Integrating Chickens, Dogs and Cats
Chickens, dogs and cats oh my!
We have three dogs, two Dachshunds and one Chocolate Lab, and they have three extremely different personalities. So, when we decided to begin the adventure of backyard chickens, one of the first questions my wife asked was, “How are we going to introduce the dogs to the chickens?” and my response was, “Well, until we got Frasier (our 2 year old cat), the dogs had never even seen a cat, and they’re all buddies now, I’m sure it will be the same with the chickens.” Good response, right? Consider this one of the few times that my wife asked me a question, I answered it, and the answer wasn’t followed by eight more questions. She was happy with my response, I was happy not to be further questioned, and the pets will be happy to include a few more members of the family. Everyone was happy; fast forward a few weeks……not everyone is as happy anymore.
When the chicks were in the brooder, life was pretty easy. We kept them in a large aquarium, with a wire top, in a spare bedroom, and just kept the door shut pretty much all the time. Occasionally, we would let our Lab, Hershel, in to take a look; and sometimes when I was replacing water or feed, the cat would sneak in and immediately jump on the screen top, sending everyone into a hysterical panic. But, no big deal, I would grab Frasier, throw him out of the room, and order would immediately be restored. The chicks would calm down, having just been saved from the giant beast hovering above, licking his lips at the site of a hearty lunch; and Frasier would go back to the drawing board to plot a new plan for ‘Operation: Thanksgiving in June.’
The two Dachshunds, meanwhile, weren’t sure what was going on. All they knew was that there was something in that room Frasier was obsessed with, and that was enough for them. They would wait by the door, occasionally let out a little whimper, as if they were saying, “Hey! We NEED to find out what the heck is in there that’s so interesting to the cat!” After a few minutes though, Brownford, the older and more relaxed Dachshund, would go crawl in bed for a nap, and Freddie, the younger and typically out of control Dachshund, would go back to looking out the window. Thankfully the three of them never thought to combine forces and work together; they probably could have caused some damage. But, of course, the cat is too prideful to work with the dogs, and the dogs are too dumb to think about working with the cat.
Times changed once the ladies were moved into the coop; initially, none were the wiser to the presence of the chicks. The dogs went about their normal outside activities, which as far as I can tell just entail checking every square foot of the yard to see if there have been any changes from the previous time they were outside. Eventually though, they all noticed the feathery little objects walking around in that new structure, and of course, all had to check it out. Brownford immediately showed he couldn’t care less about the chickens. He took one glance, and looked at me as if to say, “Really? This is what that cat was obsessing over?” Freddie and Hershel had quite the opposite reaction. Immediately, the two dogs started running circles around the run, and the chickens were running circles within the run. It was, at first, exactly what I expected: Freddie and Hershel would be out of control with excitement and the chickens would be running around like…….well, a couple of chickens with their heads cut off (too easy, I know).
I stopped the dogs from running around the run, as I didn’t want the chickens to, literally, be scared to death. After a few minutes, Freddie remembered there were several other things in our yard that required his attention, such as seeing if there were any fresh piles of dog feces for him to feast on. (Making a note right now to eventually do a blog post about that, as I have some interesting methods for combating that disgusting habit.) Hershel, on the other hand, isn’t as easily distracted as Freddie.
Image Benjamin Baer
For the first six weeks the ladies were in the coop it was awful. Hershel, historically our most well behaved dog, was absolutely obsessed; and it was annoying everyone, and stressing out my girls. Anytime we let the dogs outside, the first thing Hershel did was run to the coop to check on the chicks. He would leave and do his own thing when I scolded him, but as soon as I turned my back, he was back messing with them. I wasn’t worried that he was going to do anything to them. He’s a harmless dog and is really just curious about these new things in his backyard, but the ladies don’t know that, and I don’t want them fearing for their lives every time the dogs are out. Freddie would still check on the chicks every now and then, but our yard is so big, and there is still so much exploring for him to do, he would only allow himself to spend so much time on the chicks before he had to move on to something else. I’m okay with that.
The ladies have now been in the coop for two and a half months, and I’m happy to say everyone is doing well. Hershel is still very interested in the chickens, and often times he just sits at the coop watching them, and that would be a problem if it bothered my girls, but fortunately it doesn’t. A matter of fact, the chickens now seem to have no fear of any of the dogs, which is really a good and bad thing. It’s good the chickens aren’t stressing themselves out about the presence of the dogs, but bad in that I don’t want them thinking similar mammals also pose no threats. Meanwhile, Frasier sits at the bedroom window watching the chickens’ every move….probably plotting his next attack, as soon as he figures out how to escape the confines of our home. It has been a learning process for everyone, but we’ll continue to take it one day at a time and see what happens.
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