Meet Bruce. Bruce is a 4-year-old Lab/Pug mix. Bruce has a lot of energy, he’s super sweet, loves to play, is always down to cuddle, but doesn’t listen and has killed chickens before.
Bruce uses his super speed to patrol all backyard activities. While he spares the neighborhood rabbits, his territory remains an alley-cat free zone!
Knowing what we know about Bruce, how on earth am I going to get chickens and let them free-range in the backyard!?
Bruce has a ton of energy and is relatively disobedient, but his interaction with the neighborhood rabbits tells me that he can be persuaded to leave the chickens alone.
The first part of addressing a problem is admitting there is one. There is a reason for Bruce’s behavior. I believe that he isn’t getting enough exercise, attention, and positive reinforcement. If I start working with him and become a human that he wants to please, I believe he will be more open to training and correction. He is about to start getting more walks and play-time!
So let’s assume that I will become the apple of his eye and sweet little Bruce will become a better, more obedient listener. Bring in the chickens!
The chickens I’m getting are a year old. They are used to people and barnyard pets. My hope is that they will startle less so Bruce’s chase will be less exciting for him.
Keep the chickens in a safe place.
The small flock will be kept in a chicken run that is sitting in our raised bed pumpkin patch. It will be hard for Bruce to dig under.
After walking and playing, Bruce will be taken out on a leash to see the chickens. During this time I will verbally correct if he appears to have less than innocent intentions. I will also lead him away if he begins to get too excited. I will also make a point to praise him for losing interest in them. This process will be repeated at least twice per day for the first week.
I will begin letting chicken roam while Bruce is tethered or on his leash. I will repeat the actions of praise and correction. Once Bruce has shown that he can be calm with one chicken roaming in his yard, I will add another. I will keep doing this until all four are in the yard. These interactions will be multiple times per day.
During this time I will also assess this group of chickens ability to jump and may clip their wings.
We are assuming that Bruce is less excitable and cares more about what I think at this point. He will be allowed to roam with the chickens. As in week two, I will start this process with one chicken at a time. I will give him guidance to “stay down”, “be gentle”, and “stay”. During this time he will be closely monitored and while I will try to keep a calm yet dominant demeanor, I will be ready to interject.
If my verbal corrections aren’t working, this could be the time to implement a training tool. Knowing Bruce, I think a “shaker can” would work well to break his attention from the birds if he becomes aggressively focused. If the can isn’t working then one could try using a training collar. I would like to avoid those options and keep this chicken experience as positive as possible.
This is the part where your good dog is really understanding that these chickens are now part of the scenery and not just that… You like them! You are going to start giving your pup more space with the chickens. They should be used to each other at this point. Continue to give guidance and feedback to your pup as it goes about its yard business. Are you going to be able to leave your dog alone with these chickens?
Be honest with yourself. Some dogs will never be able to be left alone with the chickens. Some dogs will have given themselves a guardian position to protect your new interest. While they are all trainable, their personalities and level of self-control without you will vary pup-to-pup. I’m going to paint a portrait of what we have been trying to accomplish…
By this point, you should at least be able to have a more enjoyable experience letting your chickens and dog coexist. Picture your chickens pecking through the grass and talking to each other, your pup laying in the shade unamused or chasing butterfly shadows. A cool breeze comes through and plays those windchimes in just the right way; the beverage of your choice in hand. Everyone is getting along and you had eggs for breakfast!
This is what a summer evening on an urban homestead should feel like!
Here is a video that I found helpful.
Update on Bruce: He’s doing okay. We are still working on overall obedience, but his listening skills are getting much better. He seems to be sacked out to the chickens, and more protective of the yard than he had been before. I’m looking forward to having good news to report on this guy.