The Unexpected Guard Dog

Reader Contribution by Jen Ubelaker
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There are a lot of benefits to being an Urban Homesteader, but the main advantage we have found is that with an Urban lifestyle, we have more flexibility in how we get the job done. Whether it’s shorter distances for tool shares or having a CSA to support produce needs that we can fulfill on our small space, we love thinking of creative options to solving our problems.

One recent problem was “How are we going to raise chickens in town?” After doing lots of reading, finding out what our town’s rules were in regards to city livestock and warning the neighbors, we purchased our flock. The surprise benefit came in the form of our Great Dane. This breed is known as a “gentle giant” and not necessarily a LGD (livestock guardian dog), but unwittingly we have trained our dog to recognize the birds as his ‘flock’ and guard them.

Traditional LGD training will tell you first to introduce your dog to the stock in a safe environment. We had the chicks brooding in the office – and a Great Dane dog kennel is roughly the size of a Smart Car, so it doubles fantastically as a brooder! We allowed the dog access to ‘the girls,’ and he was curious but respectful. It took one night for the dog to give up his space in the bedroom in favor of sleeping by the brooder. We can attribute some of that to his lazy nature and the fact the chicks had a heat lamp, but it got the job done.

Secondly, trainers will tell you that you should take your LGD out with you when you do chores, secured to you by a leash or under owner’s control. Our dog follows me around like a 150-pound shadow anyway, so the chicks’ routine just became his routine too. Lastly, trainers will tell you to praise things that you see in your dog, positive reinforcement for things like submissive posture toward the flock and the “dog statue” guard position.

Being in town, our only real nuisances and predators are crows, stray cats and Chihuahuas. However, our dog has become a magnificent guardian of the tiny flock. With the constant exposure, the chicks aren’t afraid of him at all, and I have even caught them all napping together in the sunshine. Nature AND nurture worked to help our little homestead.

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