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Whether you are a hobby farmer with a few chickens pecking around the yard or a chicken farmer with dozens of chickens in various barns and pens, imagine how nice it would be if your four-legged friend could help with them. The good news is that once you have trained your dog to herd chickens, he should be able to herd many other birds and animals with equal success.
Imagine how much extra time you would have on your hands once your dog is trained to herd and protect your flock. Providing your dog is a breed with natural herding instincts, the training will go relatively smoothly. However, this is a relatively complicated chore for you to teach him, so be prepared to spend plenty of time in the sun working with your pooch until you know you can trust him around the chickens and that he will herd them anywhere you send him.
Herding is, for certain breeds, an instinctive behavior. The idea is that when the training is done, your dog will be able to round up your flock of chickens and then move them into their coop at night or to a new part of the garden as required. It is, in fact, a series of commands you must teach your dog to understand and follow rather than just one command.
Before you can train him to herd, you must first teach him a few basic commands. He needs to already know 'come', 'sit', 'stay', and 'fetch'. Now you have to teach him directions. In the world of herding, the command 'Come Bye' is used to indicate turn the flock to the right. The command 'Away' is used to turn the flock to the right.
Beyond the fact your dog needs to be one of the many breeds who have a natural herding instinct such as Collies, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, and many others, it takes hard work to train your dog to herd chickens. You should be aware there is a potential for your dog to injure one or more of your chickens during the training process, so extreme vigilance is required until you feel safe with him around the chickens.
As stated above, work with your dog until he understands both 'Come By' and 'Away' and performs these maneuvers flawlessly. You can use verbal commands for this or, if you are feeling brave, a whistle such as professional herders use. You will need a few things:
- Treats: As rewards.
- Chickens: You must work with live chickens for this training to be successful.
- A Leash: You need a way to control your dog until he is safe around the chicks.
- Time: It will take a lot of time to teach your dog this task
- Patience: It is essential to be patient with your dog during this training
It goes without saying that if your dog gets too close to your chickens, he might forget himself during the initial training period. During this time, you should keep him on his leash. Due to this risk, you need to work slowly and methodically with your pup to minimize this risk. The idea is to get to the end of the training and be able to say, "No animals were harmed in the training of my dog." One last thing, you need to wait until your dog is a young adult, because puppies are less likely to respond to this training as they are too inquisitive.
The Basic Commands Method
Practice the basics
With your dog on a leash, walk him around you in circles, use the 'come bye' and 'away to me' commands to have him reverse directions frequently.
Teach your dog the 'walk-up' command by throwing a toy in front of him while he is sitting. Give him the 'walk-up' command and let him walk up and get his toy. Repeat this until your dog has mastered the command, give him lots of treats.
Place half a dozen chickens in a small enclosed pen. Enter the pen with your dog. Practice using the same herding commands you were using outside of the pen.
With your pup off the leash, give him the 'walk up' command. When he is within 10 feet of the chickens, give him the 'away to me' command to move the chickens in a counterclockwise direction. Then give him the 'come bye' command to have him move them in a clockwise direction.
If he gets too close to the chickens, have him lie down until the chickens have regrouped and try again. It will take a little time for him to master the commands working with live chickens, the time will be well spent when you know you can trust him to protect your chickens and move them around your yard.
The Long Lead Method
Start with a small flock of your calmest chickens
Create a round pen
You need to create a round pen for training purposes, as this leaves your dog without corners to trap the chickens in. Alternatively, you can work in a large open field that gives your chicks an escape route.
Attach the long leash
Attach the long leash to your dog's collar so that you can walk him close to the chickens without allowing him to get too close.
Around the circle
Walk your dog on the leash in a circle around the flock until he shows no signs of wanting to move towards them.
Release the leash
Now let the leash drop to the ground and allow your dog to continue circling the chickens. Be ready to snag the leash if he starts to go after the chickens.
Moving the chickens
Now that your dog is comfortable around the chickens, you can start having him use the movement commands to have him move the chickens around the yard. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this part, but once he masters herding, you will find he becomes a big help around the farm.
The Dog Whistle Method
About the whistle
Professional sheepherders use a whistle instead of vocal commands to have their dog move the sheep around.
Get him used to the whistle
Start by using the whistle around the house to get your pup used to it. Use it to call him to dinner, to come to a particular room, to initiate belly rubs, anything to get him used to hear it and obeying the command it infers.
Practice without critters
Take your pup outside and work on his verbal command skills for 'come bye', 'walk up', and 'away to me', but this time, every time you give the verbal command use the whistle as well. Create combinations for each command, say one blast for 'walk up', two for 'come bye', and three for 'away to me'.
Bring in the chickens
Now it's time to bring in a small group of chickens and, working with both verbal and whistle commands, have him move the small group around. Be sure to give him lots of treats and praise him when he gets it right.
And in the end
Now it's time to work with bigger groups and just the whistle. It will take him a while to master these commands, but once he does, moving your flock of chickens around the farm will never have been easier.
Written by PB Getz
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021