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Beware of Dog: When Chickens and Dogs Collide

A photo of Brandon MitchellLast time I wrote about my moveable chicken pen.   It works great, and the chickens are happy, but with so many grasshoppers just waiting to be eaten, it was hard for me to say no to free food.  Long story short is I let some of the chickens out to wander around picking up bugs.  I own quite a few dogs (partly because I'm a stray magnet), but since they were all in pens, I didn't think much about it.  Fast forward a few days and I come home to find dead chickens all over the yard.  What had happened?  A beagle that had never shown any interest of escaping her pen did just that and decided she wanted a snack, say around eight half-grown birds.

So that brings me to my warning.  Dogs are probably the number one cost on most small farms.  It costs money to feed them, house them, and don't even get me started about vet bills.  Sadly it's been my lot in life to love animals, and I can't say no to a dog, even with all of these expenses.  What's so ironic is that most dogs around a farm are supposed to be used to help, not hurt.  Pyrenees and other sheppards are used to protect the herd.  Australian Sheppards and Collies herd the livestock from one place to another.  Pointers, hounds, and terriers hunt for food, and even Labradors retrieve it when it's been shot. 

I'm here to tell you, all dogs, even livestock guardian dogs are prone to eating chickens.  Everything goes fine for months, so you let your guard down a little, and in just a few minutes time, your flock has been reduced to a pair of jittery, terrified looking pullets.  Now I'm not saying all dogs do this.  I own a Pyrenees that loves chickens, for dinner that is.  My in-laws, on the other hand, have an unrelated Pyrenees that has no interest in chickens, and even lets them pick up the leftovers once he's done with his dog food.  The strange thing is, even with my Pyrenees' affinity for fast food (Yes... That was an attempt at humor.), he fiercely protects my goats from any stray dogs, coyotes, and sometimes even from the neighbors cows (which is strange because there are calves in the field with him.  Maybe he thinks they are jumbo goats.).  Yet, as I said, he feels no loyalty in protecting a chicken.  That is unless another dog is trying to take his meal away from him.

So how do you know if you're dog is a chicken killer?  It's hard to say for sure.  I've tried walking dogs next to my chicken pen, and some known chicken killer's act as though there isn't anything there.  Suffice to say you'll know that you have a chicken killer when it's too late.  But for those of us that don't want to shoot their dog, how do we break them of this?  I honestly don't have any surefire ways.  One method that's been used for generations is to tie the dead chicken around the neck of the dog.  The smell of the decaying bird is supposed to make them sick of chickens.  For the most part it works (I've heard), although I know more than one farmer that's said it doesn't.

I suppose the point to all my rambling is this.  Think twice before getting a dog.  They are wonderful little creatures, but consider what you may be dealing with when they're grown, not just what they're like when they're puppies.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying don't get a dog, but realize the possible problems associated with dogs on a farm.  On the flipside, scientific evidence has proven what most "pet people" have known for centuries.  Dogs make your life better in so many ways.  Nursing homes come alive when a well-trained canine enters.  Dogs have been known to save humans, detect seizures, find drugs and blood trails, and they are in fact man's best friend.  You know how I know?  Lock your spouse and your dog in the trunk of a car.  An hour later let them out and see which one is happy to see you. 

patrick winchester
2/7/2013 5:55:31 PM

Yeah, our dogs were around chickens since they were puppies, and trained not to attack them.. It didn't make a whole lot of difference once they were big enough to eat the chickens....This is natural instinct really, they are dogs, they have a little wolf in them no matter what...They will hunt. Ours would break into the chicken house, and they did the same to the rabbits as well....We had to do something similar to another poster here, the dogs are in an area that is fenced 6 ft. high all the way around so they have zero access to any of the other animal pens, this was the only solution, or I could say it the other way around, the garden and animal pens are behind sturdy dog proof fencing. Nor do my chickens roam the garden unsupervised, as they will eat things that are my food....The dogs will tear up your garden going after gophers as well, so it's best to keep them away from it anyway.


juliette sitiris
2/3/2013 1:55:27 AM

My dog has never harmed a chicken. He has been trained since a puppy that they are his friends. He will eat their feed with them and they are not in the least intimidated by him and he is a Rottweiller.


michele' preston
11/5/2010 1:25:43 PM

It is so sad when this happens...I have been very lucky as i have injured hens always in the house so the dogs have grow used to them...but I did have a cat that just loved to eat the babies if I didn't secure them...Now i am not allowing the dogs into the runs because that's just testing fate but I am glad that if they are in the house so far so good but I do have a Dingo mix girl that gets just a bit over excited if one is flying about but I am always on guard when I have them in the same room together. My biggest problem up here in Massachusetts is Fishercats (mink family), very cruel animals when it comes to chickens, they eat the heads & vent areas & leave the rest for you to find. I rebuilt my coop to be like Fort Knox & triple layers the chicken wire & fencing around the run for them...hopefully I will have made it safe enough for them this winter. Thank you for your article, we tend to forget sometimes its the so called tame animals we have that can do the most damage.


michele' preston
11/5/2010 1:24:51 PM

It is so sad when this happens...I have been very lucky as i have injured hens always in the house so the dogs have grow used to them...but I did have a cat that just loved to eat the babies if I didn't secure them...Now i am not allowing the dogs into the runs because that's just testing fate but I am glad that if they are in the house so far so good but I do have a Dingo mix girl that gets just a bit over excited if one is flying about but I am always on guard when I have them in the same room together. My biggest problem up here in Massachusetts is Fishercats (mink family), very cruel animals when it comes to chickens, they eat the heads & vent areas & leave the rest for you to find. I rebuilt my coop to be like Fort Knox & triple layers the chicken wire & fencing around the run for them...hopefully I will have made it safe enough for them this winter. Thank you for your article, we tend to forget sometimes its the so called tame animals we have that can do the most damage.


brandon mitchell
10/18/2010 11:14:58 AM

Thanks for the comments. Let me go back and comment on the comments. First off, the fence my dogs were in was 6 feet tall field fence designed for horses. It had heavy gauge wire and 2 inch by 4 inch holes. Still I had problems with dogs (even as small as a beagle) climbing it to get out (which is funny because my brother uses 4 foot fences with large dogs and they can't seem to figure out how to get out of there). On top of the climbing, they would constantly dig under to get out, and even chew through the chicken wire to get at the chickens. It actually happened once more from the time this was written and I lost nearly all of my birds. Now, can you train dogs from puppies to avoid chickens? Yes, but you can spend a fortune on training and still have dogs that kill them. Dogs with chicken-killing tendencies used to be disposed of and only nonchick-killing dogs would be used for breeding. Is it cruel to tie a dead chicken to a chicken killer to try to teach him or her to stop? Maybe, but it's less cruel than killing the dog, and it's definately less cruel than leting a flock get massacred. I have come to the conclusion the next pen I'll build will probably use tougher wire. I'll make sure the top I move to feed and water is more secure. I'll probably also add a smaller enclosed pen to hold some of the bantams either on top of the moveable pen, or as a fixed pen near the house. I can throw grass and bugs inside, a small price to pay for extra security.


brandon mitchell
10/18/2010 11:11:06 AM

Thanks for the comments. Let me go back and comment on the comments. First off, the fence my dogs were in was 6 feet tall field fence designed for horses. It had heavy gauge wire and 2 inch by 4 inch holes. Still I had problems with dogs (even as small as a beagle) climbing it to get out (which is funny because my brother uses 4 foot fences with large dogs and they can't seem to figure out how to get out of there). On top of the climbing, they would constantly dig under to get out, and even chew through the chicken wire to get at the chickens. It actually happened once more from the time this was written and I lost nearly all of my birds. Now, can you train dogs from puppies to avoid chickens? Yes, but you can spend a fortune on training and still have dogs that kill them. Dogs with chicken-killing tendencies used to be disposed of and only nonchick-killing dogs would be used for breeding. Is it cruel to tie a dead chicken to a chicken killer to try to teach him or her to stop? Maybe, but it's less cruel than killing the dog, and it's definately less cruel than leting a flock get massacred. I have come to the conclusion the next pen I'll build will probably use tougher wire. I'll make sure the top I move to feed and water is more secure. I'll probably also add a smaller enclosed pen to hold some of the bantams either on top of the moveable pen, or as a fixed pen near the house. I can throw grass and bugs inside, a small price to pay for extra security.


allan douglas
10/15/2010 10:58:42 AM

Thanks for the pointer. I’ve been considering adding chickens to our little agricultural experiment, for the benefit of ridding the garden of bugs and adding nutrient –and for the fresh eggs, but we already have two dogs that have free run of the place and they are accustomed to killing rabbits, coons and possum that come to make a buffet out of our garden. The garden is fenced to keep the dogs from digging and rolling around in the soft, warm dirt (and nice cushy plants) and I thought maybe that would be enough to keep them separated. Both dogs love to eat chicken, but only if it’s cooked. If we offer them a piece of raw chicken flesh they turn their nose up and snort at us. But, perhaps chicken on the hoof – as it were – would be different. Since we already have the dogs, I guess we’ll rethink the idea of getting chickens. Thanks for the advice.


nebraska dave
10/14/2010 6:37:45 PM

@It goes without saying that farms will have at least a dog or two to guard the place. During the summers spent on my uncle’s farm they had free range chickens and two dogs that never touched the chickens. The younger chicks and chickens were kept behind chicken wire fences. It was a large area for them to roam, but the dogs couldn’t get to the tender young morsels. It’s always a dilemma how to raise many different kinds of animals in the same area. I’ve heard of the dead chicken thing and it depends on the dog. Some it works and others not. I’ve also heard of folks tying that chewed up boot around the dog’s neck and let him drag the boot around for a couple days. Let’s face it chicken tastes pretty good and once a dog gets the taste of chicken it’s hard to break them of it. It’s the same with eggs. Even some chickens like the taste of eggs. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have animals. Raising vegetables is hard enough. It sounds like in your case that you can not let the dogs and chickens roam together unsupervised. You indicated that the beagle broke out of the pen and did the damage while you were gone. I guess the pens need to be a little sturdier. I am sorry about the loss of the chickens. I hope you can get the issues resolved before bringing more chickens to the farm. Hopefully your future chicken/dog days will be much better.


hank will_2
10/14/2010 3:51:26 PM

Hey Brandon -- Huge bummer on the birds, but don't fret or sweat it. This happens fairly often and if it isn't your dogs it will be the neighbors'. We have 4 dogs that spend most of the day around the farm unsupervised other than they know our expectations and which livestock belong where. Two of the 4 dogs (Border Collies) are out on coyote, raccoon and possum patrol all night -- the Cairn and Border Terriers get to sleep inside. We occasionally lose a bird to overzealous herd dog trying to convince a Dorking rooster to get back into the chicken yard, but as they've gotten older, they've figured out how to apply pressure less aggressively. When the dogs roughed up a bird, we scolded them pretty well and locked them in the barn for a few hours to think about it. And of course walking the dogs through the flock on tight voice or physical leashes is an important starting place. I had one particularly persistent Heeler many years ago that I was unwilling to shoot before trying the dead chicken trick. It worked fine and she wasn't remotely psychologically damaged. She no longer had any eyes for chickens, but she did become a small-time egg thief, which I let her get away with. Good Luck. Hank


s.m.r. saia
10/13/2010 2:16:10 PM

I pretty much assume that I'm going to have this problem, which is a big reason why I haven't gotten the chickens yet. Though I would prefer them to be free-ranging, I've pretty much accepted that that's not going to be a possibility for me. I'm still trying to figure out the best place to keep them that will keep them permanently removed from my dogs, and completely inaccessible to them. Until I can work that out, I probably won't bring the chickens home.


mountain woman
10/13/2010 6:24:13 AM

So sorry you have problems. I have 15 free range guineas, 15 free range chickens and 5 turkeys and 7 dogs and (and assorted horses) never have a problem. I have my dogs with me as I do my chores, they are under voice control commands and they listen to me. My dogs don't run free when I'm not there. I think it begins with training from the time they are a puppy and not with dead chickens hanging around the neck. I don't know if that was supposed to be funny but training methods like that went out with the dark ages. It's cruel. There are wonderful trainers out there, wonderful books and tv shows but mostly it boils down to the same as everything else; hard works and hours put into the process.