Dogs and chickens are natural enemies--or are they? Cartoon rivalries like Foghorn Leghorn and Backyard Dawg’s make it seem so, but in reality they can be great friends! To help promote friendship instead of rivalries between dogs and chickens, here are some practical steps to take, and some tips to keep in mind.
Establish Separate Spaces
Chickens and dogs need a lot of room. Before introducing them, determine what space will be for the dog and what space will be for the chickens. When determining how much space to give the dog, consider his size and activity level. As for the chickens, they will generally need a coop with four square feet of room per chicken, and a run with eight square feet per chicken. This area should be fenced in, and the dog should not be allowed to enter.
As the chickens and the dog grow accustomed to being around each other, there will likely be spaces that they can share. However, they should still have room for a little privacy. For instance, the dog should stay out of the run, and the dog could have his own space inside the house or in a separate area of the yard.
Picking a Breed
Another critical step that must happen before introducing dogs and chickens is buying the birds. That may sound pretty straightforward, but buying birds without researching the different breeds available could lead to conflict. Different breeds of chickens have different temperaments and behaviors, and will therefore act differently around dogs. Ideally, the breed of chicken selected should be docile, curious, and not skittish at all. Some breeds to consider are:
- Easter Eggers
Breed selection is also key for dogs, not just chickens. Certain breeds of dogs are naturally better with fowl than others, while other breeds will take more work to foster a friendship. Some breeds that are known for having high prey drives are:
- Jack Russell Terriers
On the other hand, some breeds that are known for doing well with chickens are:
- Great Pyranees
- Anatolian Shepherds
These breeds are known for their protective instincts and will love watching over the flock!
Remember that dogs are excellent learners, so even if a dog breed is known for high prey drives, that does not mean they will never get along with chickens. Specific breeds may simply take more patience and caution.
Consider Health and Age
Health and age may determine when introductions can begin. Always make sure that all pets that will be introduced are healthy before the introduction by keeping their shots up to date, watching for behavioral cues, and taking them in to the vet for a checkup if needed. Sick animals may feel vulnerable and become defensive, plus they could transfer ailments to each other. These things would definitely have a negative influence on the interaction!
Age is generally not an issue unless the chickens are too young or the dog is too old. Chicks can be introduced to dogs safely, but not until they are at least a few weeks old. This is because chicks have very specific heat requirements in the first weeks of life, not to mention that they are very fragile! Chicks shouldn’t be moved to outdoor areas until they are 7-8 weeks old, and it’s best to wait until they can be outside before introducing them to a dog. Dogs can be introduced to chickens at any age, but it will be better in the long run to introduce a puppy than an older dog. This is because puppies are impressionable, and puppies that grow up around chickens are more likely to be comfortable around them. However, that doesn’t mean an old dog can’t get along with new animals!
The Introduction Process
Finally, after considering space needs, breeds, health, and age, it’s time to introduce the dog and the chickens to each other! This will take multiple meetings, and will look something like this:
Step 1: During the first meeting, just let them interact from a distance. For instance, keep the dog on a leash and the chickens in their run. Allow them to see each other, smell each other, or just generally acknowledge each other’s presence.
Step 2: For the next meeting, let them interact directly in a neutral part of the yard where both animals will feel comfortable. Keep the dog on a leash, and hold the chicken (as long as the breed is comfortable being held). Give them affirmation by petting them, speaking in a calm tone, and even giving them treats. It’s important to only introduce one dog to one chicken at first; introducing too many animals at one time will overwhelm them and cause stress. If there are five chickens and one dog, for instance, the chickens can be rotated, or introduced on completely different days if there’s a concern that the dog may get overwhelmed.
Step 3: With the next few meetings gradually increase the amount of animals interacting at one time. Continue to closely monitor the interaction and keep the animals loosely constrained.
Step 4: At this point in the process, the next step will be largely determined by the behavior observed so far in the animals’ interactions with one another. If all animals have been friendly and have adapted to each other well, restraints can come off and they can interact freely. If they have not been getting along yet, continue to limit the number of animals interacting at one time, keep the interactions short, and maintain close control over the animals.
Step 5: Again, this step will be determined by the behavior observed. If everything has gone well so far, the animals may be allowed to interact without supervision for short periods of time. This should only be done with 100% certainty that they will not harm one another. If things are still tense at this point, don’t give up! Instead, consider consulting with a trainer. A trainer may be able to provide deeper insight into the dog’s behavior with the chickens, and may offer some unique solutions.
The process of introducing chickens and dogs to each other will take time, and lots of it. However, the lasting bond they will form will be worth all of the work!