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.