Spring has sprung and that means things are anew. New grass, new buds, and of course, new baby animals. Oh my goodness there are calves everywhere and they are so cute! I love seeing them jump around the fields and play with the other babies.
In my house we don’t have any baby calves but we do indeed have chicks. My husband and I have decided to start raising hens for fresh eggs. I am so excited about this and actually, so is my dog. My dog is part Husky and part Cocker Spaniel; so thinking about chickens was a risky idea for sure. However, she is doing great with it so far.
A lot of my “leave-it” training has come into play here. Fortunately for us, though, my dog thinks she is the chicks’ mother, and I think the feeling is mutual of our peeping balls of fluff. With that said, though, I would never leave her unattended with the chickens. This also got me thinking about other tips I could share with people who are thinking about raising chickens with dogs in their house. While I am still learning, there are still a few basic things that every dog owner should consider when introducing new things to their dog.
Keep Your Dog Restrained
When you first introduce your dog to the chicks, or any other animal for that matter, you should definitely keep them leashed. Do not allow your dog to lunge toward the newcomer or keep tension on the leash. He should be calm and curious. If your dog can’t control himself, remove him and try again later after some exercise or reinforcing of behavior.
Lunging at the new animal can be terrifying for them, especially something like chicks or bunnies. It can also trigger a prey drive when the new animal bolts in fear, causing the whole situation to go downhill fast. So in order to keep the peace, make sure your dog is in a calm, seated or down-stay position and keep the new animal at a good distance.
Most dogs are very food motivated, so treats are always a great thing to have on hand. Once your dog is comfortable being in the same space as the new animal, have the other person start talking to and stroking it. While they are doing that, offer your dog a treat for remaining calm.
This will help reinforce that you as the owner have the right to handle the other animal; it is not food or a toy, or even something that should cause jealousy.
Keep this step pretty short as you want it to be a positive experience. Ten minutes of repeating this with each chick should be plenty of time. You should do these ten minute intervals a couple of times a day until your dog sees it as routine and shows no reaction. The goal is to keep your dog uninterested in the baby animals as much as possible.
You should also practice this step until your partner or helper can be right next to you with the chicks or other animal with your dog remaining calm. If the dog can’t be calm, go back a step and try again. Don’t rush the process; some dogs have a much higher prey drive and rushing can cause inconsistency with the training, which could have dire consequences.
As with all living things, there will come a time where the baby animal will not be able to stay in your house anymore. This will cause a new shift in things and require more training with your dog. The great outdoors is where anything can happen and if you want to keep your animals safe, you must enforce training inside and out.
For starters, if you are going to have free range chickens you want your dog to leave them alone while they are out and not chase them. Depending on your breed of dog, once again, this could be challenging. Not impossible, but challenging.
In the big picture, your dog needs to know at least five basic commands. Sit, down, stay, leave it, and wait. Besides for the reason of owning multiple pets, these are life-saving commands every dog should know.
There are many different methods that can be used to teach your dog to be calm and leave the chickens alone. I will share with you my personal one that has worked for my dog. It is not perfect right now, as she is still learning and the chicks are still very young. However, she is doing great with it and I am seeing real success.
First, you tether your dog or have someone help you keep them leashed and restrained. This helps them not chase after the chickens as soon as they come out. Also, do not release the chickens until your dog is calm. This should not really be an issue at this point if you have properly desensitized your dog to being around the chickens.
Next, release the chickens into your free range area. Your dog should still be pretty far away from them and of course, relaxed. If you need to, put your dog in a down stay. Once you notice your dog has seen the chickens, say his name and give the command “leave it”. If he looks at you, give him a treat. If he continues watching the chickens, block his view until they look at you; then reward. The goal is to not have your dog hone in on the animal, completely oblivious to anything else including your commands.
Once again, keep these episodes short but frequent. After about 10 minutes, put your dog away first. He should never see you rounding the chickens up to go back into their pen. This will undo all of your hard work! This step can take several weeks to achieve the nonchalance you desire.
Trusting Your Dog
As a word of caution, I generally would not trust leaving your dog around the chickens unattended for a long time. I have of course seen farm dogs who can walk through the chickens without even giving a second glance, and some farmers specifically teach their dogs to guard chickens. However, in the first few weeks and months of training, you cannot expect your dog to not slip up a few times and therefore should always be watched. Even if you are just in another part of the yard.
Once your dog has properly learned how to remain calm around the chickens at a distance, start narrowing in on the chickens or other animals. Keep your dog on a leash, using a sit or down stay command when near them. Continue practicing the “leave-it” command when he notices the chickens. Always use rewards! Your dog loves to please you and will be happy when you give him a positive reinforcement.
If the close proximity excites your dog, correct him firmly and leave the area with the chickens or animal. Trying to reason with an excited dog is like trying to talk to a toddler in a tantrum; you can’t and doing so just fuels the fire. Simply say, no and leave. When he calms down, you can return.
As with the other steps, this can take some time. Don’t rush it!
Eventually, you can start letting your dog off leash, supervised, to be around the animals. Any sign of excitement, you should be able to use the “leave-it” command to get your dog to settle. If you can’t control him vocally, go back a step to being leashed.
Over time and lots of patience, your dog should be able to live peacefully with your chickens or whatever other pets you may have. The procedure will always be the same. I hope you find this article helpful in training your dog to be with your other pets!