A friend of my sister (hi Karen) sent me email yesterday asking about dogs and chickens. This is what she wrote:
Our friends moved to Spain and we took care of their dog for six months. She’s a lab-golden retriever mix. She has been great and has convinced us that we want a dog of our own. We let our chickens roam in the yard when we are outside. We don’t have the dog and the chickens in the yard at the same time because the dog is very interested in the chickens. Too interested.
We would love to get a lab or lab mix. I’ve been told a lab can be trained to live harmoniously with chickens. What do you think?
We can have 12 chickens in Minneapolis. We are down to 3 and are planning to add some chicks soon. Do you think the dog should come before or after new chicks? At the same time?
Although we have experience with dogs and chickens (last fall we had 3 dogs, this summer we have 1 – insert frowny face) we have always had dogs that ended up being smaller than our grown chickens (maltese) so quite naturally as the chickens grow the dogs get put in their place.
However, I grew up with a lab and at one point we did have a lab in our current house. Labs are bird dogs, although they can get used to living around chickens, I’m afraid that chickens will always be a temptation (just as those fluffy ground squirrels were a temptation to our Greyhound.)
If you are just getting a dog, temperament will be important. Go for a mild mannered dog (I know, I know, easier said than done.) Initially limit the exposure to the chickens and make sure that all chickens have protection (someone watching.) I think whether you get a dog before or after the chickens is a personal choice, just make sure that if you get the dog before the chickens that he does not have an aggressive hunter mentality. Let the breeder know that you are going to mix the dog with chickens, they might be able to help you pick out a dog that would fit nicely in that situation.
If you are exposing the dog to chicks, be prepared to take a few out of the dog’s mouth, they’ll think that the fluffy little critters are toys. Just remove the chick (they usually just gently pick up the bird) and say “no.”
As the chicks grow they will become more assertive toward unwelcome behavior from the dog. A few sharp pecks from the chickens to the dog’s nose works wonders in the “leave me alone department.”
Although you don’t mention a rooster, if you have a rooster then the rooster will challenge any dog who threatens the flock. Dogs learn very quickly to leave the roosters and chickens alone.
Overall, for the most part, dogs are pretty smart. They will realize that the chickens are not to be messed with and will usually leave them alone. (After all what is a farm without a good dog or two?)
I caution you however, to keep your dog under control. While he may recognize your chickens as off-limits, he might see your neighbor’s chickens as fair game. Vigilance will always be needed, especially with a bird dog.
And lastly, if your dog attacks and perhaps even kills a chicken, don’t go too hard on him. Dogs are hunters, chickens and birds are game, that’s just the way it is.