Monday, April 11, 2011

Friend or Food? Encouraging your dogs not to eat your chickens.

I had no idea the chickens would grow so fast so soon and yes I am aware of the ignorance of that statement. Within just one week of purchasing them it was clear they had already outgrown the 36" plastic bin we had purchased as their brooder. After googling "homemade chicken brooders" I saw an excellent idea from a dog kennel and tasked my husband to modify ours into the new brooder. Those were some happy chicks on moving day. He was even creative enough to put some sticks across so they had a roosting area which they took to immediately. This also seemed like a better way to get the dogs acquainted with their new 'friends'  - the plastic bin had to sit up on a table since we did not fabricate a lid, so all they saw were chicken shadows dancing on the plastic walls. The new brooder gave the dogs a direct viewing area of all chicken action. Our 'pound-hound' Norris is already over them. He could care less what the chickens are doing on a minute by minute basis. The little Boston Terrier, Cheech, is however, very concerned what they chickens are doing on a minute by minute basis. He stands in front of the brooder and just stares. Forgetting to blink, forgetting to swallow, just staring and shaking, watching their every move and planning their quick little deaths. This, of course, is a problem. 

Norris is a mellow 4 year old that aims to please, and will do anything to hear the sacred words 'good boy.' He is the guard dog of all guard dogs and still lets our 1 year old pull his ears, hug and kiss him regularly and use him as a pillow once nap time is approaching. So training him not to eat chickens was very easy, it's the little guy that we're still working on. 

I've read all sorts of odd 'teaching methods' for training a dog not to chase or eat chickens and here is a list if things I DO NOT advise:
  • Tying a dead chicken around the dogs neck and making him wear it for days
  • beating the dog to a point of 'realization'
  • shock collar training
 Here is a list of steps that I DO advise trying (sorry, not my problem if your dog is hell-bound and kills your chickens using this method, it's simply an amateurs suggestion):
  1. As always, it's best to start this chicken training after the dog has been fed, well exercised and is in a calm state.
  2. Slowly introduce the chickens to your pet - with your dog in a 'sit/stay' command and holding the baby chick securely in your hand approach the dog very calmly using a low authoritative voice. Introduce the chicken and say some command like 'easy', 'leave it' or even just 'no.'
  3. Of course the chickens will not always be secure in your hand; after the chicks have been introduced several times and the dog is more at ease around them, in a 'sit/stay' command allow the chicks to walk in front of the dog, at a safe distance. Again using the 'easy' or 'leave it' command.
  4. Soon you will take the real test of letting the dog approach the baby chicks, remain calm and in control and allow the pet to approach the chicks continuing to say 'easy' or 'leave it.' If the dog seems to become too 'intense' about the situation make him move back away from the chickens. Make sure to break his intensity by distracting him with a command. 
  5. Slowly but surely you should be able to gain the dogs trust that he knows to leave the chickens and that they are not toys. Try to always remain calm in the situation, use a low voice and do not get the dog too excited. If at any time you're not in control of the situation, remove the dog until he calms down and try again. Its a slow process, but dogs aim to please and will eventually catch on.
"I don't want to eat them, but they sure are asking for it!"
This process was a piece of cake for Norris. He caught on immediately and is now friends with the chickens. Cheech on the other hand still has friend and food in the same category. He passed all of the tests while we were in the house. We could approach him, he could approach them, everything was calm and collective. It was such a beautiful day in Michigan Saturday and Sunday that I brought the chicks outside to enjoy some free range. Using the same approach as I did inside the house I sat Cheech in a 'sit/stay' position and let the chicks out. Everything was peachy. I then let Cheech approach the chicks, still doing well at this point. It was about 5 minutes later that I saw the crazy in his eyes. The crazy that makes us describe this dog to friends as the type to drink too much tequila at the bar and pick fights with dudes twice his size. One of the chicks was mid hop when Cheech lunged - I saw this all panning out and was there right in time with a sharp 'LEAVE IT' just as his mouth was opening wide enough to see his snaggle teeth ready to make contact. Just like Jekyll and Hyde I saw the crazed tequila drinker leave his eyes, he stopped mid action and slowly slinked away toward the house. For good measure, like a crazy woman, I Cesar Milan style rolled him into a submissive position proclaiming 'Bad Dog!' and sent him inside for a time out. Things have been very quiet and controlled on the farm since this incident, and as you can see he is slowly realizing that 'friends' are not 'food.'


Ehren said...

They are getting so big!

simple life ain't easy said...

*sigh* they just grow up way too fast!

Melinda said...

LOL! Love this post! Got chicks 2 weeks ago and we have 2 pups that are 5 months old~ Vi is sweet even tempered and calm. While her sister is a mad man! Jumping, pouncing on anything that moves. I feel your pain!

Thanks for the chuckle I totally get the references with Cheech...

Admin said...

Melinda - thanks for comment. It seemed to go very smoothly on the last round of baby chicks we hatched a month ago, he seemed to not even notice them. He has yet to learn his lesson on toads though. You would think after a few mouthfuls of toad pee he would quit grabbing them... Oh well.

Bear said...

One note, if used properly, the shock collars really aren't bad. They have multiple settings and you start working with the dog at the setting where they just barely notice it.

We got one out of desperation because my dog leaves them alone entirely if I'm around, but if he gets out or a chicken escapes and I'm not around, he eats them. I needed something to work with him while I was out of sight.

At the low level settings, it isn't any sharper of a correction than what you do with a training collar and is less forceful than rolling them on their back.

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