You’ve seen it on some TV programmes or driven past small-holdings and seen canines and chooks living in harmony. Maybe they are a working dog? Maybe they are a family dog? How do they do it? We have put together 7 expert tips to help you introduce your new dog to a flock of chickens.
Understand How Dogs and Animals Learn
Our canine companions, on the whole, are super intelligent and trainable, providing we know how they learn and what we need to do to train them. Introducing them to our chooks can be done and co-habiting harmony does exist. It’s through this small thing we call desensitization. Stay with us for a short Psych 101 and we promise it’ll be worth it.
Desensitization is a process where, through graded exposure, an emotional response is diminished and adapted to a specific stimulus.
Now, what the heck does that mean I hear you yell?
In short, you expose your dog to your chooks, from a distance. As he behaves how you expect him to, you gradually move him closer to the chooks. You eventually get to the stage, that through the gradual exposure, he’s not that interested in the chooks after all. His emotional response has diminished, and he has adapted which results in a calm response.
Start with your chooks in their coop or a fenced in area. Keep your dog on leash and feed him treats, providing he is ignoring the chooks. If he is paying too much attention to them, move to a greater distance. The aim is to find a distance where he is not having any emotional response towards them.
Grade the Exposure
Providing your dog is ignoring the chooks at a certain distance, you can move gradually closer to them. Say you start at 50 feet away, slowly reduce to 45 feet, 40 feet and so on. Continue to praise and reward him for ignoring them. Remember, you want his emotional response to diminish. Keep training sessions short, you don’t want to over tire your dog. Some dogs get hyper-aroused just by being over-tired.
The Big Moment!
You’ve finally made it to near the chicken coop or fence, providing he is still pretty chilled out in ignorance of the chooks, ask him to sit next to the fence or coop. Praise and reward. If he behaves how you expect him to, lengthen the leash, so he can move around the border of the coop or fence, he can sniff and explore. If he’s calm, the chooks may even come over to investigate. Stay calm. If he starts getting excited or lunges/barks at them, remove him to a safe distance where he will ignore them again. You may need to do this a few times. What he learns is that to be around the chooks, I must stay calm. If your chooks will stay in a coop or fenced area, this may be where you spend the time repeating the behaviour and praising and rewarding. You may sit with him with a chew or just work on some commands. Again, the aim is to encourage him to ignore the chooks.
If you plan on having free range chickens, and canine and chooks will be mingling daily, read on.
The Great Escape
When you feel confident that your dog has so far, happily ignored the chooks and not shown any aggression or heightened arousal towards them, you can let them out of their coop/area to roam freely. Keep your dog on his leash. Ask him to sit or lay down if this makes you feel more comfortable. As the chooks are roaming, providing your dog shows little interest, praise and reward him. Again, you may want to give him a chew or even a slow feeding puzzle game. He just needs to learn than he can co-exist with the chickens without interacting with them a great deal.
Patience Is A Virtue
You may have to spend a significant amount of time working through these steps, but done in the right way, it will be worth it. Whilst on leash you can walk him through the chooks, he may sniff, they may also show interest too. The only behaviour you don’t want to see is aggression, lunging or chasing. If this happens, go straight back to beginning and work on the gradual exposure again.
The most nerve-wracking part will likely be when you feel he is ready to be let off leash to mingle on his own. Again, take your time. You may pop the chickens back in the coop and let him explore off leash around a fence. You may prefer to put him on a long line (50ft) when in with the free-range chooks. This way, he feels like he has more freedom, but you still have control if it goes pear shaped. Be realistic though, some dogs just never quite make it to being able to mingle unsupervised with chooks, so watch the behaviour of your dog and make the call.
Chooks to dogs are super-interesting, like most things. The long and the short of it, successful introductions mean the chooks are no longer that interesting and your dog learns that to be around them he simply just needs to be calm. Arm yourself with some high value treats, chews and any other slow feeder puzzles; start from a distance and encourage the behaviour you want to see. Praise and reward when you do. Grade the exposure. Always stay calm and in control and don’t be afraid of going back to square one if things don’t go as you’d hoped. It may take time, but it will be worth it when you have canine and chooks living in harmony.
This post was written by John Wood at All Things Dogs.