How to Train Your Dog to Herd Chickens

Hard
3-8 Weeks
Chores

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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. 

Getting Started

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 Long Lead Method

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Step
1
Calm chickens
Start with a small flock of your calmest chickens
Step
2
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.
Step
3
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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.
Step
6
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.
Recommend training method?

The Basic Commands Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
2
Walk up
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.
Step
3
Live training
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.
Step
4
Movement training
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.
Step
5
Too Close
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.
Recommend training method?

The Dog Whistle Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
About the whistle
Professional sheepherders use a whistle instead of vocal commands to have their dog move the sheep around.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
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'.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
aura and crystal
Australian Shepherd
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
aura and crystal
Australian Shepherd
10 Months

Hello. I have two australian shepherd girls 10 months. Today I found that one of my dogs killed my chicken. I am absolutely heartbroken it was gruesome. I am pretty sure its Aura because she chases them and I have been correcting that and supervising them while they are in the yard. Today was one accident that happened that they were alone with my chickens which is a no no but it happened.
I want to find the correct private training service and I am not sure which service to do regarding this issue. I dont think they would learn at the location provided I think they would learn better here in my yard.
My goal is to have them herd my chicken without harming them and be able to trust that they do their job protecting them. I also have a real hard time walking them both on leash daily and very often i fall because of their pulling the walks becomes a chore and not enjoyable for me because of their pulling and i love walks.
They know several commands/tricks (sit, stay, friend, laydown, round round, between, copcop, roll over etc) They do well learning tricks. I give them daily excerise walks (30mins-1.5 hr) and day long hikes on the weekends.
Please help!
Thank you.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marie, Unfortunately, you probably need to retire that dog from future herding-chicken work. You can still train the other dog to herd the chickens, but the one that killed one is probably chasing them out of predatory instinct and doesn't have the appropriate 'stop' that a herding dog needs to have to do the 'hunting'type work that herding is - without the kill at the end'. Its partially a genetic-inherited instinct and it could be related to the small size of the chickens too. There is a good chance that this dog would have had issues learning to herd small animals appropriately even if this didn't happen. The dog being alone with the chicken accidentally brought it to the surface. If you have larger farm animals, you may be able to train her to herd them still - because she may not have a strong predatory instinct with something larger. With that said, you can teach the dog that killed the chickens to avoid the chickens probably - even when unsupervised in-case she accidentally gets to them again, but that would require teaching her a strong avoidance of the chickens at all times - which contradicts constantly having to herd them. If you were to teach her to herd them - if she is able to learn control with the biting while you are supervising - you might be able to use her for herding them as long as she is never unsupervised with the chickens, but you will be risking her killing another one when your back is turned or she gets over-excited one day. You should be able to teach the other dog to herd and guard them still though! To teach avoidance, look for a trainer who uses electric collars. It may sound harsh but it is one of the only tools that will teach a consistent enough avoidance when killing is involved - especially while you are not present, to really stop the killing behavior. Find a trainer who is very experienced using electric collars, has a great reputation among clients, and also uses positive reinforcement in general in their training as well (you want someone who is balanced between corrections and rewards - who can tell your dog both yes and no so that they understand what to do). I agree with having someone come to your property to teach this if at all possible. Certainly the training needs to be done with chicken specifically though and not all training facilities will have chickens! Check out James Penrith from Take the Lead Dog Training from the videos that I have linked below. He works with dogs who have livestock chasing issues and will demonstrate various training scenarios. For training the other dog to herd (the one who has not killed the chickens) you may need a second trainer but that behavior could be taught on or off your property as long as the person teaching it has birds - many have ducks and sheep, and ducks would likely work too. Chickens are idea if you have an option but that will be harder to find. If you get really fortunate and find a trainer who has experience with remote electric collars and teaching avoidance AND teaching herding that would be even more convenient for you, but that can be rare. Most trainers who teach herding do not use electric collars for it - which is fine, and they have never taught avoidance - which is opposite of herding. A regular farm dog does not necessarily need e-collar (electric collar) training to learn to herd and protect animals; that can be done with guiding poles, positive reinforcement, long leashes, and lots of practice in most cases if the dog has a natural herding instinct. Livestock chasing videos: Day 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNbWCK9lFc Day 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpf5Bn-MNko&t=14s Day 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3nMvvHhwQ Day 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxrGQ-AZylY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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