I successfully trained my dog to be a chicken guardian. It took a lot of work, but it was so worth it.
Training Puppies and Dogs With Chickens
This is my backyard chicken guardian dog, Badger. He lives mostly outside, watching for wild animals and strange humans. Any unusual sound is the signal for him to leap up, scattering chickens everywhere, and vanish silently into the woods. He moves so gracefully that he seems to float.
Chicken-keeping can be a nerve-wracking hobby. A dog can be either the most dangerous predator or the best protection that your chickens will have. With proper training, your puppy can become a reliable chicken guardian.
It's not common for a dog to bond with chickens the way they might with goats or sheep. Birds can't take being licked and played with the way larger animals can. And that kind of play is way too tempting for the dog! But both dogs and chickens are territorial, and you can teach a dog to ignore the chickens while guarding their common territory.
I trained Badger to be safe with the chickens. He goes peacefully with me into the pen and hangs around while I work. If he spots an animal outside, he races to the gate and waits until I let him out to chase down the intruder. It took a lot of work to get him to this point, but having such a well-trained, useful dog is really worth it!
You can read about how I did it here, with videos by dog trainers explaining some of the basic methods.
How to Teach Your Dog Not to Kill Chickens
These are some of the basic steps I used to train Badger, and that many experienced chicken-keepers recommend. Keep reading for the details!
- Teach basic skills like sit, stay, off, and heel while away from the chickens. Practice them daily in many different situations.
- Bring your dog on-leash while you do chores. When you need your hands free, tie him where he can't reach the chickens. Reward and praise him when he's calm.
- After he's become a little accustomed to the chickens, begin to practice his basic skills on-leash when near them. Especially practice "off" and "take it".
- Watch for signs that he is paying less attention to the chickens - relaxed body and ears, yawning, wanting to wander off.
- After several weeks of less excitability, begin to do supervised practice off-leash. If he backslides, go back to on-leash work for a while. (Leave a long leash attached and trailing, so you can catch it if he charges the birds.)
- Train him to go voluntarily into a kennel or pen so that you can confine him as needed.
- Practice with the chickens in all sorts of circumstances: day and night, in the pen and out, with adults and chicks, eggs in the nestbox or on the floor. Just because a dog understands one circumstance doesn't mean he will another, so you need to practice variations.
- Gradually let him off-leash for longer periods while you work close by or otherwise keep an eye on him. Watch for any signs that he's excited by the chickens, and redirect his attention to you.
Choosing a Puppy to Raise With Chickens
This is Badger as a baby. His mother is a working livestock guardian, a Great Pyrenees, and his father is a working herd dog, a Catahoula. We could see that Badger and his littermates all had the slow, stolid temperament of their mother, so we chose him to train with chickens.
Almost any breed of dog can be trained to tolerate chickens (although if you're going to try a Husky, you should have lots of experience and plenty of spare birds!) Some breeds are easier than others, especially when they're young, and that's a consideration if you don't have much experience. As Badger was my very first puppy, I wanted a dog who would incline to calmness and an easy temperament.
But choosing a calm breed doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing. Dr. Dunbar says that the majority of a dog's behavior is determined by its training, and since I was learning too, and often didn't know exactly what I wanted, we had to go back and learn a lot of things over together. (And as I'll tell in my next article, we had a disastrous setback that nearly ruined everything.)
And there is also the dog's natural development. He'll turn in a few months from a loving puppy to a hyper, knotheaded adolescent, and stay that way for what seems like a century. This is a time to keep repeating the basics, watch him closely, and don't let him loose with the birds yet.
Between one and two years old, if you've persisted in daily training and practice, you'll see him mellowing, his intelligence blossoming, and you'll reap the rewards for your patience. A well-trained dog is a joy and a delight!
(Note that even though Badger was a livestock guardian dog, he didn't know anything about chickens. If you want an "instant guardian", you should get a dog from a working line, that was raised with livestock [including chickens] and trained by older working dogs. Even though the puppy is a guardian breed, he'll need to be trained either by humans or dogs.)
Teaching "Off" and "Take It!"
A demonstration of the all-important "off" and "take it!" commands. This is basic for teaching bite inhibition, which is necessary for the dog to get along with humans and chickens.
This would be a scary picture if Badger were looking at that hen. His body is rigid, his ears are up, and he's staring fixedly - but not at the chicken. He's watching a dog treat on the ground in front of her, waiting for permission to "take it!"
When I told him to take it, he took it from the ground right in front of the hen, swallowed it, and trotted briskly off with me. He never looked at the bird.
We began to practice "Off" and "Take it!" when Badger was very young. (Note: With a large breed puppy, long sleeves and leather gloves are a big help until he gets the idea!) As he learned what "Off" meant, I gradually varied the game, sometimes putting the treat on the floor, sometimes on his paw, sometimes saying other things before "Take it!" All this made him learn to watch me closely and listen to what I was saying.
When he was very consistent with the command, we began to practice it with the chickens, for many months on-leash. If he stuck his nose in the nest box, or up a chicken's butt, I would tell him "Off", then as he backed off, "Sit!" When he sat and looked at me, he got a treat with the permission to "Take it!"
Tone is important, as he doesn't understand language. "Off" is said in a deep gruff tone, and "Take it!" with a cheerful, rising inflection. I rarely say "Off" in ordinary circumstances these days - Badger knows when he has to wait for permission.
How to teach sit, stand, and down using the very easiest method—lure and reward.
This is Badger waiting for me to open the gate for him. He knows from long practice that he has to sit to have a door opened, then he has to wait for permission to go through. I can tell him to "stay" as I go through the gate, and call him after me. Or I can tell him to "go on" ahead of me through the gate, driving the chickens back so they don't get out.
Believe me, this wasn't learned overnight! First we had to learn the basic commands: sit, stay, come. Later we progressed to more advanced ones, like "go back" and "go on". We practiced these every day, and still do, every time I open a door or go downstairs. Since Badger doesn't understand that he could knock me down by rushing through, I have to stay consistent and not let him backslide. If he does rush past me, I call him back, tell him to sit, and wait a moment before telling him to go on. This keeps him practicing good habits.
"Sit" is about the most important lesson your dog can learn. It isn't enough to tell a dog "No!" or "Stop". You need to tell him what you want him to do. And sitting is always safe and appropriate.
Right after I took the picture from the previous section, of Badger and the hen, I put the camera away and came to recapture my escapee. I got her cornered and grabbed her while she shrieked and flapped. Badger rushed up, ears erect, looking at her with interest. I commanded "Sit!" and he sat. I dropped the hen in the pen and we walked back to the house.
One command . . . but it's a life-saver.
Teaching "Home Base"
Your dog should have a secure place he can go when he needs to be separated from the chickens, or if you need to keep him away from strangers or any dangerous situation. If he'll be kept up for long periods, it should be a large kennel or pen. But the principal of learning to go inside voluntarily is the same.
Any dog should have a place he'll go to voluntarily, where he can be confined from danger or temptation. Medical treatment, elderly visitors, and chickens loose during his training are all reasons that he needs to go to a kennel or pen and wait calmly while you lock the door.
Badger hated the kennel when he was a baby. He was raised surrounded by puppies and goats, and had never been alone a minute in his life. He actually dug a den under our front steps and lived there when he was small, to be close to us.
Meanwhile, I was training him to consider the kennel his Home Base. His food and water were inside, along with a nice doghouse full of straw. It was sheltered and comfortable. I kept all his toys in there, throwing them back after he'd played with them. And the kennel was the only place he got treats.
Every day we practiced "Go to your pen!" I would throw a treat down inside and direct him to "take it!" We would play with toys and I would sit down and read outside. As he got older, I would break up treats and throw the pieces around the straw for him to hunt for. The kennel was great, a puppy playland, everything good was in there.
Then I started shutting the door. At first I would only leave Badger in for a few minutes, letting him out when he stopped fussing. (It's important to open the door when he's being quiet, so as to reward him for the behavior you want.) Gradually he stayed in for longer times. It was an everyday routine - "Go to your pen!" and he would zoom inside and sit down happily, to see what I would give him. Then I locked the gate and left him for a few hours, while the chickens took a walk.
I think this was an important part of his training, too - locking him up every afternoon while the chickens pecked around him. For a long time, as a puppy and adolescent, he would stare and fuss. But eventually he would just curl up and sleep until it was time to come out.
Home Base proved to be life-saving training, after the Great Chicken Coop Disaster turned Badger temporarily into a chicken-killer... I'll link to that story when I've finished writing it!
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.
© 2013 Valerie Proctor Davis
Do You Have Dogs and Chickens?
Ladymifty on March 15, 2017:
Is there any way to train my dog to protect my chickens from other dogs, hawks, etc.?
Brenda M. Negri on February 26, 2017:
A catahoula is a herding dog, not an LGD and using a cross like the author has is extremely risky. Only purebred LGD breeds or LGD breeds crossed on each other should be used. I have published two articles in Backyard Poultry Magazine and in Countryside Magazine on how to rear pups up to guard poultry, in 2016.
Pam on November 28, 2016:
I have a young dog named Rudy. I have worked with her around the chickens for several months, then started keeping her in the pen for a short time and she did great. She did great for about 4 weeks, no problems. Then one day I came home and she had mangled the rooster. So I guess we are back at square one. Any advice for another go as a chicken dog for Rudy?
Wasp64 on April 27, 2016:
I trained my miniature dashound/regular dashound, mix (10 lbs) when the chicks were hatched. I kept them on the porch in a cage and let her smell and lick them gently when I held them. Now they are grown, laying eggs, and in a large pen and she goes with me to feed and get eggs. She doesn't bother them and they ignore her. She loves the hen house. It often has birds that come in through the hen hole and she helps chase them out. I hold he screen door and she jumps at them until they fly out.
Brenda Shipp on April 21, 2016:
Got Sammie female dog when she was dumped at brother s house. She was about 1 then. We got chickens later first baby duckling she killed when it fell off a small coop .I was trying to protect it from her and put it on top .it fell and she leaped quickly on it I scolded her immediately. From then on she knew I wanted them. Never any more problems. Some rooster would attack us and she just chases them off us. She is full blood German Shepard. Love her so much. Brenda
WenDy on April 20, 2016:
This was a great article. I have shared it with my chicken group. I am very interested in your follow up article about your disaster. Did you ever write it?
Juanita on March 17, 2016:
I have dogs (3 Shepherds) and chickens and no training was really necessary. They just instinctively protect.
Darcie on January 08, 2016:
We have two well trained boxers and we are getting chickens, i found this post very helpful, thanks!
Sonja on October 08, 2015:
I have chickens, ducks, & geese. And a hyper 1y/o husky mix.
Amber on May 06, 2015:
I trained my now 8 year old bird dog to "leave it" when she was a puppy. I had no idea it would be so useful! Using the "leave it" command I've managed to introduce her to cats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and a goat in the last couple years without any incident. Ever. I simply told her to leave it when she would fixate on an animal and it only took a few times for her to accept them as yard objects to be ignored. She has been trusted with our various animals unsupervised for well over a year.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on April 05, 2015:
A great hub for people like me who are interested in starting a hobby farm.
Found useful and voted up!
terriwaxter on June 11, 2014:
I have a boxer that is the best chicken and bunny momma. She bonds with and protects any baby animal she comes across.
stormy-findley on June 10, 2014:
I have a miniature heeler named Short Stuff. He is one and a half years old. We live in town and knew that he needed a job. I had gotten a couple of ducks to roam the yard and they bonded with him. So naturally he was the great protector of the ducks as well as the house. We decided to give him some more work to do and bought chickens. He loves them! He keeps the fox behind the house from the chickens and they love him. I use him to catch escaped chickens and chicks. And he makes sure that they don't escape the yard. I now have the happiest heeler on the planet! He will even show you where is "chick chicks" are!
dmhonz on April 14, 2014:
we have a dog and chicken but they are not compatible with each other that's why chicken is always scared in my dog and always stay at there chicken house . but thanks for this tutorial I will try to teach my dog with the command . sit and take it
barkingmadtraining on December 19, 2013:
Yes, I hava a dog and chicken.
Meganhere on October 12, 2013:
I've had a dog and chickens and the dog was fine with them if she knew I was home, but I didn't trust her to be around them if I was out.
I love your dog's name. If I had a black-and-white dog I'd call it Badger too.
lesliesinclair on August 07, 2013:
Not me, not yet and maybe never, but I do like learning tips on training dogs, and appreciated the video. This article is really an informative lesson about picking the right dog and training the right way, with great persistence.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 14, 2013:
No, I don't have either but this was fun to read and really informative if I did have dogs and chickens.
squid-pinkchic18 on March 28, 2013:
Loved this article. Loved the videos especially but your stories were great too!
Kay on March 26, 2013:
Good looking and has a job. Badger is quite the dog! Loved the hyper, knotheaded adolescent comment. We have two of those right now! Absolutely an honor to bless this page!
floppypoppygift1 on March 24, 2013:
No doubt Badger is adorable!!! Great job with your pup. Cheers~ cb
WriterJanis2 on March 11, 2013:
Very cool. I never knew dogs could be trained to protect chickens. Pinned.
Lynda Makara from California on March 11, 2013:
It's so fascinating that dogs can be trained to do so many things, like guarding chickens. My dog's only job is to look cute!
comparevacuumcleaners on March 11, 2013:
I don't have dogs and chickens but i have a sausage dog and a cockatiel bird. Secretly I know he'd like to eat the bird, unfortunately he has killed a bird once in the backyard which I hated, but he knows I love this bird and as much as he wants to -- he doesn't.
khatha0808 on March 11, 2013:
I used to have both dogs and chickens. The dogs bite chickens all the time. We were thinking about training them too but it wasn't worked
kerrylea on March 11, 2013:
Labradors are my favourite and they are so loyal, your dog is an amazing. I use the command leave it rather than off with my dogs, and it comes in so handy.
mockingbird999 on March 11, 2013:
We had chickens when I was a kid. Training the dog to protect them would have been a good idea.
audrey07 on March 10, 2013:
I have not reared chickens before and neither do I have a dog. So, I wouldn't have any idea how to pair the two up. I know you can train a dog to help you with sheep but now I know they can also help with chickens.
Julia M S Pearce from Melbourne, Australia on March 10, 2013:
i don't have dogs and chickens but I can imagine what an untrained dog would be like around around the chooks. Badger looks gorgeous and what a job he does!
LisaDH on March 10, 2013:
We have dogs, but no chickens. And that's a good thing because I'm SURE one of my dogs would think chickens were play things. Badger is definitely better behaved than mine. :-)