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By John Woods, Founder of All Things Dogs
Having chickens is a great way to save on buying eggs at the grocery store while having them cleaning up table scraps from large dinners. However, there are some challenges when keeping other animals, especially dogs, around chickens. Some dogs like to chase small animals around while others can coexist easily with them. Knowing your pet is extremely important before diving into the world of chicken husbandry, along with training and safety if you decide to take the leap. You also have to consider the well-being of your chickens and how to keep them happy and healthy.
Let’s take a look at a few things to consider when introducing chickens onto the property with a dog in the family.
Dog Breeds that Get Along with Chickens
Knowing your dog’s breed and personality is key. There are dog breeds that get along with chickens, such as the Great Pyrenees or the Anatolian Shepherd, were made specifically to be livestock guardians. Their prey drive is little to nonexistent while they are very protective of whatever herd or flock they were tasked to look after.
On the flip side, breeds with high prey drives, the Beagle or any type of terrier, are not suited for an amicable life with chickens without lots of training. They were trained to hunt down prey for their owners by injuring it and keeping it cornered until the humans could get to it. Some dogs are just territorial and do not want any new animals in their space.
By evaluating the personality and breed of your pooch, you can follow the necessary steps of either being very cautious or more relaxed when introducing chickens into their lives.
Exposure and Introductions
Even if your family pet is one of the dog breeds that get along with chickens, the true test is to have them around chickens for the first time. Get in touch with your local farmers or neighbors to see if you can introduce your companion, on leash, to their animals.
First, you will want the chickens to be separated from you by a fence, preferably in their pen. Having your dog sniff around and observe in the beginning is good so they can understand these new friends. After a few moments, get the attention of your pet with treats and have them do a few tricks with their back to the chickens. If your dog is constantly distracted by the chickens, more exposure and time is needed for them to be relaxed around them.
Another thing to note is when commotion happens in the chicken coop. Have the owner of the chickens rile up the girls in their coop so you can see the reaction of your dog. If they want to give chase, your dog would not be suited to have roaming chickens outside the coop. If they are alert but stay where they are, future chickens should be safe with them to have them around the yard.
General Rules and Safety
While we might know our pets, we can never truly predict how they will react in certain situations. Having a closed-off coop for your chickens is necessary when keeping chickens for the first time with your dog. Not only does it prevent your canine companion from getting to them, but it also keeps other unwanted predators, such as foxes or badgers, from getting into the coop. A high fence is very important; there are multiple stories of dogs jumping and climbing fences to get to the chickens. With a high fence, you need some ground protection as well so your pup doesn’t dig their way into the coop.
As a general rule, your dog should not be allowed in the coop at all. This clear distinction keeps accidents from happening when you are not looking and allows the chickens to have a space of their own. When chickens are stressed, they do not lay eggs which is against the whole point of keeping these birds. Keeping your dog out of the coop also prevents sickness. Salmonella is found in the chickens’ feces and we all know how dogs love to eat poop; this also keeps our companions from bringing in the dirt and grossness from the coop indoors.
If you do have a dog that is comfortable around the chickens, letting them mingle together in the yard is a tricky situation. Letting chickens roam around the yard outside the coop has its advantages, they eat all sorts of bugs, including ticks! However, a bunch of things can go wrong if you are not paying attention to body language. Hackles raised, intense staring, and slow, deliberate movements from your dog are all signs that they might pounce on one of the birds. If you see any of these signs, immediately remove the dog from the area and gather the chickens back into their coop.
Socialize Your Chickens and Your Dog
Like said earlier, chickens will not lay eggs if they feel threatened or stressed in any way. It will take some time for them to get used to living next door to a big, toothy animal that may or may not eat them, so it will take time for them to relax. Feeding them while having the dog in the yard, distracted by a toy or bone, is a good way to get them used to seeing your dog and associate being fed when they are around.
The same principle can be used with your canine companion. Giving them treats for ignoring the chickens teaches them that the birds are not the most interesting thing in their environment. Reinforcement and consistency is key to teaching your dog the rules of having these new animals around.At the end of the day, it is really up to you if you think having chickens on your property with a dog is a good idea or not. While this article was to teach the importance of saving the chickens from your dog, these birds are known to stand their ground as well. A smaller or shyer dog can easily be bullied by a flock of naughty chickens that will chase them around and peck at their bottoms!
John Woods is the founder of All Things Dogs. A publication built to educate over 40,000,000 dog owners on how to care for their dogs.