For some reason many people think cats are the major domestic threat to backyard chooks because they kill birds. While cats are naturally drawn to small birds, making baby-sized chicks an easy target, they will rarely go after full-sized chickens. I’m happy to have cats share my backyard with chooks because they discourage other birds from stealing the chook food.
To many people’s surprise, dogs are one of the most common domestic predators. When they see a chicken making a racket, squawking and flapping its wings, the canine hunter instinct can snap into action and carnage can follow if you’re not around.
Dogs can happily live with chooks and with training and familiarization, be a valuable guardian, especially when it comes to keeping foxes away. But if your dog is not raised with chickens, you need to teach it not to follow its instincts to go after its natural prey.
Here are some tips: To introduce a dog to chickens, first do it with a fence or barrier between them. If your dog behaves and can “sit and stay” while the chickens move about, praise them or give them a treat. At this time it is wise to keep the dog on a leash. If it cannot keep still and lunges at the chooks, yank the leash and berate it.
Once it starts behaving, there can be closer contact. Get another person to hold your tamest chook while you have the dog on the leash. If you can let the dog see the chicken being held and it can remain in control, it is safe top move on to the next step.
Tie up the dog and supervise it as the chooks free range in your backyard. The dog will watch the chickens and eventually get bored and lose interest. Dogs will hopefully also catch on that the chooks are your friends and are not potential dinner.
There may be some hiccups with this system: it may be smart to be around during the first few days when the two interact, maybe over a weekend. I have heard that people have first tried less-valuable cockerels free ranging with their dogs. If the dog reverts to its natural instinct and snaps into action, at least it’s only a male – bound for the dinner table anyway – that is sacrificed.