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My sweet labradoodle is the smartest, most loyal dog I’ve owned. His loyalty is deeper than deserved.
But training my dog to like my birds? For that I do deserve some credit.
As I type tonight, my labradoodle is a black-and-gray-streaked crescent curled at my feet. His long nose wraps across his front paw to lie down parallel with my right foot, and his back paw nestles behind my left foot. While enjoying the glow of the fire beyond the computer screen, I realize I can’t imagine my life without him.
He’s always at my feet. By my side. An innate part of my day. An innate part of the farm.
So training him to be bird-friendly was absolutely necessary when we decided to raise free-ranging birds on our homestead.
Bixby was a two-year-old, great big puppy when we moved to Restful Falls Farm… when we packed up our suburban life, out of our house that was 1 of 22 on a tiny cul-de-sac, on a tiny, pie-shaped, 1/5th-of-an-acre lot… when we moved 400 miles north and sprawled out on 14 acres that meet up with the lake and stretch along the curving rocky river and up the gradual wooded slope behind our home.
We used to attach a long lead rope to his collar whenever we let him out into our narrow strip of backyard, behind our brick ranch. Now we open any door of our 215-yr-old red cape, and he has free range of fields, marsh, river bank, and sun-streamed woods.
The only problem was when we brought home some hens that Bixby saw as a challenging chase and a savory snack. (Last spring, I shared my step-by-step directions on how I succeeded in training my dog to like my birds.) A few months later we added our precious, waddling fowl.
I honestly was a little worried about adding the second type of free-ranging bird. It had taken pretty detailed, daily training for more than a month before Bixby was safe to leave unattended around the chicken. I really didn’t feel up to going through the whole process again only a few months later.
But the baby ducklings were way too cute to resist, as was the thought of their delicious, rich, jumbo eggs. So we brought the yellow-down adorableness home.
It was pleasantly surprising how easy it was to do the first step in the training process without even needing to restrain Bixby on a leash. (Lupine leashes are hands-down my absolute favorite dog leashes, if you do need one.) Since he was accustomed to seeing us hold the bigger hens, I guess the small yellow birds were even less appealing.
. . . By the way, I would love to share with you my recipe for the best homemade training treats we’ve ever discovered . . .
The ducklings didn’t free range for quite a few weeks, so he quickly got used to roaming near their cage but, for the most part, ignoring them. When they were ready to test out their free-ranging skills, we had to keep an eye on them anyway, so we sat nearby and closely monitored Bixby, keeping him in check simply with voice commands. So, like step one, step two was completed pretty easily without a leash. After a week or so with 1/2-hour sessions of letting the ducklings roam under our watchful eye, and Bixby under our ever present voice commands if he started to inch close to the ducks, Bix was ready to skip right on to step five.
For another week or so we continued to keep a close eye on him whenever he was in the vicinity of the ducklings, but the detailed training we went through with him and the hens most definitely paid off, two-fold, making him almost automatically duck-friendly as well and, I’m hoping, fowl-friendly with any feathered friend that we add to our menagerie. So here are the steps, in a nut-shell…
5 Simple Steps to Make Your Dog Fowl-Friendly
- Show your dog that your birds are a permanent, valued, new addition to your homestead by holding them, petting them, even carrying them around in your home, all while your dog is watching. (Remember to NEVER let him see you chasing and catching any bird.)
- Make your dog sit beside you, controlled on the leash, and watch the chicken, ducks, etc. roaming around him.
- Then do the same outside of their living space, while they go in and out freely.
- Take him INSIDE their living quarters, never giving him even an inch of leash to approach them. (And remember to NEVER let him enter their space without the “okay” command from you.)
- After he seems bored with all this and finally stops pulling on his leash, even when he’s in close proximity to them, give him a little controlled freedom. Let him off his leash, by your side, when your birds are in his sight. If he’s not ready, leash him and go back to step 4 the next day.
Every morning Bixby accompanies us on our chores, watches us let out the birds, fill their feed bowls, and replenish their water. Because he’s always at my feet. By my side. An innate part of my day. An innate part of the farm. And, thankfully, after some heartfelt training sessions, he defines himself as the birds’ watch dog, not their predator.
So, can you train a dog to be off leash around your ducklings? 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!)
Have you discovered your own successful techniques at training your dog to be bird-friendly? My post on how we made Bixby chicken-friendly is my most read post here on SoulyRested, and the reader comments are very insightful, so please add to the discussion here as well!
In all toil there is profit. Proverbs 14:23
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Please take a second to follow along here on SoulyRested to catch up on a few of my memorable mishaps, enjoy musings about my centuries-old farmhouse, or glean a little parenting/homeschooling insight from this momma who’s been failing at the effort for almost 2 decades. I hope my focus always help you Keep it Simple while being Souly Rested on Christ.