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You’ve always loved the great outdoors. You like being immersed in nature with a variety of animals roaming around your property, from dogs to chickens. But having such a diverse home can come with its own challenges. Does your dog have an appetite for your pet chickens, for example? Do you want to be able to let your chickens and dogs wander around freely, but don’t want to lose another chicken to your canine friend?
Your chickens may be part of your livestock, you may depend on them for eggs and dinners of your own. If you can train your dog not to attack the chickens, you can finally have the harmonious home you envisaged. You will be able to relax when it all goes quiet and not panic whenever you start to do a chicken headcount. Otherwise, your fear is that Chicken Run, the movie, may become chicken run, your reality, and your chickens will become determined to escape.
Training your dog not to attack the chickens will require a number of different elements. You will certainly need obedience commands to retain control over him when he is around the chickens. You will also need to take steps to familiarize him with the chickens.
As you can probably imagine, training him not to attack the feathered members of your yard will be no straightforward task. This task is made even harder if your dog has already developed a taste for chicken, or he is older and stuck in his ways. However, with persistence and patience, you should be able to train him to behave around chickens in a few weeks or months. It is important you succeed in this endeavor if you want to protect the lives of your chickens and possibly any other animals you have on your property.
Before work begins, you will need to round up several things. You may want to get a body harness for training. This will help you retain control and reduce the strain on your dog's neck. A secure leash will also be required Before starting the process, spend a few days cementing your bond with your dog so that he is keen on listening to you.
You will also need an abundance of treats or his favorite food to act as both an incentive and reward. Apart from that, you just need an optimistic attitude and a good degree of patience, then you’re ready to get to work!
The Stop & Pull Method
Secure your dog to the leash and safely stow your chickens in a coop. Once they are both safe and secure, slowly head over to the chickens.
Keep an eye on your dog's behavior and wait for him to pull or lunge. As soon as he goes for the chickens, say "STOP" loudly and firmly so he knows you mean business.
Pull him in the opposite direction and walk away. Ensure you do this at the same time as you say "STOP". He will quickly associate his aggressive behavior with being pulled in the opposite direction and a stern tone from his owner.
Edge closer to the chickens every few days. Every day you need to take him toward the chickens, following the steps above. After several days or weeks, you will be able to get closer to the chickens before he shows signs of aggression. This is progress. It may be slow, but it was always going to be, so be patient!
Lose the leash
When you can walk your dog around the chickens without showing signs of aggression, you can remove the leash. It may take many weeks or months to get to this stage, but when you can finally lose the leash, stay very close to him for the first few leash-free encounters.
The Restrain & Reward Method
Secure your chickens in a pen and put your dog on a leash. Ensure you have firm control over the leash and then prepare to head towards the chickens. A body harness will help you retain control if he is big and strong.
As you are approaching, constantly praise and pet your dog, and even reward him with a treat. You are showing him that this calm behavior around the chickens will prove fruitful.
Cut the praise
Stop all praise and rewards as soon as your dog displays signs of aggression. Also stand firmly still until he has calmed down. This will show him that as soon as he changes from passive to aggressive he’ll stop receiving attention and he won’t be able to get any closer.
Step by step
You don’t want to rush this process, so take it extremely slow. If you get several feet, reward him and then take him away and play with him for 5 minutes. The next day, go back and try and get several feet closer. The trick is to slowly build familiarity between your dog and the chickens in a steady, controlled manner.
Repeat this process until you can walk around the chickens without your pooch displaying any signs of aggression. Only after many weeks, you should finally be walking around the chickens with your dog. Once you can walk around them calmly, slowly reduce the frequency of treats. Finally, when he hasn’t shown signs of aggression in many weeks or months, you can take him off the leash.
The Drop Method
Get his attention
Take a treat and hold it in front of your dog's nose. You are going to teach him to drop when you command him to. This will increase your control around the chickens so you can quickly get a handle on his behavior until he cuts all signs of aggression.
Slowly lure him to the ground
Use the treat to bring your dog's head to the ground. You may also want to gently push his back down to encourage him to begin with.
Say "drop" firmly as he approaches the ground. Then, as soon as your dog is lying down, give him a treat and praise him. It is important you give him the treat within 3 seconds of lying down, otherwise, he won’t associate the 'drop' with the treat. Practice this every day for 10-15 minutes until he drops when you instruct him to, without the promise of food.
Head for the chickens
Walk slowly, giving him verbal and physical attention as you approach. Then as soon as your dog shows signs of aggression, stop and have him drop to the floor. As soon as he does this, reward him with a treat and praise. Removing the positive stimuli of you giving him attention is known as positive punishment and he will quickly respond to it.
10 minutes daily practice
Slowly make your way closer to the chickens, ensuring you have your pup drop whenever he turns aggressive and see to it you always praise him up until the point his behavior changes. Over many weeks, he will begin to understand he gets zero attention as soon as he turns aggressive. When he is finally comfortable around the chickens, you can reduce the frequency of treats and remove the leash.
By James Barra
Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/08/2021