I’m just going to get this out of the way. And I’m sorry ahead of time. Here goes…
It’s your fault. It’s 100% your fault! All poor behavior with your dog is a reflection of you and you alone. There is no such thing as a bad dog because a dog will ALWAYS be a reflection of its owner. I’ll explain below, but first go apologize to you poor puppy. I’ll wait…
Another thing I feel obliged to say and many people don’t like to hear; your dog is not a person. It’s not your child, it’s not a human. When you treat a dog like a human, you’re messing with it’s head. Messing with a dogs head is animal abuse in my book. Dogs have evolved rather quickly compared to other animals. That’s why there’s so many different breeds. They are genetically pliable. The will never, however, be anything other than a dog. You want to have a baby, then go in the back room and get busy;) If you want to have a dog, then learn about that animal’s behavior! Treat dogs as if the were, well, dogs. I loathe people that over anthropomorphize animals. I find it insulting to that animal. Each species is perfect just the way it is, don’t demote it to a simple human being. How base and vulgar.
I’m out there in the world people. I’m watching you. If I see this behavior, you will receive a tongue lashing!
Okay, I’m calm now. Shall we proceed or have I lost you? Don’t go, come back, there’s so much to discuss…
Before I get into methodology, we need to cover some basics that will change your life with a problem dog. Follow these rules and your problems will be over in an instant. It only takes moments to realign negative behavior in a dog. Another important point that should be made here is that these methods will work for ANY behavioral issues you’re having with your beloved dog.
Part I: Seven Tips on Achieving Good Behavior.
1) Be the Pack Leader:
This is, above all else, simply the MOST important step in any form of behavior modification work you do with your dog. Without a pack leader, your dog will gladly take over as one in an instant. This can happen as soon as you get your dog or any time during their stay with you. You flip that switch that you’re taking a demotion, they will fill your shoes in an instant.
So, how do you become the leader? You simply will it to be so. You say to yourself, “Hey, I’m in charge here damn it!” and you believe it Jack! You straighten your back up, keep your shoulders wide and your head held high and you look at that dog and emote leadership. That’s all.
They will read your posture, your face and your voice. If it’s assertive and certain, then they say, “Oh, okay, so you’re in charge! Got it”. Any time that they seem to forget that, you remind them. I can get my dog in order with a look now.
A good way to solidify this concept is during a walk. When packs of dogs or wolves or dingoes or coyotes are in the wild, the dominant pack leader always determines the direction of movement. Every member of the pack is always, and I mean always, keeping at least one eye on their pack leader. When you walk your dog, who’s in front? Who is leading who when you walk? If you answered the dog is, then you need to fix that. The dog should be either behind you or next to you. If they do wander in front, the leash should be slack and it should only be for a moment.
If they refuse to listen, make a noise that startles them. This resets their inner clockworks and forces them to change their attention from the world of scents around them to you. Then, just have them sit and calm down before proceeding. It may take you longer to get around the park, but once they figure it out, you won’t have to do it again.
Walking is the best exercise when it comes to establishing the pecking order.
How do you maintain pack leadership? Three words…
2) Consistency consistency consistency:
Some folks are just plain wishy washy. They change their moods and behavior more than they change their undies. There’s a language barrier with dogs so all they have to go on is your tone, body language and demeanor. If a behavior bothers you and you get mad sometimes and let it slide other times, it’s 100% your fault when they slip. You’re a dog owner, so take ownership!
If you don’t want the dog on the couch, don’t ever let it on the couch. Don’t give in sometimes because you don’t have any fight left in you after a long day. If you stay the course, you’ll never have to correct them again. It just takes a little time and patience, and then they got it for good.
If you don’t want your dog to beg for food, don’t feed it from your plate. Ever. If you slip and give them something, you’ll have to start all over again.
If you don’t want your dog to be aggressive with your chickens, don’t ever allow it to escalate to that. Always remember that YOU are the pack leader.
Consistency might seem like you’re being a tyrant, but to a dog it actually gives them peace to know the boundaries. Peace makes them not worry about life. They are happy and content and all is well with the world. When you alter those boundaries, they get confused and stressed. Stress leads to bad behavior. Stay the course!
One of the most important things to do is to trust in your dog’s good nature. If you are worried that your dog will attack, your dog will actually sense your tension and then feel tense. When a dog is tense, it tends to get aggressive.
9 times out of 10 a dog acts out not because they are a bad dog, but because their owner is not calm. I would even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a bad dog, just inexperienced owners not realizing that the dog is picking up every subtle emotion the owner is feeling, even if the owner doesn’t even know it. Dog obedience schools should only allow people to attend. And if you send your dog to an obedience school and don’t go to work directly with them every time, then good luck getting those lessons to stick!
Dogs are specialized in reading us due to the language barrier. They also have way more heightened senses than we do. You know how you can tell when your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse is upset despite how skilled they are at masking it? You can sense it because of subtle hints that they give off. Now imagine you have the heightened senses of a dog. They don’t even have to look at you to know you’re tense, nervous or anxious. They often know before you do in fact.
So while you’re training you dog to not see your chickens as food or the worlds most realistic squeaky toy, remember that a dogs number one priority is to make you happy. That’s it, that’s all a dog wants in this world. Dogs are the bestest animal ever invented! So just trust in them to do what they do.
Another huge key in getting this, or any other, training accomplished is making sure you are only working when the dog is in a calm passive state. Don’t push things if the dog is clearly excited. Take a time out and try again once he or she is ready. Otherwise, you’ll get annoyed and then the whole practice does more harm than good. When you are calm, it’s easier for your dog to be calm. Just wait it out or leave the scene and then return to it a moment later.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m writing a article about how to be a better human instead of how to train a dog to not eat chickens. But the two do go hand in hand.
5) Make Observations:
Get to know how your dog ticks! You need to be at least half of the mind reader that your dog is. They have thousands of subtle signs that they demonstrate to you constantly. Study them and learn what they mean. These signs will show you if they are receptive to constructive training or not quite ready. Or, for dogs you’ve just met, these signs tell you if they want to meet you! Observations like this can help you avoid a nasty bite. Which, by the way, is also your fault.
Now these are some obvious observable signs of Sasha’s mood. I use this as an example. Notice the forward facing ears on the happy shot as opposed to the unhappy shot with the ears back. Dogs are constantly telling you how they feel by how they hold their bodies. Some are very subtle. The best way to learn is to simply study dogs. Go to a dog park and see what dogs are displaying what when interacting with one another. The tail position is a huge one! When a dog is aggressive or scared their tail is clearly not wagging, but is tucked under their body. Fear and aggression both mean trouble. This would be a situation where you just stand there and look at something else until the dog approaches you. Then you just ignore it. If you’re calm and disinterested, the dog will relax right away. Always look before you leap!
6) Positive Reinforcement Vs. Negative Punishment:
Negative punishment will never ever ever work! Ever. It confuses the dog into thinking that you want the opposite of what you actually want. It solidifies anxiety and aggression. Positive reinforcement will do so much more in such a shorter amount of time. Never spank your dog, even with a rolled up newspaper. Don’t yell at your dog excessively. Don’t rub your dogs face in its poop when it has an accident. Unless of course if you want them to continue doing what makes you so mad. Then, by all means, continue being a total jerk. Ya jerk!
So what do you do when a dog in pulling the leash trying to scare the living hell out of your chickens? You calmly walk him/her away from the scene and wait for them to calm down and then try again. When they show ANY signs of improvement, you reward them with praise.
Look, I know that it’ll get frustrating sometimes. Believe me, Sasha had tons of separation anxiety when I first rescued her. Life was hard and I wanted to scream my head off most days. But you can’t do that if you want to see results. Only positive reinforcement will get you lasting results.
Think about it for a moment. If your animal is acting out because they have anxiety, what do you think yelling will do? It intensifies that anxiety of course. Which solidifies the bad behavior. Do you see the pattern?
7) Treats and Bribery:
Now this is just me. I very rarely use treats. And never when training. Don’t get me wrong, I do give Sasha treats every day, just not a whole lot. It sounds crazy right? Trust me when I say that dogs much prefer your praises and scratches than they do treats. Treats are over in a matter of seconds after a dog wolfs it down. When a dog feels loved, that lasts forever.
I know what you’re thinking, “Not my dog”. Yes, your dog too. They may be used to the food based training and appear to be hooked, but they can be weaned from that thinking. And should be! Part of keeping a dog happy and healthy involves keeping a healthy weight for the animal. Food dependent obedience is not true obedience. Its bribery. Please do your best to attempt using physical contact and verbal praise when training your pup. Remember, they love to make you happy!! Even more than they love to eat.
Okay, that’s enough of Uncle Jim’s rigid laws of dog ownership. I’m just really passionate about this and hate it when I see people being jerks to their little babies. Now lets get to the reason you’re here. How to keep your dog from eating your chickens!
Part II: Teaching Your Dog to See Your Flock as Part of the Family and Not Dinner.
I had my husky/lab Sasha for about a year and change when I got my first one day old chickens. At that moment, I knew I had my work cut out for me. She was too excited about these new amazing squeaky toys I brought home. Way too excited!
Newborn chickens, as you may well know, require some time to live in a brooding box before going out into the cold dark world. Mine was stored in the spare room. And Sasha was curious as to why I would close the door to the room now when clearly her new toys were in there waiting for her to chew on. “What gives human?”
I began training on the first few days in the simplest of terms. I went into the room with Sasha on her leash and just got her used to the peeps coming from the box up on the table out of her view. When she calmed down, I gave her praise. When she got over-excited, we left the room.
My most used command with Sasha is simply “gentle”. I use it all the time and it means to her, calm the hell down. I say it softly and repeatedly until she can calm herself. If she begins to get to excited, I’ll say “gentle”. If that doesn’t work, we move away from what is exciting her and approach again after a brief pause. Amazingly effective.
After a week of this, we moved on to her being in the room with the brooder on the ground and the lid secured. Now she could actually see what was making the noise. I continued with the above mentioned methods. Too worked up meant leave the room on the leash and try again. Calm and reposed meant she could stay and watch and I could give her praise.
The following week, we tried the lid off. A big step and the chickens were hopping all over the place getting used to their wings and newly forming feathers. A lot of stimulation for our poor Sasha. And now she could reach her head all the way into the brooder and snatch a baby if she so chose. Remember when I was talking earlier about trust? Well, this is what I had to do. But actually trust her. Not hope she would do well, but believe she would. Easier said than done, I know, but not impossible. And she did great. When her tail went nuts and her ears moved forward, I would sooth her and say over and over, “gentle Sasha, gentle”. She got worked up once or twice and we left the room for only an instant and right back in again. This was enough for her to understand a basic concept; you want to see these critters right? The only way is when you are calm and gentle.
The week after that, we did a repeat of this but this time, no leash. Now it would be even harder for me to stop her if she gobbled one of the chicks down. But she had already figured out the routine. She’s a dog, and dogs are mind reading geniuses. Yes, even when they eat cat poop. They’re better at reading other animals than you and I are, and I think that’s pretty genius.
In week four, the chickens were able to jump onto the edge of the brooding box when the lid was off. This gave Sasha much joy to see and hear such a cacophony. I continued teaching her when her excitement was too much for the situation. “Gentle Sasha, gentle.” And if she wouldn’t calm down, out we went.
I would hold the chickens as a way to get them to trust me as well. And when I did Sasha was always close by. I’d lower them down to her level so she could sniff them. Which was a little bit nerve-racking, but it was a step that needed to happen. This is all to dilute the mystery through continued exposure. It’s a form of operant conditioning, but not as cold and calculated as Pavlovian control. There were also no bells present.
By week 6, the chickens were ready to move into the coop. They had to spend a full week in the coop before I could let them out in the run so they learn that the coop is home base. Not much dog training went on then other than to get her used to the critters being outside and in full view. Again, exposure in a calm state.
If she got too worked up, or tried to paw at the wire, I would move her away for a bit or tell her to lay down. She did very well at this stage so it wasn’t often when this came into play. But for illustration purposes, here’s one time…
There was even time for Sasha to train her friend Noe on how to not freak out the flock. With some success.
Week 7 meant that the chickens could now venture out in the run at their leisure during the day and this is where the training commenced. Now Sasha could interact with them fairly directly and they with her and I could just watch and correct bad behavior. She couldn’t touch them due to the fencing, but if she was getting overly playful I could easily calm her down. Which I didn’t have to do too often. Maybe four times. She was just extremely curious and at worst playful chasing behavior. Never any sign of aggression or malice. She had learned that I was trusting her and she wanted to maintain that trust.
I also wanted her to get used to the smells of the inside of the run. I didn’t want the run to be this untouchable area which would only prove to intensify her curiosity. I wanted her to remain calm always when the chickens were around. I began leading her into the run (which wasn’t hard) and just resting with her in the hay. The chickens were safely in the coop above us so this was an important step. She could simply look up at any time and see them and get worked up. Eventually, I was able to get her to just BE in the space lounging with me and the chickens above. I didn’t use any other command other than gentle, and I didn’t try too hard to get her settled. I just waited and when she did settle, I used positive reinforcement. I let her learn how to get rewards. Subtle, but extremely effective.
Week 10 was the first time I allowed the chickens to come outside of the run and wander where they wished about the yard. The first two times, I left Sasha inside with the door closed.
Then twice with just the screen door closed so she could watch.
Then we took the major step. The big “sink or swim” moment. The chickens were free ranging in the yard and Sasha was brought out. No leash at all! Again, it was time to trust her. She had been showing no signs of anxiety or aggression since the chickens were indoors and little babies so I skipped the leash stage for this critical step. You may wish to use a leash now until you are certain that your dog will not bite one of your flock. Your call completely. Just know that at some point, you need to let them do what they are going to do.
She definitely made a b-line towards the birds, which were now big enough to at least defend themselves a wee little bit. Or at least run away while making a lot of noise. Both the chickens and Sasha kept a lazy distance from each other! The chickens pecked and scratched (as they were already used to the dog being nearby) and Sasha laid down or sat and watched. I kept cooing the words “gentle” and “be a good girl” when she seemed to be getting too excited.
100% success!! She behaved so well that I felt that we were finished with the training. A few more times of observed interactions and I even felt comfortable enough to go back in the house and leave them alone together. Only for a short while and I kept my ears turned to the back yard with earnest.
This last weekend was the big final test. How would she handle little defenseless Piper? Piper is a little bit stupid. Well, a lot a bit. She is slow moving, very tiny, half blind from fluffiness and also the most squeak-toy looking chicken I have. On Sunday I tried to let only her come out to walk the yard with Sasha. They did so well I couldn’t believe it! If Sasha got too close, Piper would yell at her and scamper away. Six inches away…but to her less-than-smart ass, it was a safe distance.
Sasha took the hints and would just lay down and stare. I couldn’t have been more proud! Just feast your eyes on how my methods worked!
It was all relatively easy to accomplish too. Just remember all that I’ve said above about dog behavior and what works and what doesn’t work. Also, don’t proceed to the next step until the previous one has been accomplished! That’s really important. You have to walk before you run. Remember also to always be the pack leader in all things. All things! If you are assertive, confident and strong, your pup will follow your lead. It’s really that simple. If you get stuck, send me a comment and I’ll help you out!
Interested in following the adventures of Sasha the wonder dog? Check out her fancy schmancy webpage! She’d love your visit!
Now tell me something about you…