Chicken Homesteading

Train Your Dog to be Chicken-Friendly

Some days homesteading is oh-so-hard. If you’re trying to train a dog to be off leash around free-ranging chicken or ducks, you may feel you’re facing an insurmountable challenge.  I can’t promise success, but I can offer hope. It probably won’t be easy. It probably won’t be quick…

training your dog

But you’re a homesteader. You never expect quick or easy. You know good things require hard work. So read on…

Here’s the low-down of our difficult, time-consuming, but oh-so-worth-it efforts to train our dog to not chase chickens.

It was a colder-than-typical New England April. In fact, I had joked that the best way to hide the Easter eggs would be use store-bought ones and simply lay them on the snow.

With pending spring seeming so far away, we longed to pretend it had arrived. It was the perfect time for her third homesteading dream to come to fruition. She had already turned over and cared for an amazing vegetable garden and had planted many fruit trees last spring.

This spring would be a time for livestock. But we would start small. While she was preparing for her BHAG (our family’s code word for that really big dream: a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) of adopting a dairy cow, we adopted rabbits and chicken.

train a dog to be off leash around chicken and ducks

We named the rooster Mr. Darcy–hoping for the best with his overbearing personality, hoping he was surely a nice rooster who was simply misunderstood. (Mind you, we have had many more learning experiences with roosters since that day we first added poultry to our farm.) Mr. Darcy was definitely a protector to his hens, which was why we put up with him (and the fact that he is a handsome fellow).

train a dog to be off leash and chicken-friendly

While Mr. Darcy would probably have fought off a chicken hawk or given his own life to save his hens from a prowling fox, there was one factor on our homestead that we didn’t have the foresight to see as a nuisance to our chicken. Bixby–our sweet, protective, salt-and-pepper Labradoodle–gave Mr. Darcy and his 3 hens quite a run for their money on their first encounter. While Mr. Darcy did deter our labradoodle from snatching up a hen at first sight, everyone got so frazzled and upset, mainly me, fearful that one of our wonderful egg-providing newest farm members would be lunch for Bixby before she even provided one egg lunch for us.

We suddenly realized we needed to do the impossible: train a dog to not chase chicken.

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So we searched the web and asked online homestead support groups for help in training Bixby to love our hens as much as we did. But when we searched topics such as “train a dog to be off leash” we didn’t find any help overcoming a temptation as exciting to a dog as a chicken chase.  So we did our best to create our own training program. I would never say it was easy to train a dog to leave chickens alone. It took us over a month of daily training sessions, and many times we thought we’d never see success. But, with patience, this is the process that worked for us:

{{ 1. Show him she’s your friend. }}

Stand with the dog on a tight leash, seated on a “stay” command, by your side. (Lupine leashes are hands-down my absolute favorite dog leashes.) Have someone else catch a chicken. (It’s important to do this OUT of the dog’s range of vision. NEVER let him see you chase a hen.) Then have them approach you and your dog, all the while speaking kindly to the hen and petting her. In the beginning, you’ll probably have to keep a tight, constant grip on your dog, making him stay seated as the chicken-holding friend approaches. We spent a good week or two on this step alone, advancing a little closer each day until Bixby would stay seated (without a tight hold on the leash) while both of us talked sweetly to the hen and petted her, in front of Bixby.

train a dog to be off leash around farm animals

train a dog to be off leash around chicken

After he was rather bored with this step, we scooped up hens randomly (still never letting Bixby see us ever chase a hen) and walked with them in our arms inside the house, talking sweetly to them the whole time, while Bixby followed us curiously. Our point was to let Bixby know that the hens were a permanent, valued, new addition to our homestead, not wild birds in his right-to-chase jurisdiction.

{{ 2. Show him they’re allowed to roam where they please.}}

Then we started leashing Bixby and walking him to wherever the chicken were free-ranging. We always kept him on a very tight leash. At this stage, he still would have chased after the chicken in a heart beat, if he had enough leash room to do so.

training a dog to be off leash around free-ranging birds

{{ 3. Show him they are rather boring. }}

When he was ready to do so without us having to continually choke him with the leash, we took him close to the roaming chicken and had him sit outside of their coop as they roamed in and out and close to him. At this point, he was starting to get bored with the whole chicken exercise and we finally knew we were making headway.

train a dog to be off leash around chicken and ducks

{{ 4. Show him their house is rather boring. }}

He did gain a little interest again when we stepped things up a notch by taking him INSIDE the chicken coop. We were always certain to make him stay seated outside the door of the coop until we gave him the “okay” command to step inside with us. We only had to do this step a few days in a row before he got bored with it too and didn’t even want to go in the coop.

training our dog to be chicken-friendly

{{ 5. Give him a little freedom. }}

After a full month’s worth of almost daily training, we decided Bixby was ready for a test. We called him to accompany us outside, intentionally walking to the area where we knew the chickens were grazing. We kept talking to him soothingly and telling him to stay with us once the hens were in his sight. He started to jog towards them, but with our stern “come” command he returned to us. A few days of working with him and keeping a very close eye on him when he was in the vicinity of the chickens, and the training was complete.

He even stood outside the coop, with chicken walking nearby, and simply watched them go, almost in a guard-dog way.

Our dog off leash with free-ranging chicken nearby

Today, he barely even seems to notice that the chicken are around. And we are so glad to once again be able to allow our sweet Labradoodle full-range of the homestead with no worries of any fowl play. 😉

I hope these techniques work for you! They do take a lot of perseverance and patience, but it’s so worth it now, to watch our labradoodle actually guard our chickens and just watch them mosey around in front of him. Remember, if you’d like my easy-as-pie dog training treat recipe, just subscribe to my e-newsletter at the end of this page.

So, can you train a dog to be off leash around chicken? Yes, at least in our situation, with our labradoodle, yes. I realize all breeds are different. In fact, all dogs are different. But I hope our successful process works for you too. And remember to follow along below if you’d like my recipe for the best homemade training treats ever. (Oh, and the the resource library also includes a handy printable page of this 5-step training process–How to Break a Dog From Chasing Chickens.)

In all toil there is profit. Proverbs 14:23

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If you’re interested in training your dog to be chicken friendly, I’m guessing you’d love a lot of the topics covered in the 2017 Back to Basics Living Summit. If you’d like to sit under the tutelage of 32 different experts, and learn great insights into 32 different aspects of this homesteading way of life, you’ll love the 2017 Back to Basics Living Summit.

There are plenty of courses to help you prepare for the homesteading life before you even start or after you’ve been at it for years, with topics like making homemade bread, preserving herbs, using sunlight efficiently, and starting a homestead from scratch.

The Back to Basics Living Summit  is well worth every penny, so definitely give it a gander!

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19 Comment

  1. Our dalmatian was overly interested in the baby chicks so we kept him tightly controlled when he was near the brooder. When they were old enough to go in the coop, the Dal would aggressively poke at the chicks with his nose against the hardware cloth. I was worried that once both chicks and dog had freedom to roam, I would end up with a dead hen.

    When the hens were old enough to go out on pasture, we got a feather-net style electric fence and charged it with a very weak current. Hens on one side, dog on the other. The dog poked at the hens like he always did, and in his mind, that chicken gave his soft wet nose the worst bite of his life.

    Now he won’t go anywhere near the chickens. They roam freely all over the backyard and the dog maintains his distance, just in case one of them wants to give him another Godzilla bite on the nose.

    1. Wow. That’s an interesting way to train your dalmatian! So you only had to do this one time, and no problems since? Your technique sure took a lot less time than mine! Glad you now have happy hens and a smart dog!

    1. That’s great that your dog can herd the hens with no worries on your part that she’ll get too interested in one on any given night. Our 3 hens and 1 rooster always come in to the coop every evening, around 6, like clockwork. We just go down, make sure all are accounted for, and close up. What does “GSD” refer to?

      1. German Shepard Dog. It has taken us a lot of work to get her that far! That herding instinct she has, plus puppy playfulness has led to several losses. She’s just over a year old now and proven mostly trustworthy😉. We still watch her closely in the evening as she does “her job”.

  2. Hello. Just came upon your blog through a link from The Prairie Homestead. This is exactly the advice I was looking for! We have 4 new hens – our first chickens – and a 1 yr old black lab, who is also our first dog. AND..we live in rural New England…AND I homeschool my son. AND I’m a Jesus girl!! I will definitely be following your blog. Blessings.

    1. Ellen, so nice to “meet” you! Especially with all we seem to have in common. My daughter saw your comment and pointed out if you only had 4 girls we’d have to consider ourselves “twins.” Are you also new to New England and/or the rural life? I’m a native Delawarean/suburbia girl now loving living the simple life in the country. Thanks for following along on my mishaps and ramblings–glad you found me!

      1. So funny how many things we seem to have in common, except I have 2 boys. I am fairly new to New England and definitely new to the rural life. We moved into our antique cape (complete with old barn with sagging roof) in New Hampshire a year ago. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago but spent the most recent 9 years in CT. I am loving the country life and trying to simplify. I am so looking forward to following your adventures.

  3. Trying a very similar routine with our youngest boy, Beau. Very much hoping to break him of his excitement over my feathered babies. It’s very helpful to know that this has worked for you(especially with a breed that would likely have a similar prey drive as him), as this is new territory for us (our older mastiff boy is too lazy to bother with any of the littler critters and didn’t really require much training beyond “this is a chicken, it’s mine. Don’t eat it.”).

    1. He was, much to his dislike, kept inside at all times when the chicken were free-ranging. Some days, for his sanity, or if we didn’t have time to take him for a walk, we’d put the chicks away and let him have his outdoor time.

  4. We had a problem with our GP wanting to kill chickens. He had a shock collar on and went into the chicken coop. My husband shocked him with the collar. After that he never chased another chicken, Our German Shepherd killed two baby goats. Now when we have babies we hold it and let the GS lick the baby. No more problems.

  5. Years ago, we got some late Summer poulets & our two ridgeback dogs certainly wanted to gooble them up quick. The young chickens had a new pen area, but since it was in the dog’s yard, the stalking was intense the first day. I offered up a distraction from each other & to my surprise a solution. Dispite their differences, we found a quick & effective way to bond them as common goal pals. Shredded Cheese. Yep… everybody just wants some cheese. So Week 1, daily (each morning as we let chickens out of coop) we toss a big handful of shredded cheese into the grass of dog yard near (& in) chicken pen. Dogs went sniff & hunt, chickens peck & scratch… frantically nobody cared what the other was doing, when there was Glorious Cheese to be had. Week 2, chickens put in main yard in small pen (dog excerise pen) Cheesing of area commences. Dogs start thinking… Yeay, chicken time is Cheese party time! Week 3, Cheese rains down into the grass & everyone is let out to get their share. Dogs on leashes, as precaution but just a couple “your too close” peck in the nose incidents and the dogs realize the Cheese is plentiful & chickens can really hurt your nose. Cheese phases out, but chickens keep getting let out into yard & the mutual bond of cheese hopefullness remains. Years later, new generations of chickens, ducks & dogs… still works… cheese bonds. Not in any books, but works for us.

  6. Yesterday we saw a very healthy fox trotting through our suburban yard. Guess we won’t be raisin’ chicks any time soon.

  7. Wow! I’m impressed with your patience and persistence! I’m so glad that it paid off and that your dog and chickens are able to peacefully co-exist. I love being able to let my chickens free-range. I’m sure lots of people will be happy to discover your training tips.

  8. My dogs are just great with our chickens, basically mind their own business and ignore them. However; our chickens attack our dogs. Yes they full out hit with their wings, jump/fly at them and let their voices be heard. My dogs take off and can’t get inside the house fast enough. Can chickens be trained to coexist with dogs? 😉

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