If you're thinking about getting some chickens or other poultry to keep in your backyard and are worried because you're not sure how your dog will behave around them, then you need to find out first if your four legged friend will turn out to be a friend or a foe. If they are foes, your dog may insist on chasing and maybe even killing any feathered newcomers you introduce into your home.
Dogs can be a serious problem to chickens because their instinct might just kick in. They could well see a prized hen or two as their dinner, something you naturally want to avoid at all costs. Smaller dogs and more especially terriers, can be a real problem for owners who want to keep poultry. It would be a mistake to be fooled by their size because many smaller dogs are often bred for their hunting skills and their natural instinct, which is to chase prey. Chickens make great prey for these little dogs to chase and practice their natural skills!
The one thing that's in your favour is the fact most domestic dogs just want to please their owners. They love to be rewarded when they are well behaved, and as an owner you are the pack leader so you rule the roost. The key to successfully introducing a few chickens into your “pack” is make sure your dog realises they are members and not something to be chased, killed and then eaten.
The first time you introduce a dog to any kind of poultry, you would need to keep them on a short lead, making sure the chickens are safely behind some solid and secure poultry wire. If you know anyone who already keeps chickens, ask them if you can organise a trial introduction between your dog and their birds. This will give you a good idea of how your dog reacts to poultry. This will give you a clear picture of what to expect when you get your own chickens in your own garden.
The chances are your dog will be extremely excited when they first see chickens, remember this is going to be a totally new experience for them. You may also find your dog is nervous at first, especially if the chickens flutter their wings or chase around on the other side of the wire. This kind of movement will bring out a dog's natural instinct which is to chase and attack. You need to be alert and ready to keep a tight grip on the lead, holding your dog back and staying nice and calm the whole time. If you show any excitement or start talking loudly or shouting, your dog will follow your lead – so it's important to stay nice and relaxed if you want things to go smoothly.
Stay around the chickens with your dog for around 15 to 20 minutes, all the time behaving normally and talking quietly to your dog, giving them plenty of praise if they are behaving themselves. If they won't calm down, then take them away from the chickens for a few minutes and then bring them back again to see if your dog settles down. You might have to repeat the process a few times but eventually, your dog will lose interest and move on to something else that gets their attention. The excitement usually dies down pretty quickly. When your dog is nice and quiet give them a big reward!
When you get your own chickens and have set up a nice safe and solid run for them, you need to repeat the process of introducing your dog to the newcomers. Once your dog has understood the chickens are part of your “pack”, you may find your dog gets quite protective towards them. This is great because it means your dog will always let you know when another animal is around your precious hens.
If you find your dog cannot resist attacking your chickens, don't despair because all is not lost. You will still be able to keep your hens but you would need to train your dog not to chase them. The training might take a little time and you would need to keep your dog and your chickens safely apart, always keeping a watchful eye on them when they are together, even with a wire fence between them. If your dog keeps running up and down the length of the run, bring them inside the house, put them on a lead and take them back to the run and start again. Reward your dog if they don't show any interest in the chickens.
If you need help, then call on a dog trainer who will be able to put your dog through their paces, all the while teaching them not to chase your hens. Again, once your dog understands the chickens are part of the family, they will do an about turn and start protecting them instead of chasing them as their instincts tell them to do.
If you have a cat, the thing to watch out for is when any of your hens produce chicks. Chicks running around a yard can be a little too much for any cats who have never been around chickens before. The only way to protect your chicks is to make sure they are kept in a secure run until they are big enough to run freely around your yard. Mummy hen will protect her chicks from predators, but if the chicks scatter in all directions, she doesn't stand much of a chance of making sure they are all safe from an interested cat!
You would need to make sure you have everything set up and ready for your chickens to arrive. This includes a nice secure enclosure to put your chickens in. It's also a good idea to have your dog or dogs safely inside when you put your hens in their new enclosure. This will give them enough time to settle in their new environment without getting too frightened or stressed out by a dog running around.
Once your dog has completely lost interest in the fact you have chickens, you can think about letting them run freely together around your garden, but make sure you keep a watchful eye on things for the first few days to be on the safe side. Some hens and cockerels can be a little aggressive towards dogs – so you need to make sure your dog does not have good reason for having a go back at your hens!