How We Introduced Our Backyard Chicks To The Family Dog

  1. surban
    This is our second year having backyard chickens. We live in a city, and can only have four chickens (we have five, but our neighbors don't mind). We also have a dog, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, named Khaleesi. Corgis are herding dogs and they love to chase, so we were a bit nervous about how having a dog and chickens in the same yard would work out, but it has worked out wonderfully!

    I'll tell you what worked for us, but our methods might not work for everyone. Your dog may be completely different from ours. We use treats to show our approval of certain behaviors, but you might use a clicker or a toy. You know your dog, so do what feels right and follow your instincts. I do have two recommendations that I think everyone should follow.
    1. Always have two people present so if things started to get out of control, one person can grab the chicks and the other can grab the dog. We don't want any injuries to the chicks, the dog or you.
    2. During introductions, always use positive reinforcement rather than scolding. If you scold your dog for lunging at a chick, they might associate the scolding with the chick rather than with the lunging behavior. You want your dog to always think of the chicks as something good.
    I think the key for us was introducing Khaleesi to the chicks the day they came to us. The chicks were one day old and Khaleesi was very excited when they came into the house. Imagine being a dog and hearing the peeping and smelling the smells of chicks. It would be hard to stay calm. Before she was allowed to see the chicks, we settled her down with lots of petting and a few treats. Then, we let her smell the box that the chicks were in. As she smelled, we kept stroking her and giving her treats. When she had gotten settled down completely, we took the cover off of the chicks' box so she could see them. Talk about an excited dog! We had to hold her tightly to be sure she wouldn't try to taste a chick. We let her sniff the each chick and lick them. The chicks got a little slobbery, but they didn't seem to mind. This whole while, we referred to the chicks as "the babies."

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    We had the dog leave the room while we got the babies set up in their temporary housing. They would be living in a large cardboard box in the house for the first week or so, or until they started to smell. We fashioned a cover for their box with chicken wire and let Khaleesi back into the room. She loved watching them. Sure, she tried to poke her way into the box, but we just sat on the floor with her and held her. Whenever she would be calmly sitting and watching, we would give her another treat. The cat tried to come into the room to check things out and Khaleesi ran at her and gave a little growl. Normally we wouldn't want her to growl at the cat, but we took this as a good sign. It meant that she knew the babies needed protecting and that she wanted to take on that role. Every day, a few times a day, we would hold each little chick and let Khaleesi smell and lick them. This got her more used to the chicks, the chicks used to being held by people and used to the dog.

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    Soon it was time for the chicks to leave the house. We had a larger set up ready for them in the garage. Our garage is attached to the house, so we left the door into the garage open whenever we were home. Even though we couldn't smell the chickens, Khaleesi could, so having chickens became her new normal. We would still hold the chickens every day or two and let her sniff and lick them. Whenever we said the word "babies," Khaleesi would run to the door to the garage, ready to go visit them. During this time, we would also bring the chicks outside on warm days so they could spend some time in the grass. We fashioned a temporary run out of some 1 x 1 garden stakes, chicken wire and a stapler. When they were in the yard like this, Khaleesi was always right there at the fence watching them and running around the fence, making noises like she wanted to get in there and play.

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    After a few months, the babies were ready to move outside to their new coop. They were also ready for more freedom. It was time to roam around our fenced in yard. It was also time to let Khaleesi and the chicks be together without someone holding the chicks. We used our make-shift run as a tool to keep everyone safe. I sat in the run with the birds and Khaleesi so I would be able to pull her back or pry a bird out of her mouth if need be. It worked out well. She pushed them around with her nose and licked them. They just went on pecking at the ground and scratching away. We took the run down so they had access to the whole yard. Then, something interesting happened. The birds were starting to move away from each other and Khaleesi started walking circles around them to keep them closer together. She was herding them! Every time one of the birds would drift more than a few feet away from the others, the dog was right there to round her back up. She chased the birds a little, but when the birds didn't want to be chased, they would stop running and squat into a submissive pose. Khaleesi would stick her nose under their wing and lick them for a bit, then walk away.

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    Now the chickens are over a year old and Khaleesi still sees them every day. In nice weather, they spend time in the yard together, in bad weather; Khaleesi will at least walk over to the coop to look in on them. She still herds them and chases them. On occasion, she'll grab a few feathers from their fluffy butts, but if they don't like it, they have no problem giving her a peck or two.

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