Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 4, 2016

Dogs and Chickens Can Get Along Fine

Posted at 01:02PM - Comments: (6)

When I first saw the adolescent canine who was to become my darling dog Otto, in my local shelter in June 2008, his cage card warned “Kills chicken” – an endearing typo that evidently meant he had either killed a chicken, or makes a habit of killing chickens. There is no way to know what was meant by that now, but the fact is, I brought home three adult laying hens in late 2010, and after a single warning to Otto (No! Off!), he’s been completely trustworthy with the birds, even when they are loose and walking around the backyard, something I allow them to do mostly in the winter, after our summer vegetable garden is done.

laying hens

He made a predatory move toward a chicken one time in the eight years I’ve shared with him. Our next door neighbors have six or so hens, one of whom got in the habit of flying over the fence into our backyard (tiring of having to rescue her frequently, they eventually rehomed her). She miscalculated and flew into our chicken pen once, and my hens attacked her, causing a loud ruckus that brought my husband out of his home office (I wasn’t home) and forced him to wade into the melee to save her. His inexperience with fowl (I don’t think he’s touched a chicken before or since!) caused a lot of flapping and squawking, and, as he described it to me later, caused Otto to just sort of forget himself for a moment. He jumped up onto my husband, mesmerized by the wildly flapping chicken that my husband was attempting to carry to and fling back over the neighbor’s fence. When my husband, shocked, exclaimed, “OTTO! NO!” Otto looked embarrassed and immediately slunk away.  He’s not made an error in avian judgment since.

I was worried that it was going to take a bit more to keep the chickens safe from my new puppy, Woody – until one of the now-mature hens took puppy-training into her own hands . . . er, beak.

Woody likes to walk around their pen and stare at the hens, an activity I call him away from whenever I catch him at it. I’ve given him the “No! Off!” speech at least a dozen times; he’s much more persistent than Otto ever was in the face of this message, and I’ve worried that I may never be able to allow the chickens to walk around loose with impunity again. But we’ll see; there has been a potentially game-changing event.

This morning, I was washing dishes and saw Woody standing, staring, just outside the chicken yard, his nose pressed against the chicken-wire. I was just about to rap on the kitchen window and call to him when I saw one of the hens TROT toward the fascinated puppy and PECK him right on the end of his nose through the fence! He yelped in surprise and pain, and ran from the pen with his tail tucked between his legs. A perfectly timed correction, delivered at just the right time in his as-yet-inexperienced life – and one that had nothing to do with me, that he won’t/can’t associate with me.

I can’t wait for tomorrow, to see if he will avoid the chicken pen, or go back to investigate some more. Life with a puppy is never dull!

Comments (6)

A word of warning -
I have a Chesapeake Bay Retriever American Bulldog mix that was raised with cats, house rabbits and hamsters. For the first 3 years of her life Rose was a gentle respectful house mate to the other animals. Circumstances presented them selves and Rose learned how much fun it was to chase/catch small animals.

One spring we had an invasion of both moles and voles. She learned that small running things are fun to play with. Rose has now become an expert hunter of ground dwelling vermin. Can't trust her with hamsters.

The same year in the fall a woodchuck got into the yard ... big furry things are much better toys than small furry things. Rose has since caught wild rabbits and another woodchuck. Can't trust her with cats and rabbits.

Just because a dog is raised with other animals does not mean the dog will be safe to interact with them for life. Over the years of the dogs that I have owned 3 were "animal safe" for life and 2 learned to play with small animals.

Posted by: Kate-S | April 11, 2016 1:51 PM    Report this comment

Just finished reading Otto and Woody's chicken experiences, and it occurred to me that some point the editorship will be passed on to someone else, and so the blog probably will be too. I am hoping that you will continue your blog someplace where we, the readers, will be able to continue following stories of the pack.

Posted by: 3grrrs | April 7, 2016 1:53 PM    Report this comment

I love your stories about Woody and Otto all your dogs. Keep em coming!

Posted by: Chester's mom | April 5, 2016 12:53 PM    Report this comment

My neighbor's dogs were attacking her chickens. So, instead of building a secure chicken pen, she tied up her dogs and let the chickens run free all over the place. Skewed priorities. ... Chickens run free all over Hawaii. We often see them running on the road during our (leashed) dog walks. I have to be careful to call them "big birds" because my dogs associate the word "chicken" with food and treats.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | April 5, 2016 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Glad to hear about your success, but be very careful. Never trust that the problem is solved with your puppy. Him showing interest so early may be an indication of a strong prey drive, which comes from genetics and is difficult to address with training. Dogs don't know right from wrong, so even though you might feel you have taught him this, he hasn't learned it the way you think. He has had only a single positive punishment experience, and this may "last" for a while. But his instincts could cick in at any time, and seem unexpected and sudden to you. Trust me on this. Two months ago, I had to make the heartwrenching decision to put my beloved well-trained 4 year-old dog down, after he suddenly, skillfully and severely attacking a large livestock animal that had to be put down due to its injuries. My dog had completely turned into a "wild wolf" and he was in it for the very important kill for survival. He could not be stopped. I was devastated (and still am) for having to make the decision to put him down, but he could never be trusted in our world again. I was with my beloved dog to the last breath. The hardest thing I have done. He was so beautiful, intelligent and loving. I can only hope we will meet again "on the other side" some day.

Posted by: Tori | April 5, 2016 11:55 AM    Report this comment

It's always interesting to me when people who would never think of using positive punishment to train their dog, are so delighted when the environment does it effectively for them. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Pat Engel, CPDT-KA | April 5, 2016 11:10 AM    Report this comment

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