Jump to section
They may be noisy and give the bottom of the yard a somewhat interesting smell, but your chickens are more than worth it when you’re tucking into your own, fresh eggs. Only problem is, your chickens are on the menu for a lot of nearby predators, and you’ve had more than one morning where you’ve trotted down to their coop to find one missing. What you need is an effective way of protecting them. That’s where your dog comes in. He spends much of his time lazing around anyway, so why not put him to good use?
Training him to protect the chickens will not only keep them alive and safe, but it could also make training him to protect other things easier too, such as your home. Not to mention that training of this sort means he’ll be less likely to attack the chickens himself.
Training your dog to guard chickens won’t necessarily be straightforward. You’ll need to use strict obedience training him to get him well-trained and following orders. You’ll also need to find ways to keep him motivated. Mouth-watering food and his favorite toys should do the job. You’ll also need to make the chickens feel part of his territory and therefore his responsibility to keep safe. If he’s a puppy, he should be eager to please and training may take just a couple of weeks. If he’s older and has spent more time chasing chickens than protecting them in the past, then you may need up to six weeks before you see consistent results.
Training him to protect the chickens will be invaluable. You’ll no longer have to go to sleep at night worrying about every sound you hear coming from the window. The strict level of control you’ll assert over your dog will also help you reign in other canine behaviors you’re not so keen on.
Before you get to work, you need to get up and collect a few things. You’ll need a long and secure leash for one of the training methods. Tasty treats or his favorite food broken into small pieces will also be required.
If you usually train with a clicker then having one of those on you will help reinforce the desired behavior. Set aside up to 15 minutes each day for training, at a time where you both won’t be distracted.
Once you’ve got all of that, you’re ready to get to work!
The Day One Method
If you’re looking for a dog to protect livestock then you’ll have the most success if you pick the right breed from the very beginning. You want a dog with the right temperament and characteristics. Retrievers, Springer Spaniels and German shepherds are all sensible choices.
Even from when he’s a young puppy you need to be drilling discipline into him. This will allow you to maintain control much easier when he gets to guarding work. Teach him to ‘sit’, ‘drop’, ‘wait’ and any other useful commands.
As he grows up, you need to encourage any behavior you’ll want to see when he’s protecting the chickens. That means giving him treats and attention when he shows protective behavior, such as growling or chasing other rogue animals.
Make sure he gets regular contact with the chickens. Slowly walk him around the chickens from an early age and reward signs of calm and controlled behavior. If he grows up with the chickens, he’ll think of them as family members worth protecting and not a free meal.
Never punish him
It’s important you don’t shout or scare him as he grows up. If he’s terrified of you then he may become aggressive in an uncontrolled manner. He’ll then be more likely to eat the chickens himself.
The Perimeter Method
Head for the chickens
Secure him to a leash and walk him around the chickens several times a day in the morning and the evening. This will help show him where his territory begins and ends. If the chickens fall within that territory he’ll naturally want to defend them.
After a week or so, secure him to a long leash in the yard. Make sure he has enough slack that he can get past the chicken coop to defend them. This will again reinforce that they fall within his territory.
Lead by example
When you see any other animal approach the chickens, you need to encourage a protective response. Run towards them animal, shouting, pointing, and encouraging your canine pal to follow you. Dogs mirror their owners' behavior, so if he always sees you doing it, he’ll soon catch on.
Whenever you do see him bark, growl, or chase anything that approaches the chickens, make sure you give him a tasty treat and plenty of praise. The better the reward, the more likely he’ll be to do it again.
It’s vital you stick to the perimeter training religiously. If you don’t walk him around the chickens for a couple of days, he won’t be so sure they fall within his boundaries. If you don’t chase off other animals in front of him for a couple of days, he’ll be confused and less likely to chase them himself.
The Bark Method
Spend the first couple of days watching him, you’re looking for any bark-inducing behavior. Once you have that you can train him to bark on command and then to bark at anyone or anything that approaches the chickens. Meal times and waiting for walks are often likely triggers.
Once you’ve got your trigger, simply wait for him to start barking. When he does, issue a ‘bark’ command in a firm but playful voice. If you do this every time, he’ll soon associate the command with the behavior.
As soon as you’ve given the command and he continues to bark, give him a treat and some praise. Practice this every day for a few minutes. Then within a week you should be able to instruct him to bark in any situation.
Now spend lots of time around the chickens with your dog close by. Whenever you see anything approach the chickens, instruct him to bark while pointing at the suspect. Make sure you give him a treat each time he barks successfully.
Send in friends and family
To further reinforce and test the behavior, you can ask others to slowly approach the chickens. Again, give the instruction to bark each time. After a couple of consistent weeks it will soon be second nature to bark at anything that approaches them. At which point, you can slowly cut out treats.
By James Barra
Published: 11/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021