by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
|French Black Copper Maran Chicks|
Right now at Iron Oak Farm, we have baby everything! Baby chicks, baby ducks, baby goats, and even a puppy!
It can be a challenge coordinating all the needs of these growing animals at once, but it’s a job that I cherish and wouldn’t trade for the world. One of the biggest challenges is trying to fit a growing and curious dog into a farm filled to the brim with prey animals.
Breed vs. Training
According to a Google search, the Komondor seems to get the most votes for “best dog breed to have around chickens.” It is a large Hungarian breed with a distinctive “cord” coat that resembles a mop head. It was bred to defend livestock and, according to owners, takes its job very seriously, needing a firm and knowledgeable trainer. But for the rest of us, who don’t have a Komondor sleeping at the foot of our beds each night, there’s still hope.
|My first chicks with our golden retriever, Beau (I was 14, ha!)|
As a family, we’ve had an array of different dogs over the years: a terrier mutt from a shelter that was one of the sweetest dogs I’ll ever know, a German shepherd that wandered into the yard pregnant and abused and never left us, and a Lhasa apso/poodle that the neighbor didn’t want. (She had crooked teeth and was allergic to everything, but we loved her just the same.) Along with this lovable ragtag team, for more than 40 years my family has consistently had a golden retriever in our lives. It’s been goldens that I’ve raised most of my chickens around. And even though they are considered a “bird dog,” goldens were bred to retrieve a dead bird, not necessarily “hunt” one and kill it. We’ve had great success raising chickens with golden retrievers, and never had an attack or an injury. But I don’t attribute this success to breed alone.
|Ceddie in the chicken coop|
Some dogs have an instinctively higher prey drive, and it’s important to do research before bringing any animal into your home. With that being said, I found testimony and examples of many dog breeds that have been successfully raised around chickens. With proper training, many dogs can grow up with chickens without constant fear of attack. In some cases, dogs can even be trained to protect chickens from predators, and have been known to “mother” baby chicks.
|Oliver meeting the chicks|
When Oliver was very little, we started out by holding him close to the chicks, letting him smell them and learn what they were. When he would start to fuss and wiggle to get closer, we took him away. That way he learns that when he behaves well, he gets to get closer … and when he misbehaves, he doesn’t get to see them at all.
We also don’t encourage chase games, even when the chickens are not involved. We don’t want him to associate “chasing” or “catching us” with fun and rewards.
|Oliver watching the show|
Now that he is getting a bit bigger, we are allowing Oliver a “through the fence” approach to the chickens. When he bolts we tell him “no” and move him away from the fence until he has calmed, then give him a reward. We only allow “through the fence” interaction at this point, because he is still very young and not fully vaccinated.
As he gets older, we will progress to just having him on the leash. Already, he is losing interest in the chickens. Where it used to be fascinating for him, he barely notices them unless someone is squawking or being particularly flighty.
|Ceddie looking for eggs|
Our last dog, Ceddie, would let the chickens land on him, pick bits of this and that out of his fur, and I could trust him to come in the coop with me to collect eggs. I hope Oliver can have that same relationship, as it made life so much easier for us.
When raising chickens and dogs together, while it’s important to protect our chickens from being attacked, it’s also important to protect Oliver’s health as well. All of our dogs have considered chicken poo a delicacy. They are true connoisseurs, and if they could talk, could probably recommend a wine complement. And while it’s a disgusting habit, our adult dogs have never had any known health problems associated with this weird tendency. That being said, it’s not something to encourage, and it’s definitely not a good idea for a puppy to ingest droppings.
|No, Mom, I wasn’t digging.|
Always talk with your vet first. Ask when is a good time to allow your puppy around your chickens. Discuss worming options, risk for parasites or protozoa infections like coccidiosis, talk about vaccination options for diseases like listeria, and keep current with wellness exams and fecal tests.
We keep Oliver’s play area and his spot to relieve himself away from the chickens, on the opposite side of the yard. We also keep our barn shoes away from his access so he doesn’t chew on contaminated soles, and wash our hands after handling the chickens and before petting Oliver or handling his food or toys.
Happy Dogs, Happy Chickens
While proper training and healthy, supervised interaction are important, a well-exercised and stimulated dog can make all the difference. Boredom and pent-up energy can be a ticking time bomb waiting to explode on a flock of flapping chickens. Lots of exercise, plenty of fun, interesting toys and positive games can leave a dog satisfied and less ready to pounce on poor Henrietta.
I also try to avoid buying toys that are reminiscent of a chicken. The pet stores and even hunting supply stores sell some pretty realistic stuffed dog toys. I’m not sure if dogs make that connection, but why take the chance?
Remember that not all dogs are a great match for chickens. As a dog owner, I have a responsibility to my other animals and to my neighbors’ animals to make sure that everyone is healthy and safe. Leashes go a long way, and proper fencing and secure housing is also important.
|Ceddie and the Speckled Sussex|
Talk to a Professional
If this is your first time raising dogs and chickens, or if you’re simply not comfortable going at it alone, another option is to speak with a dog obedience trainer. Many of the pet supply stores and doggy day-cares offer obedience and socialization classes.These people can give you advice on how to train your specific dog. They can do an evaluation of your dog’s personality, and work with you one-on-one to reach your goals.
With some time, effort and common sense, I’ve found raising both dogs and chickens to be a rewarding endeavor. The presence of both in our lives completes the feeling of home on our farm.
To read more about our baby animals visit www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com.