How to Train Dogs to Leave Chickens Alone

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Danish Chicken Dog
Danish Chicken Dog (Image: wikimedia commons)

Anyone who has ever tried to raise both dogs and chickens knows what a challenge it can be to keep the two separated. Beyond the obvious problems with chasing the poultry and upsetting the flock, there is the realistic possibility of the dog causing the untimely demise of your prize hen. With time, patience and a lot of dog treats, you can train your dog to stay away from your chickens by utilizing the method outlined in the guide below.

Things You'll Need

  • 4-foot-long leash
  • Collar
  • Timer
  • Treats
  • Special reward

Connect a 4-foot chain or leash to any sturdy pole, post or tree on your property. Turn a few of your chickens loose in the vicinity of the tie out. Sprinkle a handful of chicken feed on the ground to keep them occupied for a while. Do not use your prize hens as, unfortunately, accidents may occur at this point in the training.

Spend 15 to 20 minutes playing with the dog inside the house. Use any game that will tire him out, at least somewhat, such as fetch. Once the dog begins to show signs of wearing down, grab a handful of training treats and lead him out into the yard with the chickens.

Turn your back on the dog and go inside. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Ignore both the dog and the chickens until the timer goes off.

Return to the yard when the timer sounds. If the dog is chasing the chickens or has caused them any harm, seize her by the collar and walk her to the leash setup you arranged earlier. Attach the leash to the dog's collar and walk away. Do not interact with your dog beyond this. Do not speak to her or even verbally admonish her.

Turn your back on the dog and ignore him while you silently count to 30.

Release the dog from the leash and give her something simple to do when her time is up so she can earn a small treat. Stay outside with the dog and observe her behavior. If she immediately tries to interact with the chickens again, return her to the leash and increase the break time to 45 seconds.

Repeat the procedure, returning the dog to timeout every time he heads for the chickens until he finally does something else when released from the leash. It doesn't matter what he does--sniffing a post or barking at the mail person--as long as he does something aside from chasing your flock. Praise the dog lavishly and give him a large treat.

Go back inside and set the timer again, increasing the time to 5 minutes. Return to observe the dog when the timer goes off. If the dog is interacting with the chickens, put her on the leash, if she's ignoring the chickens, give her the large treat.

Be on the look out for solid reinforcement opportunities. For example, eventually when you release the dog, he may show initial interest in the chickens and then turn away to do something else. When this finally occurs, give the dog lots of praise and a special reward, such as a rawhide bone, to encourage a repeat performance.

Increase the time you leave the dog unsupervised in the yard by 1-minute increments until you have reached 10 minutes on the timer. The goal is to achieve 4 successful sessions in a row at 10-minute intervals.

Repeat the training for 7 to 10 days, checking on the dog every 10 minutes, until you have achieved 100 percent success. Then, increase the time between observations to 20 minutes.

Maintain the 20-minute schedule for several days and then up the observation schedule to once an hour. After a week of checking on the dog once an hour, you should be able to safely let the dog out into the yard with the chickens.

Tips & Warnings

  • The key to this type of training is positive reinforcement for making the preferred choice. Dogs can choose to get interrupted while trying to play with the chickens and end up on the leash, being ignored every 5 minutes, or they can learn to overlook the temptation of chasing chickens and get a treat every 5 minutes. Once they figure out what you want them to do, they will choose the treat, but it may take a while to make the connection.
  • The cost of training may be a chicken or two in the beginning.

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