Friday, August 20, 2010

Chickens and Dogs

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by Barbara Palermo

I love dogs. I also love chickens. One of my dogs (a golden retriever), pays no attention to the hens – except for having an insatiable appetite for the pooh they leave behind. I am certain, however, that my other dog (a Blue Heeler/border collie mix) would chase down and destroy my chickens in a heartbeat … if given the opportunity.

So the trick is not to give him the opportunity.

To avoid problems, we constructed a chicken run made of half-inch hardware cloth (buried 4 inches below the ground) and surrounded by stone pavers, so nothing can get through, over or under – and all the doors have locks. It’s more than predator-proof, it’s bullet-proof. My chicken-eating dog, Tucker, is satisfied circling the coop, watching quietly, waiting and hoping, and sometimes drooling.

The chickens are not afraid of Tucker because they know they’re safe. They peacefully go about their business of bug-hunting, scratching and dust-bathing. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d swear they were taunting him by doing this as close to the wire fence as possible.

In the two years that I’ve had the birds I am happy to report no incidents – except for once when Tucker jumped up and managed to pluck a few tail feathers while I was holding one of my girls. Believe me, that will never happen again.

The point here is that some dogs do fine with chickens and some don’t, but that is no reason for municipalities to reject a chicken-keeping ordinance. During our long struggle to legalize backyard chickens in Salem, Ore., one city councilor seemed overly concerned that barking dogs would somehow bark more than usual if they sensed the presence of a chicken in the neighborhood. I can’t help but wonder how one would go about quantifying how much more a barking dog barks and what exactly it’s barking at. We also dealt with opponents who clung to a state policy that says dogs can be put down if caught harming livestock. This, of course, can be easily resolved by changing the definition of livestock to exclude backyard chickens (see my blog about city ordinances and the definition of livestock).


When filming the movie “The Chicken Revolution” we visited chicken-keepers throughout the Pacific Northwest, many of whom have dogs of various breeds that got along wonderfully with the hens. These included a collie, Boston terrier and corgi. Then there’s my golden retriever, Slacker, who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of horror stories about dogs killing chickens. I personally know a dog that would love to get his paws on a chicken, but I have thus far managed to prevent him from living out his fantasy. You know your dog; if you suspect it might harm your chickens, take the necessary precautions and help keep these stories to a minimum. Let’s not give city councilors more excuses for rejecting an ordinance that allows people to keep a limited number of backyard chickens.

For more information about the movie “The Chicken Revolution” or help changing city ordinances where you live, go to http://www.chicken-revolution.com/.

28 comments:

  1. I was convinced my little dog (a pound rescue) who seemed to hate the chickens would eat them or at the very least, chase them to death. However, my man persuaded me to let her get to know them. Now, they get along and once in a great while, she'll lose her little doggie mind, and chase one for a moment. Later, she saved the life of one that was trapped in the hay shed, because she dug and dug at the area where it was trapped, and we finally moved the round bales out, and there was the missing chicken!

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  2. My dog--1/2 border collie, 1/4 blue heeler, 1/4 Australian shepherd--LOVES our chickens and ducks. His favorite thing is when they manage to flutter over the fence, because he can then devote his afternoon to keeping them within two feet of their enclosure, until we get home from work. I've seen him do this, and he's very safe about it--although, the first time, I was terrified. Two of our chickens got out of the fence and he ran directly at them, barking. We tried to call him off, but he ignored us. Once they were quite close to the fence, he lay down and watched them. If they left whatever perimeter he had in mind, he would growl or bark, and then settle down once they were back where he thought they belonged. He does this on his own; we're hoping to actually train him in herding next summer, so that we can explain to him where we want the chickens and ducks to stay, in case it's a location other than the pen (for example, if we set the ducks to forage in the garden). I think it depends on the dog, whether it's ok with fowl, but we've been quite pleasantly surprised by ours.

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  3. I have a 3 year old German Sheperd, and he is a hunter. Sofar, encounters, or attempts to socialize him with chickens, have not gone well. My son has been begging me to get him chickens, so I think I will build a Fort Knox and try it.

    In regards to your chicken run, did you bend the hardcloth to the outside, bury it, then put pavers over that? Or are the pavers just to deter the digging?

    This is a timely article for us, thank you!

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  4. Having 50 Guinea Fowl, and three chickens free rangeing my property, and living in the 'wilds' of the Blue Ridge Mountains, my two Border Collies are in heaven when I let all my fowl out in the morning, and until they go into their log/coop for the night. Moonie, and Guss are with them every minute, and watching over them, and protecting them. The Guineas expect them to be there, and they all walk closely with each other as they eat the bugs, ticks, and assoerted wild grasses that surround my home.

    Since I hatch, and sell the Guinea Keets, I over time have kept many as well, and each baby keet is held to my Border Collies nose when they are born, and I just tell them both, "Here's another one you have to protect!" They wag their tails, and go off doing their daily job of watching over my fowl.

    If by chance they wander into the woods, or high on the brush covered hills, I just send my two Border Collies to bring them back, and they always do. So funny watching them herding a flock of Guineas through the woods, and high brush. They will work them as they would sheep, or cattle. If a spat starts between two males Moonie will quickly split them up, and all is normal again. I never get tired of watching my Border Collies interact with all my Guineas, and it is priceless.

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  5. David, did you train your collies, or are they just doing what comes naturally?

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  6. I have two English Shepherds that protect my 8 chickens from hawks and buzzards and herd them out of the front garden. The chickens are perfectly safe around the dogs, even newly hatched chicks, although they are hunters/killers of rabbits, moles, mice. The dogs also drive off raccoons, foxes, possums and deer. Most of my neighbors have lost chickens to predators in the last few years but I haven't lost any yet, mainly due to the dogs.

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  7. I have an English Bulldog that kept attacking the coop until he manages to pull the fencing away in one corner. One of my hens got out and he killed it. I reinforced the coop and he has now realized that it is useless to try anymore.

    However, The other day I opened the door to the nesting box to retrieve some eggs and he jumped up and bit one of the hens on the butt. I have tried everything to get him to get along with the chickens, but I think it is a losing battle.

    I read somewhere that the only way to break a dog of killing chickens is to tie a dead chicken to their neck for a few days until it starts to rot. It doesn't hurt the dog. He will be miserable.. but will not go near another chicken again. I may try this the next time he kills one.

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  8. We have 4 dogs and let our 4 Guineas, 8 chickens, and a rooster out of their quite large coop and pen every day to wander through our yard, about 1 acre. The two Chihuahuas pay no attention to them, except to roll in the poop, the old English Labrador doesn't seem to notice them at all BUT the 1 year old German Shepherd is very aware of them all. She has never nipped or bit one that I know of but likes to rush them occasionally to "ruffle their feathers" and will chase them. She knows that the chickens are a "Leave It!" item and so only misbehaves a little, like she does with the other 3 dogs (she is young.) I believe the trick is to raise the dogs from a puppy, as we did, and socialize them to all kinds of other pets, children, and people.

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  9. Our 7 year old chow mix sweetheart of a dog co-exists very nicely with our five hens; but, we haven't been able to convince our 1.5 year old yellow lab that they are off limits. As a result, they cannot share the yard. When the chickens are out of the coop free-ranging, the lab is in his crate. When the lab is out, the chickens are in the enclosed outdoor pen. It seems to work, but occasionally, something happens where they both escape into the same space and the lab will chase and corner the chicken and I have no doubt, he would eat her if he could. Would love to find a way to overcome this (especially reading that a golden, another bird hunting breed) can be great with your girls. But, I'm just too afraid to put it to the test for fear of losing one of our beloved feathering friends.

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  10. The ONLY time my dogs have ever barked about my chickens is when they were in trouble with some form of predator, or someone else's dogs! Otherwise they just pretty much ignore them. Even my Rat Terrier Tucker never bothers them... and I really worried about what he would do when I first got the chicks. Ha, I remember one night standing in the brooder room and Buddy my Lab/Border Collie mix was staring strangely at his food dish. As I neared his dish I suddenly realized what he was staring at. One of the baby chicks had jumped the shield and landed there! He reached down and very gently picked up the little chick and then let me take it from his mouth without a struggle. Dogs are trainable, but you have to do it right from the beginning. ":<>

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  11. David and Alisha,
    We got a Border Collie this year to help us keep track of the poultry, particularly the Standard Bronze turkeys. They forage far, including our neighbor's yard! So far, at 7 months, he take a herding approach, but still is too excited I guess. He gets too close, scares them, they fly up, then I think he considers the chase game ON. Any advise appreciated on training, etc.
    Phyllis

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  12. Phyllisw8, I wish I had anything useful to tell you. Our dog is only 6 months old, and I honestly believe that he's just operating on great instincts. Mostly, I think, we appeal to his sense of order. He knows where the chickens "belong" and his overriding instinct is to keep them there. I will say, he really looks like he is chasing the chickens sometimes when he herds them. The way we figured out what he was doing was that we just froze and kept silent (but close enough to rescue a hen if he hurt her) and watched. It turned out that what looked like chasing and flustering was really a pretty sophisticated herding procedure, and he stopped the minute the hens were back where they belonged. We'd love to train him a bit better so that we could switch where "belonging" is and also so he would perhaps separate one chicken from the flock for us, or that sort of thing.

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  13. Mark: That works for the chicken killers as well as all the other dogs who were watching. My son has 8 dogs of breeds from chihauhau to Britianny Spaniel to Pit Bull. None of them bothers the free range chickens, guineas, and turkeys that he has since the day of the "great chicken masarcre" by a young Spaniel (12 chicks in 5 minutes during a thunderstorm). Tied up with a dead chick around her next for two days and she never looks at a chicken again.

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  14. I've had chickens for over 30 years, and have had golden retreivers, German Shepard, and Rottweillers. Both Rotts went after, and killed a chicken. I then followed the dog w/a pop can w/a few coins inside it. When the dog started to chase a chicken, I'd throw the pop can at it. After a few times, the dog stopped chasing, and I never had a problem again. You just gotta train them right from the start--it's not hard, you just have to be there and be consistent.

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  15. Our 7 year old German Shepherd, Sadie, was only introduced to a couple chickens 2 years ago and was curious about them but never chased them. Now we have 40+ free-range chickens and she is protective of them, even training a new puppy last year not to chase or stalk them. However, our most recent puppy addition (at 8 months old already) is completely impossible to train about the chickens, he does not respect Sadie's rebuking or our reprimands either :( he seems to be a lab/collie or lab/hound dog mixed breed. He will be going to a nice family in town soon, with no chickens :)

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  16. I have Rottweilers and English Setters. My Rottweilers have always been great with the chickens. Occasionally they'll key in on an obnoxious rooster, but mostly they just enjoy the gifts - eggs and poop. When I did rescue work with homeless Rottweilers, I had a chicken killing Rottweiler dumped at my house - the dog would either be killed or I would take it to foster. He was loose with my chickens within a week without a problem. It helps that my birds are calm around Rottweilers - other breeds of dogs are cause for alarm.

    The bird dogs do what comes naturally - stalk and point, but aren't killers. Both are rescues. It took the first one about 18 months before he could be trusted not to chase the chickens when they're loose. But even when he chased them (and sometimes caught them) he wasn't going for the instant kill like some dogs. The new one, a pup of 10 months old, is still in the chase mode, but after a month he's pretty good around them already. Lots of stalking and pointing, but when he chases it's not to catch/kill. Of course I'm discouraging this behavior, and sometimes have to tie him up when he gets overexcited/overstimulated, but he's a bird dog, he can't help instinct!

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  17. We have 2 great pyrenees and 1 marrema in with the goats and incidently in with the chickens also, as they free range. They guard the chickens right along with the goats. Even when I tell my aussie to chase the chickens away from the dog food pans the "big whites" come over and tell her that's a no-no. The only problem was when they were puppies a few chickens died from being "played to death'. But these dogs are so smart a good tongue lashing was all they needed to learn to leave them alone. Well, that and growing up a bit. Word of caution: these dogs instinctively bark all night so they wouldn't work well in a close neighbor situation. lol

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  18. I have 5 dogs,a newfoundland,black lab,border collie,an aussie and a maltese.And 24 chickens and 1 rooster that free range all day long.
    The dogs watched the chicks grow to chickens. I kept the chicks in a trough in my house for a couple of weeks, so the dogs learned that the chickens were just a part of the farm.
    Donna L

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  19. My 2 Border Collies didn't take much training, pretty much bred into them. I did walk them with a short rope near, and around my Guineas, and just kept saying "good boy", or "no." Did this about 3 days, and that was that! If one bird cannot figure how to get over the fence, they will give them a little nudge, and up and over they go. My Border Collies do not like to see one lone bird by themselves, so they make sure in one or the other, they get back with the others, and I have 50 Guineas free roaming during the day.

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  20. Yes indeed. My lab can NOT be trusted with access to my chickens. She has already claimed a few over the last few years. She knows not to follow me into the fenced off chicken yard. But if a chicken flys across into her area she goes for it. I keep their wings clipped and we raised the fence higher.

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  21. I watched a Dog Whisperer episode recently where a family had a retrieving breed of dog that killed one of their pet chickens. Ceasar did a de-sensitizing session with the dog that seemed to work quite well. He had the dog lie down in the grass (with a short leash on) and put his own pet chicken on the dog's back... never letting go of the chicken of course. Each time the dog tried to turn to get the chicken, Ceasar would do a quick "bite" on the dog's neck using his fingers to act as the pack leader's teeth since the dogs can only have what the pack leader allows. It wasn't too long before the dog understood that the chicken was off limits. He also did this with his sons' pet hamster and rabbit. At the end of the session the chicken, rabbit, and hamster were all in front of the dog on the grass and the dog couldn't have cared less. He was adamant that the family would need to reinforce this by their behavior. In a future update it showed the dog in the yard with the chickens loose and no interaction at all between them. Very interesting episode.

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  22. My Shepherd/Chow mix has a "job" to watch over my 21- 10 week old Barred Rocks while they are out and about. He doesn't usually pay much attention, but every so often, he runs into the middle of a bunch of them, and sends them squawking. He then has a delighted look on his face! The other day he did it with a ball in his mouth. Maybe he was looking for a play mate!

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  23. Interesting comments - but there's always the exception. I've had two...a Pyrenees X German Shepherd and a little mutt. The Pyr cross killed a pen full of chickens and ducks - over a dozen. Severely punished, I've done the Cesar training with him. Yes he knows he's not to touch the chickens and he's confined - but when the rooster got close enough it was rooster dinner.

    The little mutt was many years ago. Again...desensitizing and training seemed to work. She'd look away when a chicken got near food. Until the day she got loose and killed 3 garbage cans full of them. over 70 birds spread over 3 acres until nothing was moving.

    There comes a point when you have to make a choice. The Pyr was gotten to protect the rabbits and birds..not kill them. And he'd get in that pen or any other if he wanted to. Tieing a bird on them...thanks for the trophy/to go treat! He'd LOvE it...and it wouldn't teach a thing.

    Not all can be trusted...including guardian breeds with proper introductions. I have 9 dogs and chickens - 7 are great, 1 has learned to leave them alone - the other...well let's just say keeping chickens and dog apart is priority.

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  24. Glad to hear I am not the only chicken poo eating dog owner! EWwww! I let the chickens out when the dogs are in, put the chickens in let the dogs out!I have been able to manage this through the use of a doggie door with a slide in panel. They all seem pretty used to it by now. But trust my Yorkie, my Dorkie or my Golden with my girls?? NO WAY!

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  25. Bottom line, know your dog's prey drive. They are just doing what comes natural... Our 20+ sled dog kennel is fenced so there is no room for error. However, our free-ranging house dogs (which includes an
    Alaskan sled dog and an Australian Cattle Dog) pay no attention to the chickens or even chicks by their side. We also have free-ranging rabbits, with the same effect.

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  26. You know I said on Oct 5th there was no way I could let my dogs out in the yard with my chickens? Well I have been doing it for a week the yorkie gives chase every now and then but they are all Free ranging together now! I never would have believed it a few weeks ago!

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  27. my crazy little border collie/ aussie mix has been great with my small flock! but low and behold, my second son moved home with his big old chesapeake Bay retriever who is a big lovable lug that loves to attack chickens! So I to was getting pretty lackadaisical(sp?) with the girls and they freeranged everywhere! Maybe to many places, the the neighbors were always coming by to tell me where they were. So "Blake" has changed that I told kevin he had to build me a STURDY fence to keep big boy out! So off to Lowes and he used a post hole digger, 4ft tbars, and I think it is called hog wire. Also his creative mother the chicken keepe,had bought a old gate, and my handy sun installed the gate with a gate post! He dug deep and graveled it in so we did not need to use concrete. The fence is incorporated into the back of the coop, and my little aframe chicken tractor is in the enclosure also. I use it for the new chicks that enter my little harem. The pen takes up an area in the very back of our yard. The girls actually love it, jump out on occasion even with the 4 ft fence, but I think they know theyare safe in there. I did not dig it deep but at least it gives me a chance or the dogs to get out there and check any commotion. I have set up some cover for them with hay bales and plywood to dodge the local hawks . I sunk a bunck of forsysthia, and viburnum branches in the corneres to root to provide some natural cover for this hot summer! I am reallly thrilled with the new setup, and feel that they are safer, from Blake and all the neighborhood predators! Jenny

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  28. I'm getting a 8 week old border collie/collie mix and I have chickens I'm hoping I can train the puppy not to kill my chickens. Any help how to introduce the puppy to the chickens

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