Are Dogs Good With Chickens?

Are your dogs and chickens able to peacefully coexist?


When I was about five years old, my parents moved our family from the San Francisco Bay area to a rural farming area about an hour out of the city. Almost all of our neighbors were farmers; there were only a few small properties like ours that weren’t part of a farm. Both of my parents and all of my siblings liked dogs, and this was the 1960s – before widespread spay/neuter campaigns – so in very short order, we had a whole pack of pet dogs. Soon enough, my siblings engaged in 4-H clubs, and despite both of my parents knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about caring for animals, we acquired a pony and a horse to ride, a steer and a lamb (ostensibly to be raised for meat), and lots of chickens that we raised for eggs.

We were lucky in that only one of the dozen or so dogs that I can name who lived with our family during that time had an appetite for chickens. Sam was a purebred Old English Sheepdog who came to our family after getting banned from his original San Francisco family (friends of my parents) for biting the neighbors’ kids. (He may have been hustled out under cover of darkness; there was some urgency to his arrival at our house.) But once Sam discovered that biting chickens was far more pleasurable than biting children, our flock slowly diminished.

My naïve mother asked the local farmers what they would do with a dog who killed chickens. Somehow, the concept of locking up the dog in a pen was never suggested. Instead, a horrific prescription was made: Tie one of the dead chickens to the dog’s collar and make him drag it around for days. The idea was supposed to be that the dog would soon tire of the smell and burden, and would associate this punishment with the sight of any future potential chicken meals. My mother recruited my 12-year-old brother and some of his 12-year-old friends to accomplish the task of tying one of Sam’s victims to the dog’s collar. The project stunk, literally and metaphorically, and did nothing to dissuade Sam from snacking on the dead chicken as he went about his day. I’m sure the farmer who made this suggestion to my mother laughed as they witnessed the giant dog running through their fields and orchards with the stinking partial corpse of a chicken flying behind him.

If they did laugh, they stopped once Sam moved on to preying on their chickens. Soon, no one who lived within a mile of us had chickens. And then Sam disappeared.

My parents told us that because of Sam’s chicken-killing, they had found him a home on a sheep ranch that we could see from Highway 80 whenever we drove from our rural home back to San Francisco for gatherings with our aunts and uncles and cousins. They explained, “He is a sheep dog! He needed to live with sheep to herd!” and they would encourage us to “Look for Sam!” as we drove by the farm at 70 miles per hour on the highway. Because the large wooly dog resembled a sheep himself, almost always one of us four kids would be convinced we had seen Sam among the sheep. My dad always drove fast, but as the youngest child in the family, it took years for me to realize that he seemed to drive particularly fast past the sheep ranch.

(Funny/not funny story: When I was an adult and my son was about 4 years old, we had a huge family gathering for Easter. Somehow, the topic of dogs came up at the dinner table, and one of our guests said something about their childhood dog being disappeared to – and here she made double air-quotes with her hands – “a farm in the country.” Everyone chuckled sympathetically, but then my oldest sister chirped, “But when we were kids, my parents really DID send one of our dogs to live on a farm – a sheep farm! We used to see him from the highway when we drove by!” I looked down the long table at my parents, who were seated side-by-side at one end. Both were very busy with their food, looking down at their plates. The laughter at the table grew louder, accompanied by quite a lot of choking sounds, as my parents pointedly kept up the pretense of not hearing the discussion and enjoying their food, and my 40-year-old sister’s voice pitched higher as the last vestiges of her childhood innocence were destroyed. “Wait! What? He did go to that farm, didn’t he? Mom? Dad? What? Sam? Really?”)

Anyway, all that was going through my head when I brought my dog Otto home from the shelter a little more than 14 years ago, because it said, right there on his cage card on the shelter pen, “Kills chicken.” That typo has amused me for many years now. Did they mean “kills chickens” or that he “killed a chicken? I’ll never know. But at any rate, I knew I would have to manage my new 7-month-old dog around my three pet laying hens in order to prevent carnage.

otto's kennel card
A copy of Otto’s shelter cage card from 2008. A shelter staffer noted at the bottom, “Kills chicken.”

Perhaps because the pen my chickens were in was quite secure, or because I carefully supervised Otto at all times in the first few months I had him, or simply because the former stray dog was now well-fed, all I had to do was to take Otto to the chicken pen on a leash and tell him “Leave it!” when he looked at them, and give him treats when he looked away. He got it right on day one, and in 14 years, has never harmed any of their poultry successors (though when I introduced him to some newly hatched baby chicks, he did lick his lips a bit hungrily). So much for the “kills chicken” warning.

My middle-aged dog, Woody, has always had a loving, paternal response to any small or young creatures. When he is introduced to chickens, young or adult, his first response is always a soft, happy wag; then he wants to lick them, and especially their nether ends, like a mother dog cleaning her puppies. When my cranky older hens take it upon themselves to run toward him, shooing him away from whatever they are eating, he always shoos, looking sad and puzzled as to why they can’t be friends.

And I’ve been lucky with Boone, at least so far; my 10-month-old puppy seems to be interested only in eating chicken poop, not the chickens themselves, even though I allow my current four hens to wander around my property for hours during the daytime. I think that he’s mostly taken his cues from the older dogs – but he’s also never left with an opportunity to get into trouble. When I’m not home or unable to supervise him (like when I’m in the shower), he’s always contained in the outdoor dog pen, my office, or the house. If he’s outdoors with minimal supervision (say, when I’m in the house but cooking), the chickens are safely locked up in their pen.

I’m not sure why my parents found this so difficult!


  1. Uh. Ever had a Siberian husky? In the years my mom had those dogs one of them killed the neighbor’s small dog (squeezed through the fence), a kitten (while mom was holding it trying to nicely introduce them) and all the chickens. Besides their independence and propensity to run… just not a breed I would ever chose. Not even as a mix.

    • Truth. Almost 4 decades ago, I got a pair of huskies because I liked their looks and didn’t give any thought to their temperament. I didn’t invest in much training for them and I didn’t exercise them regularly either. Basically, I didn’t know what the “bleep” I was doing. I did them quite the disservice. Needless to say, they were quite out of control. One day while I was at work, they dug under the fence and killed my neighbors blue-ribbon guinea pigs that were in pens outside. I was horrified and out quite a bit of cash over that one. I was ill-prepared for the volume of training needed for those dogs. I hope I’ve learned a thing or two since then.

    • My 5 huskies were kept away from chickens and only outdoor fast-moving little animals peaked their prey drive. As far as i‘m concerned huskies are amazing but need training and a high fence. We put an electrifued wire around the bottom of our property to prevent digging out….they are super smart

  2. Years before I became a dog owner, a friend of mine who raised Schutzhund-line German Shepherd Dogs out in the country, added a flock of Guinea Hens to their menagerie. None of the resident critters (dogs, cats, regular chickens, and even a cougar !) ever got into altercations with each other. However, it seems the Guineas and the German Shepherds made it their duty to patrol the property and alert to any kind of intruder – mailman, delivery driver, hawk overhead, deer along the property line, fox slinking near the chicken coop. She even saw the Guineas and one of her GSDs work together to attack one of those foxes – it ran zig zags, but between the fast snapping dog and aerial bombardment from the Guineas, that fox lost half of its tail and never came back for another try. Ever since then, I’ve called Guineas “Biker Chickens”.

  3. OMG! I was in stitches reading your story! I was right there with you knowing that I saw Sam amongst all the sheep at 70 mph (of course with no seatbelts and glued to the window)! 🤣 I mean it is certainly not something we would do today but I grew up in the 50s/60s, also. Our Cocker Spaniel, Penny, was given to our friend, Glen, so she could “keep him company at his work”. Spay and neutering was just not a thing. Our cat, Honey, had 9 (YES 9) litters of kittens. We were so excited when we knew she was pregnant again (twice a year and we never had a problem giving the kittens away-much too young I’m sure)! She did live to be 12. I was an adult by then, living out of state and the animal lover of the family. My my parents dreaded having to call me to let me know they had her “put to sleep” because she had gotten too fat and “old”, to jump up on the dryer in the garage to get to her food (seriously?!). We lived in San Jose on Camden Avenue, one of the busiest 6 lane streets around…and she was an indoor outdoor cat. She and one of our dogs were hit by cars. Honey was lucky and crawled to the curb just before 3 lanes of morning work traffic got there. She couldn’t use her back legs. Mom made us go to school, then carefully put Honey in the car to take her to the vet (shocker). She said as soon as the car started, she jumped from the back of the station wagon to the front and wanted out. So she let her out and Honey was fine…she never went near that street again. Our dog, Roxy, wasn’t so lucky. 😢

  4. It makes my stomach turn to recall how we used to commonly treat/disregard animals! I grew up in the 1960’s. Our family dog from my birth to age 12 was a Bassett Hound. He was intact, and was put out of the house when we all left for work/school. He travelled on those short legs 2 miles into town and back almost every weekday, and stayed at home with us on weekends. We know this because all the neighbors along the way told us so. He stopped at a certain couple of houses for snacks they would reliably give him. He often did not return home until the middle of the night. He’d bang on the door to be let in. Whoever heard him would get out of bed and let him in. He lived this life until he was 12 years old, at which time he was found dead in a ravine covered with bite wounds. Absolutely crazy, and makes me feel awful to recall it!

  5. Early 1960s. Our collie was “sent to a farm” when he began chasing cars. My siblings and I assumed he lived happily ever after with a farm lady. Eventually learned he’d been killed chasing cars. He was such a lovely dog, it was a shame management or training was considered. I was just a little kid but I still feel guilty about it.

  6. My ‘Working Kelpie” loved herding the chooks and chickens. He especially enjoyed the broodies with chickens because he could cut out the different colours and after a while move them back in with the rest of the clutch.
    Our current lot are totally uninterested in them, I’ve even tried to get the dogs to chase off the Brush Turkeys (native birds) from our house lawn and they (the dogs) look at me as though I am mad. Not to mention the turkeys take no notice,
    So I really really think that it is the squawking and flapping that chooks do that incites the dogs to attack

  7. Sadly, I trusted my mom’s husband to take a dog to a friend’s farm. And a second dog some time after. Twenty years later I figured out he probably took the dogs out to the country and dumped them. So much guilt! Karma has not been kind to him.

    I also had a Siberian Husky, usually always on a cable. Anything within his range was fair game: cats, opossums, and even an escaped sheep. He eventually moved inside with us and lived happily with the roommate’s 4 grandkids and a cat.

    When we know better, we do better. Still hard thinking about those past dogs.

  8. We live in an urban/city neighborhood where our yards are only divided by whatever fence each home installs. Neighbors kitty corner to us have chickens (10-15) that are not contained by any fence. Sometimes they roam the neighborhood, and are often just inches from the other side of the fence when our Jack Russell mix Willie is out. Usually he briefly barks to announce their presence and then goes about his business in our fenced in yard. When Willie was one year old he was surprised to find a chicken on our side of the fence, and the chase was on! My wife was out to keep an eye on him for his mid day constitutional and it took her a moment to realize what had happened. Willie happily chased and grabbed it, or tried to wrestle it as he has with his dog friends and our cats. My wife had to grab him and he released it , but sadly the chicken was dead. No blood visible, so we’re guessing he broke its neck. I know that he’s a terrier , but he had never been aggressive with our cats. Our cats helped raise him and show him the ropes- Willie frequently chased/chases our cats and even wrestles with them- under close supervision for the first two years. He always stops before it got too rough. I honestly think he thought it was a fun new playmate and was trying to do what he has done countless times- only this time his playmate was much more fragile! Technically Willie is a ” chicken killer” and we do keep an eye out for any strays in our yard so it doesn’t happen again. The owner took the chicken, and it presumably became dinner but she couldn’t complain since her chicken had entered our yard.

  9. We have range chickens. They are penned at night to protect them from coyotes. We have had as many as 9 rescues at a time and now down to 5. The others have crossed over the rainbow bridge from old age. none of these dogs chased chickens. One of these was a wolf hybrid, a Great Pyrenees, 1 Catahoula hounds, a blue healer, a border collie, a bull dog mix, a red tick hound, a mutt mix, and a poodle. None of these dogs chased or caught chickens. And they had free range of the property and 100’s of acers around us. They were not monitored they just seem to know that chickens were off limits. In fact the Catahoula I have now protects them from coyotes and bobcats during the day. But there are some dogs regardless of breed that are just going to catch chickens.

  10. I had six dogs at the time I brought chickens home. I let one dog out at a time on a leash. Rewarded with food for “leave it” then took off the leash. I never had any issues with the dogs bothering my chickens. They could drink out of the same bowl together. I have brought puppies around the hens and did the same thing without any issues. A fox took away one of my turkey’s the other lay injured then passed away. My German Shepherd was so devastated he wouldn’t go to the barn for a month. He loved those turkeys. Animals are so amazing how they bond.