Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.
Why Would a Dog Attack a Pet Bird?
If your dog attacked your pet bird, you are likely feeling terrible. Even if your pet bird turns out to be fine, the experience was certainly scary and worrisome.
Perhaps, you even feel anger towards your dog. These hard feelings aren't surprising. Most likely, you have entrusted your dog for some time and thought something similar would never happen.
Or perhaps, you thought you had more control over your dog, while instead, your dog was completely unresponsive to your requests to leave your pet bird alone.
The Importance of Seeing an Avian Vet
Regardless of what triggered the attack, your very first step is to make sure your pet bird is OK.
There may be a deep puncture wound under all those feathers, and possibly even internal injuries.
Even if you notice a small cut, consider that even the smallest skin abrasion may cause a bite wound to get badly infected. An untreated infection can turn into a case of septicemia, which is a blood-borne infection that can become life-threatening.
Please have an avian veterinarian carefully assess your pet bird's condition.
A Matter of Predatory Drive
In a great majority of cases, dogs attack birds out of predatory drive. Despite domestication, some dogs retain strong predatory instincts.
Breed is one big factor. Certain dog breeds were selectively bred to hunt birds and any fleeting movement will attract them. It's therefore important to consider this.
Other breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Jack Russell terriers, fox terriers, pit bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers and German Shepherds may also be predisposed to engage in predatory behaviors.
Technically though, any dog breed and its mixes can be predisposed. Yes, that includes Bailey, your neighbor's friendly golden retriever.
What Is Predatory Drive?
Predatory drive is a dog's instinct to find, pursue and capture prey animals.
In the olden days, in order to enjoy a meal, a dog's ancestors were required to hunt, and this entailed following a precise sequence that is known as the "predatory sequence."
In wolves, the predatory sequence is composed of five main motor patterns that are reliably triggered by the fleeting movements of prey. Now, dogs are not wolves, (there are many differences between dogs and wolves), but they still share some similarities.
One of them is predatory drive, although in dogs, it is true that the predatory sequence's organization has become relaxed courtesy of domestication and a dogs' associated shift from the hunter to scavenger niche (Coppinger & Coppinger 2001).
The five predatory behaviors that are part of the predatory sequence include the following: Orient > eye-stalk > chase > grab-bite > kill-bite > dissect > consume.
Early Predatory Signs
Not always as owners we may recognize the early predatory signals dogs give us before going into a full attack. The initial signals may be quite subtle.
Contrary to fear aggression, predatory behavior tends to be rather silent.
Prior to attacking, your dog may have likely exhibited a fixed stare, closed mouth, the head kept still and body crouched as if stalking. Immediately after the stalk, there is often the chase with the intent to attack.
Did you know? The part of the predatory sequence that involves grabbing and killing prey has been genetically enhanced in some breeds. Several small terriers were bred for their 'grab and kill' behaviors, and because of that, they are referred to as "finishers."
Evaluating Triggering Events
Predatory behaviors are often triggered by certain movements or events. Your dog may have been OKish when your parrot or parakeet was kept in his cage or even standing on a table, but something as unexpected as jumping off a table may have fully triggered his predatory drive.
Here's the thing: your dog may have really never been totally fine with your bird. Apparently and superficially yes, but not at a deeper level.
There are chances that when your pet bird was in the cage or just walking around, your dog was in a sub-threshold state of mind, with his predatory drive at a low level.
Once your parrot or parakeet though jumped off or took flight, those instincts kicked into full gear triggering the grab – bite – and in the saddest cases, the kill.
Other Possible Evoking Events
Predatory drive may be only one reason why dogs may attack or kill birds. There may be other factors and dynamics going on. Following are just a few other potential reasons.
A dog may also attack because the bird happened to get too close to an object the dog may have been resource guarding such as a food bowl, a sleeping area or even a specific person.
If your dog has been always fine around your bird, and now he suddenly attacked, it can also be due to not feeling well. Pain and certain medical conditions can lower a dog's threshold for aggression. A medical evaluation may be important.
Some dogs will react in unusual ways when they have been exposed to a variety of stressors. Your dog may have been already stressed by certain things in his environment and excess stimulation may have sensitized him to certain triggers.
Sometimes dogs may just want to play with the birds, but they may get too rough or they may treat the birds as "squeaky toys.'"
Preventing Future Attacks
If your pet bird has survived the attack, count your blessings! Things may have gone much, much worse. A dog may easily kill a bird with just one crushing bite.
If your pet bird appears in shock or has injuries, please don't hesitate to take him to your avian vet sooner than later. Open wounds can easily become infected.
After your pet bird sees the vet, the next step is to take further preventive steps. Following are some tips to prevent future attacks. You may want to have several backup plans in place to increase safety.
- Set an area for your dog to be away from your pet bird.
- Have all cages with locks or even padlocks.
- Keep the cages out of your dog's reach.
- Invest in a cat/dog-proof bird cage. A dog may still manage a dog through the bars of a regular cage. A hanging bird cage may be an option for smaller birds (don't use the ones with a stand as those can be knocked over). For larger birds look for cages that a sturdy and can't be knocked over.
- Place a sturdy and heavy dog pen (that is tall enough that your dog cannot jump over) around your bird's cage.
- Place scat mats around the bird's cage. Not the ones that emit shock, but the scat mats with spikes that discourage cats and dogs to walk over and trespass.
- Have your dog wear a basket muzzle when around the bird. This will not tackle the predatory drive, but will help prevent unforeseen accidents.
- Keep your bird's stress in mind. If your bird was attacked, he will likely be traumatized. Even if you keep your dog muzzled, your bird may feel very stressed by your dog's presence or his barking.
- Train your dog to stay composed. Train your dog to lie on a mat, a strong recall response and the leave it and drop it cues.
- Keep in mind that, when there is a will, there is a way. Determined dogs may get out of their way to reach a tempting bird. Even with several measures in place, there may be risks of mechanical failures.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli