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Raising chickens in the backyard is a popular pastime for many people, from urban homesteaders to suburban families. If you have a family dog who shares the backyard, training your dog and creating a separate space for the chickens can allow the two to coexist. While your dog and chickens may never be the best of friends, you can ensure a smoother introduction by taking a few simple precautions.
Training the Essential Basics
Before your dog is exposed to chickens, he should have mastered basic obedience training. Teaching your dog to sit or lie down and to stay until released is essential. A command to "leave it," is necessary before introducing the dog to chickens or any other small animal.
Understanding the Prey Behavior
Most breeds of dogs were developed for a particular purpose, whether it was to herd sheep, chase and kill rats or to be a royal house pet. Many dogs are stimulated by what is known as "prey drive," a natural instinct to hunt small animals who move quickly. This would include chickens, which may flap their wings or make other quick motions, especially in the presence of a new animal, including your dog.
Initiating the First Meeting
Begin by holding one chicken in your arms, which reduces your dog's desire to chase the chicken. If your dog reaches for a chicken, use the "leave it" command. Be consistent and never allow the dog to bite or paw at the chicken. After a few days, you can walk your dog on a leash to the chicken pen. If the dog lunges or barks, use a calm tone to have him sit or lie down.
Achieving Harmony in the Backyard
Once your dog has become used to the chickens in the pen, you may try letting the chickens out into the yard. Start with your dog on a leash in a sit- or down-stay and praise him if he sits quietly. If he lunges at a chicken, use the command "leave it." Keep the sessions short and positive for your dog. Continue this routine until your dog no longer becomes excited around the birds.
Preventing Problems is Key
Never leave your dogs and chickens alone together. Even the best-trained dog may succumb to instinct and harm one or more chickens. It's best to have a space that will separate the dogs and your flock of chickens when you are not able to be out with them. With some simple precautions, you should be able to have a harmonious relationship among all of your pets.