I met Lisa Marshall from Estes Park, Colorado, during my big trip to New York City last month. Funny that we had to go across the country to meet. Anyway, she faces a challenge of being a dog-lover and a home chicken-raiser. She needs our help.
You see, Lisa wants to enjoy her mountain life (much like ours) with both her dogs and her chickens living free on the old range, but the dogs need to learn NOT to harass the poultry.
I’m curious to hear ideas from our dog-training community of peers:
- Is this primarily an impulse control issue?
- Could you teach NOT chasing / hurting the birds? If so, how without resorting to punishment-based methods?
- Would tactics like LEAVE IT or LOOK AT THAT work?
Dogs + Chickens = Trouble (Sometimes)
A member of our loyal group recently suffered terrible chicken losses when loose area dogs murdered one chicken, then while Frugal Kiwi and her Frugal Man dealt with the body, the dogs came back, broke into the well-fortified chicken coop and killed another one.
You can read the whole, sad tale here:
And, please don’t jump all over her for pointing out the breeds of these dogs. It isn’t that detail that makes the situation dangerous. It’s the total lack of supervision (including not preventing litter after litter being born) and marauding nature of the dogs that’s at issue. These same dogs have been causing all kinds of mayhem in her community, but so far officials haven’t been able to figure out who owns them or to catch them.
Personally, I’m amazed at the level of help Frugal Kiwi got from local animal control about the issue. I doubt we’d get similar help here, if an area dog (or pack of dogs) came on to our property and killed stock of any sort. (Not that we have any, but I mean in general.)
My Dogs + Chickens Ideas
I would suggest Lisa try these tactics, many of which come from the book Control Unleashed:
Teach the dogs a good solid DOWN-STAY on a relaxation mat, if possible, well away from the chickens.
Once that’s solid, move the mat and the dogs outside where they can see the chickens.
Keep the dogs leashed and play the LOOK AT THAT GAME, rewarding the dogs for looking at the chickens calmly.
I often say to Lilly, “LOOK, Puppy” or “LOOK, person” when I want her to notice something without flipping out. And, we have done it with the chickens at the Clear Creek History Park, along a path we frequent.
Move the dogs closer to the chicken pen (over time) and repeat the process.
The dogs will need a solid LEAVE IT cue, but Lisa could then practice letting the dogs walk around (on leash) while the chickens are loose in the yard.
She could use LEAVE IT if / when they show too much interest and use high-high-high value rewards for success. Must rank higher than moving, squawking chicken.
I would also practice recalls (COME!) around the chickens (first on leash, then on long lines, then off leash … over time) so that the dogs learn to come off the chickens when asked.
Post Your Ideas
This is all theoretical on my part. I’ve never had dogs and chickens together. We have tried these tactics with:
- Chickens behind a fence
- Ducks / geese we encounter on our walks
The real challenge is that it only takes one mistake, and you’ve got potentially fatal outcomes for the birds … AND an extremely self-rewarding activity for the dogs.
So, dear readers, dog-training friends … what would you recommend Lisa do to train her dogs in a way that allows both canine and bird friends to live free-range, peacefully?