we ever get another dog. We lost our faithful Norwegian Elkhound last summer at the old age of 14 years. I cried for a week after losing old Midget. We do have a dog, but it is a little Pom and stays in the house or with me. I would love to have a lab or golden. Keep these informative posts coming. I love them.

Unknown said...

I knew you would have more to say on that question! Thanks so much for answering it fully, you are a wealth of dog and chicken information :) I'm sorry to say we made a lot of the mistakes you talk about. We had a rooster that used to play with our dog Cheryl, they would run at each other turn away at the last moment (playing chicken!) and that was great fun, except that the next rooster didn't know the game and got eaten. We also tied a number of chickens around Cheryl's neck, each time she killed one. One time we caught her snacking on the chicken around her neck, not an effective solution! In the end, we put a fence between dogs and chickens and used discipline to teach the dog what we expected, as you suggest (one problem we find is that our stupid dog, Chime, never seems to know what we are upset about, not the chickens, but chewing things out of the recycling bins, not sure she's smart enough for this method, but she's too old to catch chickens). Now we have the problem that the chickens just won't leave the dogs alone (they won't stay in their yard, they sneak under the gate), especially when the dogs are chewing their bones, and Cheryl will give me this look like "well you said I can't touch them and now they're bothering ME!". The dogs also seem to have an arrangement with a particular chicken who was laying eggs on the dog bed, she achieved some kind of clemency in exchange for eggs, I put a stop to that though! Anyway, all great tips and if you can get the chickens to stay on their side of the fence all the better, but if they insist on visiting the dogs its at their own risk.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Great work, Nancy! That's exactly how to get 'er done. I love how you understand what her limits are.... it adds to her success.

Thanks Winonna! I'm so sorry for your loss of Midget. I'm sure you know how stubborn curly tailed northland breeds are, huh?

Yep, Liz, if I tied a chicken around Zander's neck he'd just thank me for the snack sack! And I think I love your hennie who lays on the dog bed! ha! so one thing you could do is put some fencing on the chicken side so that it lays on the ground. so you could tack up some light weight fencing so that its half way up the fence and the rest just lays on the ground kind of like a mat. that way the hens cant really get under it. since i use Ti for herding i can get him to "scoot" the chickens back who try to get near the dog yard fence. the hens got the hint after a while and just roam around in different areas of the yard.

buddeshepherd said...

Great Post! The book by the Monks was essential when I had a Shepherd.
We have problems my brother's dog killing pullets. He doesn't bother chicks or chickens, just gets them when they look like pheasants. Doesn't bother his families chickens. They are right next door.
(This gets our dog involved as well.)
He is really sneaky about it.
It is a challenge figuring out what causes doggie behaviors. Sometimes there are strange cause/effect relationships.

Anonymous said...

Terrific post, thanks for passing on the knowledge...

Ohiofarmgirl said...

yep B... thats the best book ever. sorry about your brother's dog. that's a tough one. :-/

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks, Anon! glad to see you here.

buddeshepherd said...

Upon further reflection...
The problem with training a dog is that the owners are stupid.
People overly motivated by sentiment. People who do not understand cause-effect. People who can't think more that one step ahead of disaster. People who live by whatever stupid whim makes them feel good.
It is also why you have chickens running loose and why when people bring their dogs on a visit things get damaged.
They train their pet like they train their kids. The difference is that sometimes kids have communication skills and self awareness that dogs don't have, IN Spite of their parents.
Just my opinion...
Also... people adopt pets because they are motivated by sentiment. THey don't think about matching the pet to their life they just think about the poor animal that needs a home. Then when it doesn't work out they give it back. Causing more disruption in the pet's life. The animal just wants stability and security.
Applies to people as well....

Ohiofarmgirl said...

yes, exactly, Budd that is it. don't even get me started. we have Lucky b/c the people who originally got him were told they SHOULDNT get a GSD... so they got him just to prove those folks wrong. fast forward a year - we got and ill behaved, badly train, unruly Lucky. but we got him whipped into shape. the wrong dog for the wrong person for the wrong reason is just a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much! My dog killed 2 chicks today. My husband was set to tie one to her when he got home. He says that his father tied the chicken to their Irish Wolf Hound and it worked. I can accept that this was my fault because I was home. Also hubby did not secure the fence properly and the dog made a hole. Hubby also says that "the dog has to go". She is 6 and we rescued her from a shelter. She's not easy. She's a Staffy/Kelpie and she pulls on the lead all the time. Runs away too. I am big on "We got a dog. Accept responsibility for the dog. You can't just get rid of the responsibility. Grow up. Accept your responsibility to the dog. Do the work. Next time maybe don't get a dog on a whim." I will show him this.

Angela (won't let me post as anything other than Anon)

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Angela/Anon - Kelpies are super duper smart. she probably just needs more running - and to get the fence fixed. chicks look like bait so you cant really blame her. give her some training and some time. plz tell your hubs that tying the chick to her wont do any good at all.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly said. God that the concept of monitoring your dogs is actually foreign to some - argh! I have 6 dogs, all of whom are branded "dangerous", none of whom would harm a feather on my flock (we have a rat, a winged rat .. pigeon .. free range hens, peacock and goats .. oh and cats .. none of whom fear the pack cos they know the pack is controlled / under control of me, the head bitch *grin* Shared this article on a few pages, thank you from downunder in New Zealand :)

Anonymous said...

As I woke up to yet one more dead young hen....I texted my daughter and said that is IT! I am done with this damn dog! And I was ready to take her back to the pound where I got her. She is def part lab. And then I read your blog, and I can not agree more. She is only thinking they are chew toys ....until they die and are no fun anymore. I do have fences, but the young hens keep hopping over to death territory. But it is not just my young hens, it is shoes, books, furniture, everything in my trashcan.....she has gotten into the habit of destroying everything while I am asleep. Time to start crating her . She already knows she has done wrong....this should not be so hard.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Consistency is the most important thing, Anon. Is she young? be sure to give her toys that are just for her. it sounds like she just needs to know what is OK to chew on. you might also try more running around (like playing fetch) so she can get all her wiggles out.

Unknown said...

Yes, she is young. I have been crating her at night, no more suicidal hens have died. Yet she still has this need to chew up something, anything , when I am away. A piece of paper will do for her. At least it is not like "before". Your blog saved my dog. Thank you.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

So glad, Sandra. Just keep directing her to the "right" thing to chew up. my dogs like an empty paper towel holder. Rope chew toys are good too.

Anonymous said...

Great article.
Just hope I've read your article earlier. I have a bad experience about these.
(I'm sorry if my English is so bad, I actually don't speak English)
I had a dog for years and he was very nice dog. He liked to chase chickens when he was a puppy, my dad went to gave him to someone else but we did everything so he didn't do that again. And lately he never did (about 2-3 years, I guess). Then, I have to go to the college, and my parents decided to had chickens. In my second year in college, I came home for holiday and wished my dog greet me like he usually do when I came home for holiday. My dad and my brother picked me from airport, but they forgot to brought the key. So we sat in front of my house and waited for my mom. I joked to them that we should ask my dog to open the door. Then my dad told me that he got rid of my dog because he chased and killed the our (his) chickens. I just can't believe it. He is his dog too after all.
I have learn that I shouldn't leave my dog to someone consider dog not as a family, so they won't waste their time and effort to teach dog and give them another chance to be nice.

And can dogs go back to their childhood habits, even if they never do that after years? If they can, why?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I think the answer to your question is "maybe" he went back to chasing chickens but probably he was just bored and it was not out of meanness or being naughty. I'm very very sorry to hear that your dog was not there when you got home - I'm sure your parents did the best they could. But I'm sure your heart was broken. Best of luck to you.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your very wise advice on dogs' behavior as a predator on chickens. I just lost another sweet and great egg layer to my Stafford shire Terrior mix. The hens are fenced, but one happen to fly over and be loose running around. After I closed the coop door for the night, I didn't know one hadn't already gone in. After letting my dog go potty, I was unaware that she had tracked down the hen outside the fence.
I was ready to ask my husband to take her out on some road and shoot her. She was a rescue dog and has a hatred and fear of men, so I didn't want to take her back to a shelter just so she'd get adopted by another abusive man who wanted a good watchdog. I thought of euthanizing her also, but that costs money. So my next idea was to just shoot her and bury her. She loves me to pieces and is so happy to see me come home just when I've been out for an hour or less. I do love her, and after reading everything you said, it all makes sense, and I will keep her.
I'm sorry if I sound like a man hater; I'm not. Its just that she growls at the sound of a man's foice; you can't even pick up a fly swatter to hit a fly without her going into hiding. I just lost one of my favorite hens, so I'm a bit emotional. I don't mean to offend anyone by anything I've said.

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