CHICKENS V. DOGS
Protecting free-range chickens from farm dogs can be a challenge. Warning: This post is about dogs killing chickens. If you are of the kind that would prefer not to read the details of such, this might be a post you prefer to skip.
This is not our first flock of hens. Myrtle, our old hound dog has shared her space with chickens before. I was absolutely shocked when she killed and ate Fiona, a sweet old banty. I thought, “well, the chicken was old, maybe she just died?” Nope. A few days later she killed poor Lacey, another older hen who sadly was my favorite.
I did what anyone would do and headed to the google. I read opinion after opinion. Opinions ranging from “you can never break them of the habit” to the very popular, albeit disgusting, recommendation to tie the dead bird to the dog and leave it there for several days. This theory supposes the decomposing chicken will eventually so overwhelm the dog they will forever be dissuaded from killing a chicken. Up until that point, we kept Myrtle in a very large boundary established with an underground wire and a corrective collar. The boundary included our immediate yard and entire goat pasture where the chicken coop is located. Just over an acre. So poor Myrtle’s range was restricted to the immediate yard… Sad doggie, but living chickens.
And then… those chickens did not care one bit about the Danger Zone. They venture right onto the front porch where our lazy old hound likes to lay in the sun! Those silly birds drink out of her water dish! Bold move chickens, bold move. Somehow, the chickens’ daring display of stupidity seems to have worked.
One of the theories I came across while I was searching for answers centers around the dog’s pack mentality. As long as your dog accepts the chickens as part of the pack, they will not kill them. This seems to be what happened with Myrtle. Of the three chickens she killed, two were new arrivals. The other was when the chickens had just started braving outside of the coop. For now, we seemed to have achieved a level of peace. Next spring when I introduce new chickens, I will very deliberately intoroduce them to her under my direct control and supervision.
And then there is the puppy….
Mabel is an English Cocker Spaniel. Cocker Spaniels are bred for their bird instinct and drive. We knew she would be drawn to the chickens. Cocker Spaniels typically have soft mouths. As opposed to a pointer, they stay close and flush game out of the tall grass. Which is exactly what she does to the chickens. Mabel loves to chase the chickens, there is absolutely nothing she enjoys more. If left unsupervised, or when she sneaks out of the house with the kids she has harmed the birds. She doesn’t seem to have the same kill and eat tendencies as Myrtle. It is more of a play with it until it accidentally dies situation. It is crummy none the less.
Because our chickens are out every day, it is imperative that we solve this problem. Although it is a pain, I take her with me to collect the eggs, let the chickens out each morning, and put them in each evening. Initially, I took her on a leash until she became more responsive to my queues. Mabel is very smart, and her drive to please is high. Day after day by my consistent correction of her interest in the birds, while asserting control she has learned not to mess with them.
So long as I keep an eye on her, she can now safely accompany me with chores without endangering the chickens. It has taken a lot of time and it is not always perfect. As of right now she will sometimes chase the chickens, but leaves them alone as soon as I tell her too. I am confident that with continued correction and maturity she will eventually be a good dog!