Dogs and chickens have not always had the most loving of relationships. Dogs tend to see chickens as prey. The prey drive is an instinctual behavior that all carnivores have. It is stronger in some breeds of dogs than others. Silkies, due to their subdued nature, are not very good at protecting themselves or knowing how to react when danger, in the form of a dog, is near.
Canines tend to stalk, chase and capture their prey. Man has used this prey drive to his advantage to create breeds of dogs that can do work for him. Herding dogs are great stalkers. They round up animals and keep them from escaping. Hounds are good at chasing and can follow the scent of prey for many miles. Terriers are experts at capturing and killing.
Observe your dog or another’s around chickens. Does it stare intensely at them while ignoring you or their owner? Does it refuse to move, its body tense and motionless? Are they lunging at the birds, using rigid movements or crouching? Are their lips twitching and pupils dilated? These are all signs of a dog with a high prey drive. Remember that prey drive is not the same thing as aggression in dogs.
High prey drive is best managed with plenty of exercise. The more time you can spend with your dog engaging in dog sports or walks, the more they can burn off the excess energy. You can not extinguish prey drive all together, but you can manage it and teach your dog what is acceptable and what isn’t.
First of all, your dog must look to you as pack leader and respect you. Training is important. It would be wonderful if you could start with a puppy and train it properly, but the reality is that most people have adult dogs or rescue dogs that possibly were never worked with when young. If the dog does not have general obedience training or general manners, this will be a big problem when you introduce them to chickens.
If you are thinking about getting chickens, contact a professional obedience trainer for your family dog. Clicker training is one of the most successful methods of training. Use a 6 foot leash to work with the dog on the commands of sit-stay and down-stay.
Choke chain type of collars or prong collars work well in obedience training. They are used so that the dog can not slip out for corrections or for getting the dog’s attention. Muzzles are used for introducing dogs to animals or people when prey drive or aggression is an issue.
Begin your training near the chickens. Start around ten feet away. Work on commands such as “leave it” and “Focus”. Then slowly begin to train closer. If he is distracted by the chickens, then move farther away and begin again.
Introduce him to a chicken using the leash and muzzle. Enter the chicken pen and practice obedience commands. If your dog attempts to harm your bird, start back and training near the chickens from outside of the pen.
Allow off leash if he has been successful with the leash and muzzle. Practices commands. If he ignores you, then leash him up again and continue training. If you are not seeing results with training and exercise, try an E-collar. This can often be used for breaking bad habits.
Unfortunately, some dogs will never be able to be trusted with chickens. Some breeds are harder to be around chickens successfully than others. Greyhounds, Weimaraner , Jack Russell terrier and Siberian Huskies have very high prey drives.
Our son came home after college and brought his Siberian Husky to live at our house. We built what we thought was a strong, sturdy dog house and dog run. The first time he saw my silkies out free ranging, he chewed and tore through the fencing and killed 3 birds before we were able to catch and stop him. Now the dog is on a cable lead inside of the reinforced run. He is always attached to a lead or a leash whenever he is outside. I also worked on increasing the strength of the doors on the coop and making sure that my birds weren’t free ranging when the dog was out of the run.
Chickens are pretty much uniform in how they react to predators. The rooster gives the alarm cry and tries to protect the hens as they scurry for cover. Silkies have the disadvantage of having large crests which can block their eyesight. Keep their feathers above and below their eyes trimmed. They also are unable to fly and cannot go up into trees to escape. You may only want to allow them to free range when you are there to watch over them
There are some good dog breeds for guarding chickens. The Pyrenean Mountain dog or the Pyrenean Mastiff are good for this. The Akbash and the Komondor are also good with guarding chickens. Any herding dog is a good choice.
Remember, even an overly playful dog can inflect a fatal wound to a chicken. Do not leave them alone together until you are sure that the dog can be trusted.
Dogs and chickens should have separate feeding and watering stations to reduce the spread of germs from one animal to another. One of the top concerns of bird to dog transfer is salmonella. This can be transmitted to the dog through chicken feces.
Coccidiosis is present in both animals but it is species specific. That means that it cannot be passed back and forth between the two animals. It is a separate disease.
Neighborhood dogs can cause accidents to happen. A dog can slip its collar and suddenly it is in your yard. Don’t take any chances. Make your coop as secure as possible. It should be like Fort Knox to keep all predators out. For more information on chicken predators check out How to protect your chickens from Predators.
For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our weekly silkie blog at VJPPoultry.com. VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.