Having birds and dogs is a bit like the chicken and the egg – which came first? Regardless, unless you’ve got a pushover canine, your dog will probably need some level of training and supervision before they are considered ‘trustworthy’ around your flock. Some dogs have gentle, curious temperaments, while others are instilled with high prey drives. You may not know what you’ve got until they are put to the test.
I got my first flock when my Standard Poodle, Simon, was two years old. My partner and I had a shop where he worked full-time from the time he was a puppy. Although he was exceptionally well behaved he did require a bit of training when I got my first chicks. They were penned as young pullets and he was firmly corrected any time he showed interest, which included lunging at the fence. When the birds were a bit bigger they were let out to free-range and I walked with Simon on a short (then later, long) lead to monitor his reactions. When he discovered they were vendors of poop he quickly shifted his interest to their output.
Several years later, when I penned my birds he came to help with chicken chores daily. He never showed any aggression towards them, even when a protective hen charged feet first at him.
My current dog Lola, also a Standard Poodle, was more bouncy and less trustworthy when she was young. I live on 4 ½ acres and have fenced a ¼ acre off the side and back of the house for her, while my chickens are in a 30’x40’ pen across the driveway in front of the house. Since neither Lola nor my flock are free-ranging there hasn’t been a need to bring them together and she hasn’t seen my birds for years.
I have to mention though, that when I’ve had sick birds in the house she has shown absolutely no interest in them.
I think the goal is to strike a balance between a combination of the right dog with the right amount of training and supervision. I’m sure just about everyone who’s keep poultry has a negative story about dogs harassing or attacking their birds, me included. Part of my reason for penning my birds was to protect them from predators, including wandering dogs. Remember that contained birds (or dogs) required not just fencing, but overhead netting to prevent unplanned meetings of the two.
I’ve written about the damage that dogs can do, but for this post was looking for something more positive – the friendly, or at least tolerant, relationships between chickens and dogs. I asked folks on my Facebook page to share their stories and photos and here is a snippet of some of them.
Reformed Chicken Killer (Lisa Bakker)
“We got our French Bulldog when she was around 18 months: equal parts potato and rocket.
Around that time my best friend had a little hobby farm. We were there one day and Dottie was showing too much interest in the chickens, looking too intensely at them and then she chased one. When I went inside I made sure that all the many gates were closed so she couldn’t access them.
Unfortunately, with the many children around, I believe one of the gates was opened. I realized I hadn’t seen Dott for a while so I called and called. She finally came back with feathers sticking out of her mouth and blood on her side. My heart sank. Dottie got to one of my friend’s young hens.
About a year later we got a little flock of our own and I was a bit nervous. Once they were settled the work began to integrate Dottie with the flock.
Step 1: I kept the birds in their secure run and walked Dott around it on leash. If she even looked at a chicken she got corrected with a light leash tug and a low toned ‘leave it’. If she ignored the chickens she got calm, loving praise and pets. We did this for 3-4 days and moved on to the next step when I thought she was ready.
Step 2: I let the chickens in the yard and walked Dott around them on leash. Again, if she even looked at a chicken she was corrected. Praised for ignoring. We did this for about a week until she had zero excitable or interested reaction to the birds.
Step 3: Birds and Dott were all loose, but Dott was under my direct supervision at all times and close to me. She was verbally corrected anytime she looked at a bird and praised for ignoring them. By now the birds were getting used to her and walking quite close to her. She did amazing well.
Step 4: Slowly allowing her more autonomy in the yard, which happened over a period of a month.
She now spends many hours unsupervised with the birds. I trust her as much as I think you can trust any non-LGD (livestock guardian dog). She doesn’t react to them at all; eats alongside them sometimes, and occasionally a hen or two have even chased her.
It took time and patience but she co-exists so nicely with our girls. I do appreciate that she isn’t a natural hunter of small things like a terrier. I’m not sure if all that work would have been successful with those genetics.”
Therapy Chicken (Tara Lynn Miller)
“I see a lot of posts in online chicken groups from people concerned about whether getting a dog is a good or bad idea, and others that say that they have to keep their dogs and chicken separate or their dogs will kill their chickens. Still others complain about their neighbour’s dogs attacking and killing their chickens.
When I decided I was going to get chickens, I planned for it. I trained my dogs to ‘leave it’ early and often and exposed them to chicks as young as possible and continue to expose them to each other frequently, while teaching my dogs to ‘leave it’. I’ve never had any issues with the dogs attacking or bothering the chickens, but until recently I didn’t realize just how unusual the relationship was.
My Border collie cross, Tessa, has been having some pretty bad focal seizures for almost a year. Sometimes they last up to two days and it’s terrifying to watch, even though focal seizures aren’t violent convulsions like other seizures. Recently she had a seizure that lasted 1 ½ days even though we had given her the daily limit of Xanax.
My Buff Orpington, Lemon, is housebound right now, and she and the dogs have gotten along pretty well and have been able to share the same space in the house without any trouble. Lemon had plucked out her chest feathers and because it’s been bitterly cold I was concerned about putting her outside until her feathers grew back. She’s been used to being inside and has been from the start, and sometimes I think she prefers to be in the house with me then out with the flock.
It never fails to amaze me the relationship that some prey animals can have with potential predators. I have to say my chicken probably bullies the dogs a little more than anything else. If she wants to go into another room and a dog is laying in the doorway she’ll just stare her down until she gets up and leaves. It’s funny to watch.
I was cleaning house; my dog was in the bedroom to keep out of my way and Lemon followed her. I’ve never had any issues between the animals although I would never leave them home alone together. I walked into the bedroom and Lemon had gotten onto the bed and worked her way over to where my dog was sitting there shaking her head back and forth violently, and snuggled down next to her. She made a low pitched trilling sound like she did when she was a chick. I realized then that she was trying to calm Tessa down and to keep her calm. I was very impressed with Lemon, and even more impressed with Tessa because although they tolerate each other, they’re not exactly friends. Tessa let her snuggle right up next to her and shortly afterwards she came out of seizure.
Chickens are much more empathetic and smart than most people ever give them credit for. I’m grateful to have such a good girl who will get spoiled rotten to the day she dies.”
Desensitization Training (Meg Matthews Herman, previously published in BYC)
“My newly adopted 2 year old rescue dog’s entire body trembled with barely contained excitement when she first saw the chickens. I tried the short leash and correction method with no results. I have heard too many suggestions of “hang a dead chicken around their neck” and other useless bits of advice.
I decided to put two dog crates inside the house, approximately 8”-12” apart. At night I crated the dog in one, and put two of my chickens in the other. I did this nightly until every chicken in my flock had been rotated though the crate twice. My intention was that she might come to understand that the chickens were part of the pack and ‘family’ and that her trembling would stop, which it indeed had by the very first morning after. It took a few weeks to rotate all the chickens through, and during those days I worked on obedience training with her since she clearly had none.
So when this desensitization process with the chickens in the crates was complete, I then started taking her out to the flock on leash again, and slowly allowed her to approach the chickens, eventually feeling confident enough in her training to use the retractable leash unlocked, and then eventually off leash (that end stage of the process took a few days). She had learned the lesson. She was now able to approach the chickens without excitement and with a whole new mindset: to become the protector of her chicken pack.
All day long, for all the years we had chickens, she was devoted to the flock, checking on them, and ‘counting’ them to make sure they were all there, and frequently chasing off unwelcome dogs, coyote and fox.”
Rescue Chickens (Rebecca Billey)
“We take in chickens that wouldn’t make it in a flock: everything from seizures, messed up legs, allergies, neurological issues, inbreeding and rescues. Right now we just have Karen (neurological problems) and Dumpy (major breathing problems, no legs, and big wings), a Lab/Retriever cross, Hannah, and Kyle, the cat.
When we received our first ‘until’ (until her last breath she was going to be spoiled rotten in our home) I set the tone in our home that someone new was going to live with us and be a part of our family.
We do not have a normal flock. We just have our ‘Untils’ and ‘Not-Quite-Rights’.
When someone new comes in it always takes a minute for everyone to meet. I do some energy work and introduce the animals to each other, use their names constantly and have one call for all of them.
If they do have an issue I’m always aware and make sure nothing escalates. Hannah adores the chicks that come through, loves on the sick chickens and is buddies with the girls.
Our home has been a revolving door of rescues and I’ve never had any problems. It’s really sad when one passes because they all walk the hall, going into the bedrooms calling for their buddies.
Some breeds have a huge prey drive that has been instilled in them for hundreds of years. You can’t just flip a switch and hope things will all work out.”
If you’ve got a dog that is bred for tracking and hunting you might have to figure out strategies to keep your birds well protected. You might get lucky and find your dog can be trained, but be forewarned that dogs can cause serious injuries and death, even though that might not be their intention. When building your coop and run consider ways to keep your dogs separated from your birds.
Dogs with high prey drives include huskies, terriers and sight hounds. Livestock guardian dogs (LGD) include Great Pyrenees, Maremma and Anatolian Shepherd.
Many thanks to all the dog owners who shared their stories and photos. Featured photo credit: Annie Schmidlin