When I was a kid we lived on 5 acres and to my delight it was somewhat a mini farm. We had horses, chickens, 3 small dogs, pet birds and reptiles. At various times we even did some wildlife caring and had a wallaby joey, a kangaroo joey and a possum named Glenn.
Our dogs were chihuahuas and terrier mixes. They would use their natural instincts hunting rats and mice in the shed where all the feed was kept for the horses. They were lightning fast and would catch and kill the rodents with speed, so they definitely had prey drive – but it was never an issue with any of our other animals – perhaps because they were all bigger than our tiny dogs.
We did have baby chickens around the dogs and had no issues, even though, to my dismay, one of our dogs had killed wild ducklings before. Yet when we had domesticated ducklings, again no problems. Why the difference? How did the dog refrain from using his prey drive and instincts when it came to the pets?
We never gave those dogs formal training – they really only knew the sit command and a rough recall. But when it came to pets that look like prey, my parents were always strict and clear to the dogs that they weren’t to be touched.
So can you trust your dog with chickens? The truth is, that’s a question that is impossible for me to give a straight answer to because every dog is different and has different levels of prey drive – the instinct to chase and kill. It also depends on the dog’s genetics, individual personality and history – has the dog killed a chicken or similar before? Or has the dog been raised around chooks all it’s life without incident?
With this in mind, let’s have a look at a couple of scenarios where people may ask about getting dogs and chickens to live in peace, starting with a dog that’s never met chickens before…
How to Introduce Your Dog To Chickens Safely
Let’s say you have had a dog for a few years and you would like to get chickens for the first time, but you have no idea how your dog will react.
Some dogs will adapt easily, as if they naturally understand that the chickens are off limits. Hopefully that is the case with you, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s not…
Many dogs will be very interested in chasing chickens. It’s important to keep in mind that this is natural instinct and your dog doesn’t know it’s wrong. Prey drive is triggered by movement so you’ll find that the faster the chickens move, the more your dog wants to chase and grab them.
The movement is setting off a strong instinctual desire and your dog has no idea that you aren’t in on this fun game. For all the dog knows, he’s helping you to catch dinner!
So take no risks. It’s just not worth it. When buying chickens, you should be prepared that getting your dog used to the fact that they aren’t to be eaten could take some time and effort on your part and there’s a chance you might never be able to fully trust your dog around the chooks.
Don’t force the two species to go close to each other. You don’t want to stress the chickens out by making them feel trapped while your dog eyes them hungrily.
Have your dog on a secure leash and start with a barrier between them. Reward your dog for calmness and for ignoring the chickens, especially if they move. Teach a leave it command beforehand and use it early – as soon as your dog eyeballs the chickens.
Then correct any intense staring, barking or lunging. I can’t tell you how to correct your dog – it needs to be something you know your dog won’t like enough to want to avoid it happening again. It shouldn’t be painful and may not even be physical, but should have a startling effect.
If you’re not seeing any changes, you may be too close too fast. The biggest roadblock I see to this type of training is impatience. Take it slow and accept this won’t happen overnight.
If you know you’re not too close and you’re still struggling with this, you may want to call in a trainer to help you.
When you’re not supervising your dog with a leash on around the chickens, the dog and chickens should be safely separated. For example, the chickens locked in their yard or the dog locked in a dog pen while the chickens have some more freedom.
If you leave your dog out with the chickens without enough practice, you’re setting your dog up to fail and will undo all your hard work. Your dog will get practice at chasing and even killing the chickens. This will make it so much harder to train your dog to leave the chickens alone.
If Your Dog Has Already Chased And Injured/Killed Chickens
The more practice a dog gets at any behaviour, the more ingrained that behaviour will get, ESPECIALLY if the behaviour is rewarding, and catching chickens is definitely rewarding.
If you haven’t caught your dog in the act, there is no point punishing your dog – they will have no idea why you’re doing it. There’s an old wive’s tail to tie the dead chicken to the dog’s neck and leave it there for days to punish the dog. I certainly don’t recommend doing this.
Speaking of wive’s tails, perhaps the worst of all is the belief that once your dog has killed a chicken and, “tasted blood,” it will be forever unsafe around animals and children. This false belief has sadly led to dogs being put to death for killing a chicken for fear the dog will turn on the kids. In truth, the natural instinct to chase and kill a chicken is present in most dogs and doesn’t translate to the dog being unsafe around children. It also has no effect on chicken chasing if you feed your dog chicken meat as part of their diet.
So what can you do? While killing a chicken won’t turn your dog into Cujo, it can make it harder to train the behaviour out, simply because when the dog chased and caught that chicken, it felt really good to him/her. The dog felt rewarded.
So the first thing you need to do is ensure that the dog is never put into a situation where it could possibly chase or catch a chicken again.
In the meantime, set aside time for training sessions where you work with your dog on lead, then with a long line. For some dogs and with the help of a trainer, you may progress to a remote collar.
I can’t say whether you will have success in training your dog to never want to chase or kill a chicken again. It may be a case of always supervising when the two species are around each other, taking safety precautions like keeping your dog on leash or a barrier between them.
Whether a dog has ever chased a chicken before or not, there’s never really any guarantee that it won’t happen if you leave your dog and chickens unattended together. You just can’t guarantee what any creature will do when left to their own devices.
Let me know in the comments – does your dog get along with an animal of prey like a chicken?