Can raising chickens with dogs work for you? It depends on the dog. And it depends on you.
We had an easy start to raising chickens with dogs. Oh’no, the Chicken Mama, who is half husky and half Australian Shepard, is such a docile dog that she doesn’t even bark. No, really. A year and a half after moving in, our next-door neighbors realized we had owned her the entire time. Though we were very wary when we purchased our first chicks, we realized with the next batch that we had an ally. Oh’no babysat the chicks, camping out beside brooders. When I fed the chicks, she waited in anticipation so I could lift them and let her lick their butts. We didn’t have a problem with pasty butt at all. When I had my first ducklings, I let her loose in a well-monitored room with them. Instead of bothering them, she herded them into places she felt were safe.
Tater, the Pyrenees/German Shepard isn’t the mothering type. She’s the protective type. At first, when she was younger than two years old, we had to teach her not to chase the chickens. They were so fun to chase! But she never tried to hurt them and now, she’s our main line of defense against chicken predators at night.
Our dogs lived peacefully side-by-side with our chickens. We chastised the dogs when they ate the chickens’ food, and they learned soon that the food and the chickens were both off limits. When we let the chickens out in the morning, Oh’no and Tater were right by my side.
Then we got this guy… Gozer, the purebred German Shepard.
He doesn’t look like a vicious creature that would kill nine chickens and ducks before he reached 6 months old, does he? In defense, we didn’t just “let him” kill nine birds. At first, he only attacked them when we were gone for too long, but then he attacked them if we were gone at all. We started locking him in the house while we were gone. Then he started killing them when we were at home but distracted. So then we partitioned off the yard with a four-foot-high fence. Two more pullets perished before we extended the fence to eight feet.
I needed to thin my flock, but this is not how I wanted to do it.
Gozer is not a friend to my backyard chickens. Maybe he will be when he matures. Maybe he never will be. But for now, we have to keep our flock safe.
Breed and history do matter.
Some dogs have a higher prey drive than others. Breeds that will probably not be trustworthy around your birds include:
1) Dogs that were bred to hunt especially dogs bred to hunt small animals. These include terriers and retrievers.
2) Dogs that weren’t bred to be family animals. These include breeds raised in the Americas, like huskies, and breeds raised in Asia. Why are European breeds more often trustworthy with chickens? Part of that is because they were raised to be trustworthy with small children, and to honor the pack status of the family. Also, Europe developed a lot of shepherding dogs, which had to be trusted to watch over newborn lambs without hurting them. Pyrenees and Akbash are among the most trustworthy dogs for poultry, for this reason.
3) Dogs with pre-existing emotional problems, like abused rescue dogs. If you have rescued an abused dog, you understand that the abuse often damages the mentality of the animal. Also, abusive owners don’t often give dogs the discipline they need.
This includes the age of both dogs and chickens. When we started socializing our dogs with our chickens, we didn’t let them roam around together unless the chickens were full-grown. The dogs got their noses pecked and they learned from the bossier hens that they were not to be messed with. By the time we had this established, I started training them with the babies. And as stated earlier, Tater chased the chickens when she was younger. Now that she’s four years old, she doesn’t bother them at all.
You matter when raising chickens with dogs.
Training is the most important part when raising chickens with dogs. Your dog will not respect your chickens unless you teach him to.
1) Your dog needs to understand those chickens are yours, not his. You will not stand for any mistreatment of your chickens.
2) Your dog needs to be closely monitored until you know you can trust him. This is tedious, but allowing him to get away with it won’t help. And in case you’re wondering… finding a dead bird in your yard when it’s too late to discipline him, is like allowing it to happen, according to your dog’s understanding.
3) Younger dogs need distraction and attention. Often, attacking small animals is a way of acting out. If you have a large breed dog, there’s a chance you’re not exercising him enough.
4) Your dog might need a fence. Yes, you want them to be friends, and run around in the pasture together. I hear you. I understand your pain. Prepare to build a fence anyway.
How do you stop your dogs from attacking your chickens?
I’ve been told to tie a dead chicken around my dog’s neck and let it stay there for a week. Gross. I live on less than 1/8th acre, and the nearest house is 15 feet from mine. That cannot and will not work for us, though I’ve read it has worked for others.
Maybe you can chicken-shame. Chicken-shaming is when you catch a chicken, hold it up to your dog, and chastise your dog when he tries to touch the bird. We chicken-shamed Tater. After she learned not to go up and touch the bird, we started holding chickens on her back. Soon she learned to just let it happen. When we caught her with an egg in her mouth, it only took one egg-shaming lesson to make her stop. She did not like being chased around the yard by a guilt-inducing egg!
When raising chickens with dogs, maybe you can pay constant vigilance to both and train them to leave each other alone. This worked with Tater. With enough effort, she stopped chasing chickens.
But I also dog-sat two dogs for a friend: a miniature schnauzer and a giant schnauzer. At the time, I had a very small flock, all enclosed within chicken wire and wooden slats. Both dogs tried to force their way through the wire. I turned the hose on the giant schnauzer, and she learned her lesson. The owner sent shock collars, but I used them only twice when the giant schnauzer got too close to the coop. The miniature schnauzer, though, was the biggest dog-jerk on the planet. The shock collar only served as a temporary discipline. This dog actually watched to see when I was busy, and that’s when he chewed the coop wire. The biggest amount of damage was to him; he chewed so much wire I found blood spots on the floor! He never got far enough to hurt the chickens, but he got far enough that I had to repair holes or the raccoons would make them bigger. However, I knew that I could not trust that dog at all. When I expanded my flock and allowed them to free range in the yard, I told my friend I could no longer care for her dogs.
So, how do you know if raising chickens with dogs will work for you?
You need to build a fence when raising chickens with dogs. This is the answer you did not want to get from this article, isn’t it? Build a fence. Spend extra money and make it a strong fence. Get hardware cloth instead of chicken wire. Maybe even chain link!
I know, I know… you’ve heard different things. You’ve heard:
But… I saw a Cesar Millan video! Yes, I know. I’ve seen that video as well. But remember, The Dog Whisperer makes his money on success. Would he air that video if that particular dog had failed his training?
But… My black lab is the sweetest thing! I can trust him with my children, so I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt my chicks! Your black lab wasn’t bred to retrieve small children for hunters.
But… My friend has a black lab that she can completely trust with her chickens! I have seen many pictures of black labs surrounded by baby chicks. These labs are often older, having spent a lifetime serving the owners of those chicks, and their standing in the pack family has been established. Your black lab may act completely different. Do not expect your dog to act like another dog, and do not leave your babies unattended until you know exactly how your dog will react.
But… I really really want my little farm to live in harmony! We all do. I really enjoyed those years when I could fill up food and water, go to work for nine hours, and come home to a safe and protected yard. That was harmony. We loved it. And your dogs and chickens may someday live in harmony, with enough training and attention.
Gozer may someday live in harmony with my flock. But not now.
Definitely not now.
Do you have other tips or tricks to share when raising chickens with dogs?