Category Archive : +R Dog Training

Dogs vs. Backyard Dinosaurs: Keeping pet chickens safe with dogs

This past week the rescue I work with was contacted by two different people to take in dogs who were attacking/harassing/killing chickens. We were able to help them thankfully, but in reflection I feel very sad for these two otherwise delightfully sweet dogs. They were simply doing what dogs do.

With the pandemic came a lot of changes for our world, one of which was the rise of backyard chickens. Or backyard dinosaurs as I like to call them. I have had chickens in my backyard for years, I absolutely adore them, and someday should film training them using the same methods I use on dogs and horses (ducks, and pigs too apparently!) And as delightful as backyard chickens can be, they do pose a challenge when it comes to our dogs.

Many owners are finding a sudden problem of their dogs wanting to mess with their chickens. Many of these dogs were not raised around chickens, and now are faced with the challenge of ignoring their instincts and not chasing the flightless birds hanging out on the lawn. And owners are facing the reality that their sweet, wonderful dogs might pose a threat to their equally wonderful chickens.

So what are we to do? How do we maintain the safety of our flocks in the presence of a predator? Except in this case the predator is Fido, our family golden retriever.

Can dogs and chickens coexist?

Absolutely! But there are some things we need to understand about dog behavior, and chicken behavior though. The first is that dogs are opportunistic predators. And chickens are prey. Not only that, chickens behave like prey: they tend to flap off, making noise and running when startled. Which can easily excite the prey drive in a dog, even in our softest, most mellow and fluffy of pups. This can also cause other problems if the dog catches the chickens, stress to the birds, injury or even death. And as such knowing what to do to help our dogs and chickens coexist is important to keeping everyone safe and happy. We have to acknowledge this reality, and understand that it is something that will always color our are dogs and chickens interact. This is not a problem for dogs, after all it is what dogs do, and we very rarely condemn dogs for chasing squirrels.

 

Management:

It is rare that you will find a dog who is more willing to leave the chickens alone than chase them. I am more surprised by dogs who ignore the chickens, then I am by dogs who are willing to do chickens harm. As mentioned above, dogs are predators and will behave the way predators do. So our first line of defense in protecting our chickens is management.

A secure chicken coop and run is paramount. Having a safe space with plenty of room to secure your chickens is not only good husbandry, it is the best way to keep your chickens safe from all kinds of threats. Hawks, raccoons, foxes will all cross through suburban environments for an easy drive thru meal of a pet chicken. Your chicken run should have some kind of roofing, either a solid roof or a wire roof that provides protection from above. But when you have a dog in the yard you should also reinforce the fencing around the run, and a way to keep the bottom of the run from being dug under. At my tiny urban homestead I have cinder blocks around the base of my run, and I have wrapped hog panels outside the chicken wire that makes the bulk of the fencing system. These hog panels are designed to keep very large pigs in place, and since they are very sturdy they are the perfect defense from dogs pushing on the chicken wire inside and weakening my fence. The cinder blocks are there to keep the dogs from digging at the fence and creating holes to stick heads through. At my house one of my dogs will absolutely cause the chickens harm if he gets too close to them, when they dogs are in the yard the chickens are secure in their run. I took special care in raising my hens to train them to “kennel up” on cue.

The second phase of management is the age old, tried and true best practice for keeping dogs safe: a leash. Yep! When in doubt: leash up. Leashes are an important part of managing the situation to keep your chickens safe, and your dog from making poor choices. Here at the River Hawk Homestead when a dog needs to go potty, but the birds are out in the backyard enjoying their bug patrol duties, I take the dog out on a long leash to go potty. This allows me to really reinforce their good behavior of ignoring and disengaging from the birds, as well as keep them from getting too close and making a poor choice with the birds.

 

Training:

The next step in dog and chicken cohabitation is that favorite word: training. We want to work with our dogs very quickly as the birds come home. I teach a strong, and well reinforced “leave it.” But I also train my dogs (on a long line) in the yard with the birds to do mat/stationing behaviors. Teaching them to maintain a comfortable position on a platform or a mat while the birds are about. Both of these behaviors will go a long way to helping your dog know what is expected of them when the chickens are around.

The final training piece is a rock solid recall. Being able to call my dog back to me and direct their focus to appropriate items is key to harmonious living with birds. I want to make sure I can ask my dog to walk away from the birds of their own accord, and easily give them an appropriate alternative to chasing my birds.

In conclusion: Yes dogs and chickens can live together. But that picture may not look like the bucolic image of a dogs sniffing in the yard with chickens milling about. For many dogs it will look like good management and ongoing training practices to keep the birds safe, and the dog's safe from their own less than desirable impulses. And if you find yourself overwhelmed; reach out! I have a lot of experience with chickens and with dogs (obviously) and I am happy to help guide you! You can even get a consult on how to train your chickens to recall and kennel up on cue! (My behavior consulting is not limited to canines!)

I want to normalize the idea of a half hour training session with a professional trainer.

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time adjusting my business, like we all have. One of the ways I did that was moving to an online platform for training, first by necessity, then by choice. I love working online. I love working over video. The ability to record, and watch without any interference from my presence has forced me to elevate my training. I have had to sit down and analyze the way I teach and learn all the subtle nuances of my own methods to translate them to other people without the handicap of grabbing the leash. And something I’ve realized is that a half an hour is the perfect training session.

I offer half hour training sessions online only. This is because the cost of driving around my valley makes a 30 minute session not really worth it given the cost of traveling in time and gas around the city. Except that maybe it is?

We talk a lot about the dog’s ability to focus in training. Keeping sessions short and in multitudes rather than one long session during the day. But what we don’t talk about is the owner. As people we too have limited attention spans, and brains that can become over saturated with information ensuring not enough gets retained.

So why are we still working on an hour long model when a half hour model is more efficient for everyone? I think on eof the primary reasons is tradition, growing up attending public schools class times are an hour long, meetings with therapists, lawyers, doctors are all charged by the hour. But the reality is those hour long classes aren’t actually an hour either. It’s 50 minutes. Your therapist? 50 minutes. Your doctor? Maybe a half an hour really. So why in dog training has the industry standard become an hour when a half hour will serve every one just fine?

As someone with ADHD I often worry my perspective on focus is skewed. I oscillate between so fixated on a goal I can remain on a single task for hours, and so wildly unable to concentrate I can’t even get the dishes done. So I tend to view my perspectives on the best use of time through a lens of inherent suspicion: am I accurate or am I just having an ADHD moment? But the truth is moving to offering 30 minute sessions online has been an amazing blessing.

In 30 minute sessions I am able to have my notes made, my plan of attack done a head of time, and I can hit the ground running. Everything is streamlined. I have the ability to present information and practice skills in doses that do not overwhelm the dog, or the owner. Because I keep my own active teaching to short bursts in traditional sessions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of information dump between working with the dog. For some clients this is something they can soak up, and they love it. But for people who are less interested in the nitty gritty science of dogs, and more interested in just having a good relationship with their dog, this can be an information overload. And this can make it hard for them to remember the key points they needed to take away from the session, or what specifically they were to work on.

And yes, after session notes are helpful for this, but for me after session notes can be very time consuming, and take a day or two to get out to clients when I am doing back to back hour long sessions. My brain has a saturation point too, even for an area of hyper focus like work. But in a 30 minute sessions I can have time set aside after for those after session notes. I can make them immediately, and get them typed up and sent out directly following my work because I have budgeted the time for it more smoothly then with a traditional time slot.

So going forward I am going to be sitting down and reworking my current plans and packages. I think making training sessions with clients into shorter, more frequent bursts, like in dog training it’s self, is going to see more success for everyone. And at the end of the day my job is to make sure my clients can train their dogs, and 30 minutes is all it takes to a better relationship with any dog.

What do you mean we’re doing this virtually?

Things changed a lot over the last year. And that meant having to change with it. Perhaps it is a silver lining in all of this, that I was forced to move more virtual with my work during the pandemic, because it had been a long term goal of mine for a while.

“Wait, you WANTED to go virtual?”

Yes, I did. Among the teachers struggling, and people finding themselves working from home in makeshift offices in the corner of the bedroom, with a closet door for a background, I was finally able to do what I had wanted for some time: work remotely.

I have been working slowly towards moving virtual for several years. All my work building the ideas and platforms behind Hikerhund were all geared towards providing an entirely online service center for people to get help with their dogs. The pandemic simply forced my hand, and made me take the leap. And I loved it more than I even imagined I would.

My long term goals had always been to build Hikerhund as an online platform, a resource for training and education about having dogs in the outdoors, safely and for maximum benefit. But I suffer a constant battle with never feeling like I am quite “ready.” This has lead to me putting off, delaying and otherwise avoiding taking big leaps more than once in my life. And the results of lock downs and a global pandemic with an illness that was particularly risky for me (I am a severe asthmatic) combined to force me to make the big jump. In a matter of a couple of weeks I was able to launch new programs, and offer new services via zoom and continued over the last year to build and rebrand, and design programs to promote virtual learning with dogs.

“But you’re a dog trainer, how can you train dogs from a computer?”

The simple answer is that I am not training dogs. Despite the misnomer of my job title the reality is the bulk of my job is actually training other people to train their dogs. I can teach a dog to almost anything, but that is not much use to people when I am not around. My job is to teacher owners how to train their dogs, so that at some point they feel confident to continue working with their dogs while I am not standing there watching (especially since I assign homework!) My goal with any client is to make sure they feel confident enough to understand the process of moving forward, so that in the future when they encounter speed bumps on the road of life they have developed the skills and understanding to tackle them on their own. (And if they run across something they don’t feel equipped to handle they know exactly where to reach to for help!)

“But I really want you to see my dog do….”

I don’t. Which sounds blunt, but it’s the truth. I do not want to see your dog fail, I do not want to see your dog have an overly emotional response to a stimuli. I do not want to see your dog practice poor obedience behaviors. I do not want to see your dog making mistakes and practicing those mistakes. If you’ve caught the behavior on video prior I will gladly watch it but during training I will go out of my way to avoid setting your dog up to practice a poor decision. And I will be teaching you how to avoid that too. The truth is I don’t need to see it, because I have seen it. I’ve spoken with you at length about the issue, and I know what reactivity, what aggression, what over stimulated manic behaviors look like. So addressing them is a matter of relying on my experience and education, not necessarily witnessing the dog losing it’s mind over a squirrel and blowing off his recall.

In the case of particularly nervous dogs, or dogs who struggle with aggressive behaviors my not being present in the environment is a great benefit. It means we are able to work with the dog in an environment he is most comfortable, and with out the added stress of another human present. This makes it so much easier for dogs who struggle in the presence of strangers to maintain composure to focus, and learn and rehears good skills with their handler to reduce poor decisions out in public again.

But I’d really like you to come with me on a walk to see how we are doing.”

Great! Let’s get your phone out and let’s go! I can take a walk with you anywhere in the world with the simple use of a strap, and a set of ear buds/phones. And as an added bonus once again there is not another person adding stress and excitement to your dog’s normal routine of going for a walk, and you get real time help anywhere you are – so even when you’re away from home. And for me, I get to watch through video everything that happens and coach you through everything you need help with, but neither one of us can fall back on the crutch of me just “doing it.” (Which is something I struggle with allowing to happen since I know how to quickly and easily get behaviors from dogs it can be tempting for both of us to fall back on letting me do it instead of really getting you, the dog’s handler and guardian to over come obstacles and learn to teach the skills. This I particularly true with leash skills.)

“Well… when can I try this out?”

One of the benefits of going virtual is that I can be a lot more flexible. Since I do not have to factor in travel times, I can offer a lot more to clients more often and earlier/later into the day as well. This means I can often see you sooner then I would be able to do if you wanted to do something in person, this also means for people who want excellent , expert help from other regions they too can get good, reliable, solid, scientifically backed information to help them train their dogs. No matter where they live.

It also means more flexibility for you. When I was doing in person training I had a hard time of an hour session. This is often a LOT for dogs, and even for clients. I can pack a lot of information into 60 minutes, and that isn’t always a good thing. It can be overwhelming. Dogs have a limited attention span, and pushing past that can make training an unpleasant experience, and then make dogs resistant to learning. With virtual training I can cut sessions down to 30 minutes, this is enough time to maximize a dog’s potential and a human’s (people have a general attention span of about 45 minutes.) Since there is no factor of travel time, we can get in, get to work and be done before any one is overloaded with information. This allows me to trim training to it’s essential elements, and really refine our work. It is the perfect length of time to engage both humans and dogs, and it’s not something I could offer in person while driving all over the place.

If you want to know more send me an email! Let’s talk about your dog! pine@irwindogtraining.com

Like most people who train through positive reinforcement, I use a lot of training treats. Doubly so because I am often using them for client’s dogs etc. That means my treat budget is pretty extensive compared to a lot of my other expenses. And as we all know the best treats with the best ingredients are kind of expensive.

Another concern is for dogs who have strict dietary restrictions, getting away from common allergens like chicken, or rosemary can be really challenging. Not to mention expensive. And none of us really want to give more money to amazon or chewy. So I have a homemade training treat that is amazing! Dogs love it and it’s super easy to make! (Not to mention cheap.)

For the recipe I made here I use multiple kinds of baby food, but you can use a single flavor, or any combination you want. The key is to use the flour to help balance it out. The first time I made these I just baked the baby food, the results were tasty but mostly flavored air crisps. They crumbled with the slightest touch, and were mostly air. Obviously this is not ideal for storing in a treat pouch.

What you need: mixing bowl, spatula, large baking sheet, silicone triangle mat.

Available via Amazon. I know, I know, you can check your local restaurant supply for them too.

Basic Recipe:

13 to 14oz baby food

1 cup flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix together baby food and flour to form a consistency that is thicker then the baby food, but easy to spread.
  3. Spread in inverted silicone trays. I just glob it in the middle and spread it out, scraping off any excess so it’s all level. I don’t really worry about the edges since the goal here is to create treats as easily as possible and I am not detail oriented. At all.
  4. Bake. 10 to 13 minutes, I kind of eye ball them if they look like they are going to burn I take them out.
  5. Let cool enough you can dump them out. They will pop right out of the silicone tray, I just roll it and out they come. I do not grease the tray ahead of time.
  6. Let cool completely, toss into a jar for storing. I do keep them in the fridge when not in use since I don’t dry them into hard rocks, and there are no preservatives in them. You want them to be cool completely before storing because the heat escaping will create steam that will make them too soggy long term.
  7. Let your dog lick the bowl.

For this recipe I used 4oz Apple, 4oz pumpkin, 2.5oz Chicken and 2.5oz turkey. You can use any combination of flavors. You could even use peanut butter but if you do you might want to adjust the flour content to ensure you don’t end up with a paste that is too difficult to spread. I like using baby food because you can control the ingredients, and make sure you aren’t accidentally getting something in there that is not diet approved for dogs who are restricted, or need to manager their calories. (I haven’t experimented with using canned dog food yet, I am planning too soon though! But with canned food there are often a lot of additives and stabilizers that I don’t necessarily care about, but also don’t really need to add when baby food is pretty cheap and easily obtained. Also with canned food you will need a pate variety with no “chunks” unless you want to take the step to run it through a food processor first. No chunky, all smooth.)

It is really that easy. And I have two trays, I filled them both completely and baked them. There was a little batter left over that I split between the dogs and let my youngest lick the bowl before putting it all in the dish washer. (The trays can go through the dish washer too!)

Voila. Easy, delicious, entirely customizable dog treats! No spending half your day cutting hot dogs, or cheese. All in all when I make these it takes maybe half an hour. And most of that is just baking the trays (I bake them one at a time since my oven isn’t super large.)

Let me know if you try them!

pine@irwindogtraining.com