Achieving zen between free-ranging chicken and dog can be tricky but not impossible…
As an owner of a gun-dog breed I had my reservations about training a Springer Spaniel to ignore impulses her ancestors have been bred to do over centuries… detect, flush, retrieve!
If you too dream of watching both dog and chook in mutual harmony then I hope my personal experience integrating my own dog might help you. This post could still be worthwhile for those planning to keep chickens in a confined run, you never know when a chook will end up on the wrong side of the wire fence.
It took a couple of weeks but now I have a Springer Spaniel ‘at One with the Flock‘ 🖖
Some breeds will have a naturally higher prey drive than others, usually working/utility, sight hound, terrier, and gun-dog groups but every dog is different. If your dog fits into these those you might have a slightly harder time than say a Pug or Pappillon.
Keep in mind training is a matter of working out what method your pup responds best to. For those introducing a young puppy, you will find the time taken is much faster compared to an older dog that hasn’t seen chickens before (like mine!).
To protect your chickens in the early stages of training its best they are contained until you can 99% trust your dog when not under your supervision. I say 99% because I don’t think it can be guaranteed that your dog will follow his or her training in all situations.
Learning to Leave it!
If you already have a command like ‘Leave it!’ then skip ahead to the next step – if you don’t, then start inside with your dog and a handful of treats.
Practice ‘accidentally’ dropping a treat and use the term ‘Leave it!’ – if your dog pauses and doesn’t eat the forbidden treat then quickly reward with a different treat in your other hand (you need to be fast!). Do not give your dog the one on the floor!
If your dog is far too quick and manages to snuffaluffaguss that treat try placing it by your foot, move your foot to cover it and gradually phase this out as your dog starts to get the deal-io. Change the dropped treat to something more tempting if it’s getting too easy. Cheese is always a good one…
This exercise tells the dog that the object ‘dropped’ is out-of-bounds, and you are reinforcing that ignoring it is good behavior. Once your dog has mastered this, try it in different rooms, graduate to a spot outside or areas with more distractions to practice until you have no hiccups.
Introducing the Chickens
For the first few days you will need to keep your dog on a leash. Walk your dog around the chicken coop where the flock are secured & safe, hang out and reward him or her whenever they look to you or aren’t showing interest in the chickens.
The aim is to make everything else more exciting and happier than paying attention to the boring old chickens!
If your dog has 100% focus on the chooks start giving your dog a job – ask him to sit/lie-down/shake hands – praise and reward when these are done and your dog isn’t looking at the chickens. Don’t try using your ‘leave it!’ command in the 1st introduction unless you are confident, if it doesn’t get a desired response your dog will learn to ignore it.
If your dog is food motivated, treating little and often will ensure the attention is on you. If not, try their favourite toy or lots of pats and happy praises.
Next time start to introduce your ‘Leave it!’ command. Drop treats next to the coop, reward and praise when you get the desired response. These sessions should be 5-10 minutes at a time and should end on a good note, so if you don’t have any luck ask for something easy like a sit then praise and call it quits. End the session with a game of fetch or toy time out of sight of the chickens.
Release the chickens!
Keep your dog on the leash or change to a long rope so you have control when you release the chickens. Continue using your ‘Leave it!’, and give big rewards and praises – really make a fuss of your dog doing the right thing.
If your dog is ignoring you and instead giving the chickens a death stare you can give a quick and sharp tug on the lead after your ‘Leave it!’ command – this is to get attention/break focus only! It is firm and quick (much gentler for puppies), but not hard enough to inflict any pain. If no response, walk away from the chickens with your dog then praise when you have his or her attention. Return when you have a calmer dog, in fact working with a tired dog after a big walk or play session is easier.
Eventually you will be able to remove the leash altogether under supervision using the same exercises.
Its highly likely you will have a moment where your dog completely ignores you and takes off into chase, Hazel did this too but then realised 3 chickens can be a bit scary.
While you are training your dog your chickens will be getting braver – lucky our Daphne wasnt afraid to put Hazel in her place and since a mutual respect and/or indiference has grown 😂
‘Scuse me comin thru
Remember that little sessions with a positive end will get better results, it might not be fast but you will eventually get a dog that is happy and not tempted into chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Instead Hazel thinks chicken seed is far more interesting 🤔
So fingers crossed this blog post has helped you, your dog, and your flock a little! Let me know your thoughts – have you tried a different method that’s worked? Share some of your photos, I’d love to see your dogs and chooks or any feedback you might have 😘🐶
Ciao for now