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Picture this: you're out on a walk with your favorite fur buddy. The two of you hit the trails through a peaceful forest. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping; all is well in the world. The trails lead you to a serene pond. You hear faint quacks in the distance. Oh no. Your heart sinks. You go to grasp your pooch’s collar but it's too late!
As he bounds back with his fresh kill, your dog is probably wondering why you are so upset. After all, he did just bring you back some delicious dinner, at least in his eyes. But owning a bird-killer can be no fun at all. The problem becomes even worse if you live on a farm, and the birds being murdered are yours!
Dogs kill birds because of their instincts. Birds make a great meal, and the urge to hunt (which is thousands of years old) doesn't just disappear because now Rover gets a bowl of meat cereal. Some dogs have even been bred specifically to catch birds and bring them back, like Labrador Retrievers.
Prey drive is not a bad thing on its own. Some people use their dog's keen skills for shows or hunting trips. But if you're losing many a bird to foul play, you may want to learn how to at least curb this natural habit. Be warned, some dogs will never fully give up this instinct and will require supervision around our feathered friends for their whole lives.
To embark on your bird-saving journey, it's good to be prepared. Having the following should help:
- Both a Short and Long Leash: Different lengths of lead can help your pup learn how to be comfortable around those with beaks.
- Treats: Good behavior deserves good snacks! Keep some tasty treats handy during any training session.
- A Muzzle: This tool is only needed if you have a serial bird killer. Dogs that just have a habit of chasing may not need to be muzzled when exposed to birds.
- Thick Skin: Chances are, at some point in your training there may still be casualties. Even if your dog improves, there will likely be relapses throughout his life.
If your dog is indeed excellent at catching birds, it's a shame to waste such a sought out skill. You might want to look into local hunting clubs to learn about training for hunting dogs. Your pooch will love you for it and it's a great way to bond.
Below are some methods to try to take the killer out of your canine. Remember, even after lots of training, you should never leave your dog unattended with any small animal.
The Vocal Commands Method
Perfect the “come” command with your dog. Some have found that a whistle is more effective than using your voice alone.
Test it out
Head some place with lots of distractions (like the park) and see how well your pup does when there are lots of noises and sights around.
Once your pooch has figured out ‘come’, move on to ‘leave it’.
Use a toy
Practice this command using your dog's favorite toy. You'll know he's ready when he gives it up no problem.
Talk to a trainer
If your dog is especially bad when it comes to killing birds, book an appointment with a trainer. They will be able to teach you further commands to help your efforts.
The Controlled Confrontation Method
Use a decoy
Go buy a stuffed bird. If it squeaks, that's a bonus.
Practice dropping it
Using the ‘leave it’ command, convince your pup to give up his avian friend. Bribe with treats if necessary.
Bring in a bird
This one is more for the farm dogs. Put either a chicken or a duck in a cage and allow your dog to approach the bird.
Use your command
If your pooch ventures too close to the fowl, say “leave it” in a firm tone.
Reward the good
As soon as your dog looks at you after you say the command, give her a treat!
Keep practicing these routines a few times every week. Your dog should learn to respond to you the second you give the command.
The Long and Short Method
Use the short leash
Find a lead that gives you maximum control of your pupper. You can pair it with a harness for a greater effect.
Go where the birds are
Leash in hand, head to an area that you know is full of birds. If you're on a farm, head over to the pond or coop.
Divert his attention
As soon as your pooch sees the birds, turn around and go the other way.
If he does well, let him know! Verbally commend him and toss over a treat.
Give some freedom
After multiple successes, switch over to the long lead.
Do the whole exercise over again, but this time only give a verbal correction. If the dog doesn't respond, then use the leash to lead him away. Continue doing this until the dog no longer shows interest around birds.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/24/2017, edited: 01/08/2021