Keeping Chickens With Dogs

“We acquired a Blue Heeler puppy last July 2009, thinking that she would grow up with chickens and not hurt them. Now she enjoys chasing them. At nine months old, we think she killed one hen today. The head was completely bitten off. These hens are normally protected in their run, but we let the hens out to stop their excessive pecking on each other and allow them to eat insects and plants and dust themselves.

In most cases, we let them out when we are outside to supervise. We left the property today, and returned to find the dead hen. No feather mess or devoured body was observed. I read where a shock collar may work. What is your experience or suggestion? Thanks!” ~ Rick Anderson, Barboursville, VA

Hi Rick,

Thanks for the question.

It sounds like your dog was just displaying plain, old puppy behavior and didn’t realize that she would kill the chicken.

Puppies, like children often engage in foolish behavior with no thought of consequences. They live in the moment.

Just as we have to train our children to make good choices and avoid foolish behavior, we train our animals.

Basically you’ll need to teach your puppy using negative reinforcement.

A shock collar would fall under the definition of negative reinforcement but I’m not sure exactly how you plan to use it.

If you mean a collar used in conjunction with a barrier line to keep the puppy completely away from the chickens, that would be effective.

If you mean a collar emitting a small shock, initiated by you, whenever the puppy engages in unacceptable behavior, my only caution is that you will have to be 100% consistent. Even one encounter with the chickens will be enough to keep her after them.

You may have to keep it up for a few days, depending on how long it takes the puppy to understand that she may not play with the chickens anymore.

Other alternatives could be anything that she finds unpleasant; a loud horn blown to startle her, a shot with the garden hose or a powerful water gun, even a tin can filled with rocks shaken loudly can be a negative reinforcement.

Ideally, she should not see you but should associate the unpleasant thing with the chickens so that she wants to leave them alone.

Again, this form of training requires 100% consistency on your part for it to be effective.

Whatever you choose to do, do it soon and with great determination because often times, once a dog has killed a chicken, it’s a very difficult habit to break.

This typically applies to a dog that is “hunting” the chicken rather than playing as your puppy has been, but it should be addressed immediately so that it doesn’t turn from playing to hunting.

Occasionally though you’ll come across a dog that won’t stop killing chickens with these more mild forms of training.

At this point you would need to confine your chickens, find a new home for the dog, find a new home for the chickens or seriously step up your negative reinforcement.

The remedy is not pleasant but is necessary if you are to save your flock and keep the dog.

You’ll have to catch the dog in the act of killing a chicken and act fast.

Grab the chicken by the feet and proceed to “attack” the dog with the dead chicken by firmly swinging the chicken at the dog. Again, this must be done immediately to be effective. The dog must think that the chicken is in fact attacking it, and that the chicken is winning.

If this does not work, the dog is not going to be broken of this habit and you’ll have a decision to make.

Some of you might find this to be very cruel.

Understand that I offer it as a last resort and a recommendation of an acceptable practice to our farming forefathers, I’ll leave it at that.

Rick, I’m sure that this will not be necessary for your puppy but needed to included this information for other readers who might be experiencing a different situation.

Thanks again for the question, I hope this has been of help.

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