Chickens are becoming increasingly popular, not only on farms or ranches, but even in some cities. The allure of farm-fresh eggs every morning, especially when the cost of eggs is on the rise, is enough that some people would rather pay for the whole bird than the eggs. But having chickens in your back yard isn’t always a good thing. Everyone knows that foxes kill chickens. But some dogs may chase down chickens as well. Having a dog that goes after chickens can become problematic, especially if your dog accidentally (or intentionally) kills someone else's chickens. Why do dogs kill chickens?
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The Root of the Behavior
If you have a ranch or farm and you own livestock, you’re probably well aware of the threat of nearby predators, from foxes to coyotes, and even wolves in some areas. You’ve probably taken precautions to try to secure your animals and have a pretty good idea about potential threats. But what some people don’t expect is their own dog going after their livestock, chickens included. Most dogs don’t want to kill chickens, they just want to chase and play. But chickens may break their necks or have a heart attack if they’re trying to run away and can't find a safe place. And, even if the chicken is unharmed, the stress might cause the chicken’s egg-laying routine to change or discontinue for a few days. So, whether or not you’re the owner of the dog or the bird or both, you don’t want this situation to cause problems for anyone involved.
Domesticated dogs might be different than their wild cousins in a lot of ways, but even pet dogs are still carnivores. Many retain instincts they were bred for, even after hundreds of years of breed selection. Dogs bred to chase or hunt, including many terriers, some sighthounds, Greyhounds, Weimaraners, Huskies, and a few others may have a higher “prey” drive than other breeds. Some herding type or ranch dogs, including some kinds of shepherds, should normally leave most livestock alone. For example, Schnauzers, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, and Labs are some breeds that tend to be gentle around chickens and other small critters and are a good choice to have on a farm. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean all terriers will kill chickens, or that all shepherds will leave them alone. It can depend on your dog’s specific temperament. As a general rule, it’s always a good idea to monitor your dog closely around small livestock and to keep your animals protected by fences and kennels.
Encouraging the Behavior
So what can you do if your dog kills chickens? If they’re your chickens, you should monitor your dog at all times. If your chickens are “free range,” it’s probably best to keep your dog inside or contained in a run, kennel, or leashed or tethered in your yard out of reach of other critters. If you keep your dog confined, make sure you’re letting your dog out to get plenty of exercise. If you catch your dog killing a chicken, separate your dog immediately. Don’t punish your dog, they won’t understand why they’re being punished for doing what they were meant to do. A dog who has attacked or killed a chicken isn’t irredeemable. You can contact a trainer or behaviorist to help rein in your dog’s instinct to hunt. Keeping your dog trained, exercised, and engaged is a good way to keep them away from unwanted activities. You should consult a trainer, preferably one that can come to you, for advice on socializing a dog to be around chickens and other livestock. If the chickens are not yours, and your dog has killed someone else’s animals, you should keep your dog separated and contained to your yard or home. Prevention is the best deterrent. Ensuring that your yard is fenced, or you have a safe place to put your dog, like a dog run or a large kennel, is important. Don’t rely on your dog’s good manners. Train and socialize your dog around other animals, as many as possible, to avoid complicated situations and potentially legal and financial consequences.
Other Solutions and Considerations
You should always be aware of your rights in your city or county. If your dog is the one killing another person’s chickens, you may face legal consequences. As your dog’s owner, if they kill someone else’s animal, you’re financially and legally responsible. Not to mention, many ranchers or farmers are understandably protective of their livestock, and your dog may be hurt or killed. If your livestock are the ones being attacked, there are ways you can stop the situation without punishing the dog for being a dog. It’s not their fault for wanting to chase chickens, it’s something deeply inherent in dogs since they were used for hunting, chasing, and killing other prey. You can always ask your local animal control or police/sheriff station for information about your rights as dog owner or chicken owner, and the laws applicable in your area.
Some dogs, just like their wild cousins, may think that chickens or ducks, and even sometimes larger livestock like goats or cattle, are closer to their intended diet than kibble is. But a dog who kills another animal is doing what they were bred for. Proper training, socialization, and common sense are important to keep your dog and you safe from unfortunate accidents and legal trouble.