Tag Archive : 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!)

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

Forgive and Forget. These are words to live by, they apply to a lot of situations in life, and they apply to dog training. As trainers, or handlers, we have a tendency to expect perfection from ourselves, and occasionally from our dogs. We have all had that day where it seems nothing goes right, and while Fido has performed this particular command 600 times with flawless execution…. today at 601 he’s completely forgotten everything he’s ever learned. And you find yourself standing there miserable, frustrated and even temperamental.

And any good trainer will tell you to take a step back. Remember to breathe, and start over. They will remind you that we all have off days, and it’s important to forgive the dog their short comings at that really expensive trial you just watched blow up in your face. And that you can come back to the work when you’ve cleared your head; you can resume training with a clean slate.

But while we all know we have to forgive our dogs - after all they live in the moment; and don’t really understand that you’re annoyed because they ruined your training experience yesterday – we too often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client or friend tell me the fault with their dog is on their shoulders, that they messed up. And while often this is true, the guilt weighs heavy on them and it infiltrates their training, and their attitude.

So, I am here to remind you that while you’re busy forgiving your dog, don’t forget to forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will do something you’re not proud of, you’ll get angry and frustrated and annoyed. You’ll raise your voice when it’s not fair, and you’ll resent your dog for valid, and sometimes even petty, things. And you will realize you’ve done any, or all, of these things and you will feel incredibly guilty for it. You will know it wasn’t fair, you’ll know it probably did more harm than good. And you’ll carry that guilt with you into your next training session…And you need to stop.

I call it the Clean Slate Principle. I approach every training session with a clean slate, for the dog I’m working AND myself. I make certain to let go of any of my own feelings of guilt, or inadequacy; I start with a clean slate. Each session is it’s own new day experience, and that means we have a chance to undo, redo, or reinforce anything we need to; but we can’t do that if we’re not working from a clean slate.

So the next time you start a training session remember to start with a Clean Slate. A Clean Slate for your dog, and for yourself. After all, unlike our perfect dogs, you are only human.