Whether you raise chickens for a living or as pets, it’s extremely frustrating when your dog simply can’t stop chasing them. Your dog might just ruffle a few feathers, or may already be killing hens for sport. Either way, it’s a dangerous behavior that has to be stopped.
Before You Get That Dog
If you don’t already have a dog, you can start fresh with a working breed puppy with no history of chicken-chasing. If you get your puppy from a breeder who breeds working farm dogs, you can get a puppy that has been bred for working around chickens without chasing them. Most dogs, especially terriers, have such a strong prey drive that training them not to chase chickens will be extremely difficult – but not impossible.
Your new dog or puppy should spend time around chickens while leashed. Do not consider your dog “chicken safe” until after 1-2 years old. Many puppies are fine around chickens until they hit adolescence, so you want to make sure your dog is past the difficult teen stage before you fully trust them around livestock.
Conditioning Your Dog To Tolerate Chickens
While your dog is still learning not to chase chickens, you’ll need to have all of your training sessions on-leash. Letting your dog off-leash before they are ready will lead to failures. Chasing chickens is a self-rewarding behavior, so the more the dog practices it, the more difficult it will be to regain their attention and train alternative behaviors.
Use a very long leash – a long line or a string of leashes attached together – at least 25 feet long, up to 50 feet in length.
First, you’ll need to counter-condition your dog’s reaction to a tempting flock of chickens. If you ask your dog to “sit” right next to the henhouse, it’ll be impossible for him to listen because he’ll be way too overstimulated. Start training from a distance – your dog should notice the chickens, but not be too focused on them to accept treats.
Start giving your dog small, pea-sized treats as soon as you start going near the chickens. You may only be able to get your dog’s attention from 20 yards away from the flock. As your dog starts to look at you for treats, rather than at the chickens, you can praise him immensely and reward him with a game, toy or treat.
Counter-conditioning requires patience. At first, give your dog lots of praise and rewards just for choosing to look at you while chickens are nearby. During each training session, get just a little closer to the chickens. After a few weeks, you may be able to keep the dog calm and focused on you while you’re very close to the flock.
Counter-conditioning changes your dog’s reaction to chickens from aroused to attentive towards you. As your dog loses their intense urge to chase chickens, you’ll be able to ask for alternative behaviors.
Training A Rock Solid “Leave It”
After a few weeks of counter-conditioning, you can use commands to tell your dog what to do instead of chasing. It doesn’t make sense to add commands early in the process – the dog can’t listen if they haven’t been taught to pay attention to you around chickens first.
First, train “leave it” with a rather uninteresting object – your dog won’t be ready to train around chickens at first. A stuffed animal is a good choice for your first session.
Place the stuffed animal on the floor, then walk your dog past it on a leash. If your dog looks at the toy or tries to sniff it, say, “leave it” and give your dog a treat the moment they look back at you. It’s imperative that you make initial lessons very easy – walk your dog far enough from the stuffed animal that they can’t actually touch it. In following sessions, walk your dog closer and closer to the toy, praising heavily when they look at you after you say, “leave it.”
Practice leave it with more tempting toys, pieces of food, and other interesting objects. Be patient when increasing the difficulty – dogs learn fastest when their lessons are short, positive, and error-free. If your dog touches the object, simply take a break and try again later.
Once your dog seems to know that “leave it” means to stop what he’s doing and look at you, you can practice around chickens – on a leash, of course. Always ask your dog to “leave it” the moment he looks at the chickens, not mid-chase.
If you need help, contact a professional dog trainer or behaviorist for more hands-on assistance.
Does Tying A Dead Chicken To The Dog Really Work?
An old farmer’s trick is to tie a dead chicken around the culprit’s neck to teach the dog to be afraid of chickens. Not only can this practice get you fined for animal cruelty, it’s also totally ineffective.
When a dog gets a dead chicken tied to its neck, one of two things may happen. The dog might be totally delighted – after all, dogs love dead, smelly things – and may try to eat the carcass or roll around in it. Or, the dog might be terrified – dogs cannot understand why an object might be tied to them – but they won’t connect the act of attacking chickens with this unusual punishment.
The goal should be to get your dog to behave calmly around chickens – not become afraid of them.
The Truth About E-Collars For Chicken Aversion
Many farmers and livestock owners rely on shock or electronic stimulation collars to train dogs not to chase chickens. This is a personal choice, but you should know how these collars are used correctly and about their risks, even when used in accordance with the package or your trainer’s instructions.
You’ll typically press a button on the remote to deliver a shock when the dog looks at the chickens. It’s not advised to shock the dog while he’s already in mid-chase, as it would take a very powerful shock to stop a dog that is already highly aroused. When used properly, a shock collar should only be used to deliver low-level shocks, and it only should take a few lessons for the dog to get the idea.
Many shock collars come with a vibration setting that may be less stressful for the dog, but it works in the same way. Whether you use the shock or vibrate setting, you’re using an aversive stimulus to change the dog’s behavior. Studies show that aversive training techniques often lead to fear and aggression. This doesn’t happen to every dog trained with a shock collar, but you don’t know how your dog will react until after you use it.
Some dogs learn to only avoid chickens while they are wearing the shock collar, or only when you are around to press the button. Others will become fearful, and while they will avoid chickens, they may avoid going outside altogether. Some dogs may associate chickens with the ‘shock’ and may be even more compelled to attack them.
There are many alternatives to using shock collars to stop your dog from chasing chickens that do not have a risk of fallout. If you do decide to use a shock collar, it should be with the help of a professional dog behaviorist.
Why Management Is The Best Solution
The simple, obvious solution is to secure your chickens in a pen that dogs cannot access. You’ll keep your dogs out, as well as other predators like foxes, opossums, coyotes and neighbors’ pets.
If you cannot provide a secure pen for your chickens, you’ll need to keep your dog from roaming freely. This is especially true if your dog has been chasing your neighbors’ flock. It’s legal for your neighbor to kill your dog if they are endangering chickens on their property.
It’s not safe for dogs to roam freely, unsupervised. While many working dogs are bred and trained to care for their owners’ property, it’s not always best to expect your dog to do the same, especially if they are not specially trained. Dogs under 3 years old may need time to mature before they can be trusted not to get into trouble.
Even trained dogs are vulnerable to being poisoned, either accidentally by dangerous plants and household chemicals, or purposefully by an ill-intentioned person. Dogs can get into fights with wild dogs and other creatures and can get hit by cars or get lost far from home.
If you cannot build a secure fence around your property, consider building a dog run for your dog to explore safely. Tethering or leashing your dog on a 50-foot long line are both temporary solutions for when you are home and your dog is supervised, and no longer than for a few hours.
Encourage Legal Chasing
Hunting and chasing are natural, normal behaviors. Giving your dog healthy ways to exercise can make it easier to train them to stop chasing chickens. Agility, barn hunt, flirt pole, and nosework are all fun ways to get your dog active and deepen your bond.
Does your dog chase other animals? What are you currently doing to discourage the behavior?