Some time ago I asked readers of K9 Well Being’s Newsletter what they thought about the possibilities of rehabilitating a confirmed chicken killing dog. One of the possible responses was “I don’t know, but if there is, I sure would like to know how!”
I have had four dogs – two German Shepherds and two Bouviers—that killed at least two or more birds. There was one more GSD, Echo, I managed to catch in the act of mauling a bird and impressed upon her the crime would not be tolerated. “Chickens are chums not chow. Your responsibility is to protect and defend our animals, not kill them” was my crystal clear communication.
The other Shepherds, Skip and Gaol, were hardened criminals, having killed and eaten my three pet ducks (their first offense executed when I was not home), plus several chickens after that. We had a milk goat at the time of their second wave of terror. One day I after I had milked the goat, I turned to the dogs and said, “Don’t drink this milk,” and as I returned from putting the goat into the pasture, the dogs were drinking the milk. There was a stick nearby and I took that stick and spanked Gaol—she was the instigator in these attacks, not Skippy. I said “No milk, no milk! And don’t touch my chickens either.”
I knew I had made a connection the second I let her go. She took that stick in her mouth and walked past the chickens – the stick tilted away from them and her eyes blinking.
Sure enough, no more chickens were killed. And months later I got a call from a neighbor who told me that the chickens had gotten out of their pen and were in the yard with the dogs. I raced home and dashed into the back yard. I realized after making a quick head count that not a chicken had been harmed. I lavished praise upon the dogs – and Gaol said, “We thought about it. But we didn’t do it.”
And that was that for those two.
Echo – truly the ambassador for the German Shepherd breed—was 16 weeks old when she decided to turn a chicken into a squeak toy. I heard the distressed chicken, ran out and jumped on the two. Echo was not going to give up that chicken, not for nothing, no how, no way. I pried her jaws apart and shook her head until the chicken got free. The we went to war. Echo bit my arm with her razor-sharp puppy teeth as I had her by the neck. I repositioned my grasp — and grabbed both her cheeks. I pinned her to the ground. The fight ended once she conceded defeat.
Bouvier, Alice, had the benefit of Echo’s training and her ethics. But one night she killed Tom Turkey—not by attacking him—but by herding him all night long.
12years later she would kill her first chicken.
When Alice was 10 we watched “The History of the Chicken” (see blog post about that.). But two years later, after adding Molly-Cule to our family, Alice got caught up in a one-up’s-manship with ‘Cule and joined her in an attack of a chicken. It took only a lecture on the theme, “chickens are chums not chow” to remind her of her duties on the ranch.
By far the hardest case of all was Wil. Wil was 3 years old when I adopted him. He was truly a dangerous dog. He was dangerous around people of all ages and genders, any and all farm animals, any dog that “dissed “ him and any dog that gave him the slightest challenge.
Persistence. That’s what it took Persistence and an iron fist.
The first time he killed a chicken, I had tied him to a cinderblock while I fed and watered the birds. One of the birds got too close, and he dragged that block some 20 feet until he caught the bird.
Up until then, his rehab had been through clicker training and non-coercive training. I had him tied to my body at all times – except when I had him tied to a fencepost or some object I thought would hold him. Obviously a cinderblock was about as effective as an egg carton.
I had a tough call to make: What would be the penalty for this murder? I made the call that we had had a few months together and that it was time that he learned that his Chief was mightier than anyone or anything he had ever known. I would take him down – down hard—down to where he would realize that his Chief could, in all reality, kill him with her bare hands.
I knew too that there would be a very thin line… too early, he would not have that realization that he was not the bad-ass he thought he was… too late and he would flip from “holy moly, I am done for” to “Ok, MF, BRING IT ON!” And if we got to the “bring it on” stage, then I would be in a hand-to-paw-and-jaw conflict with an 85 pound grizzly bear.
Fortunately I read him just right. I quit attacking him when I saw the “holy moly” look. And that event changed our lives together forever. From that point on, he understood why everyone referred to me as “your Chief” when speaking to Wil. I was not “Mummy” or “Mom.” I was Chief. And as Chief, he was a to tow the line without question.
Do I believe that every dog can be taught not to kill other animals or to stop killing them once they have started? Honestly, I am not sure. Remember I’ve mentioned Molly-Cule, the Jack Russell- Chihuahua mix I adopted at 11 months? She was a rabbit killer, and if there was a rabbit lose, and she caught it, it was a goner. But a rabbit is not too far off from a rat or mole – which she was encouraged to kill. She never killed a chicken even though they ran around loose from time to time. Not ducks either.
I think at the heart of the matter is respect. In my experience, when the dog respects you, and you impress upon him his responsibility to protecting and defending your other animals, he is more likely to be trustworthy around them. And that is not to say that “just because” a dog respects you he will automatically take care with your other animals.
For example, Bouviers are notoriously bad with cats as a general rule. Well, a couple of weeks ago a feral cat moved into our hay barn. When Wil learned that we now have a cat, he was mortified:
“Chief?! A CAT? No no no, Chief! Not a CAT!”
As of this writing, I can guarantee you that Wil will not kill our chickens.
But we are working on “Cats are chums not chow.” And we have a ways to go before he and the cat are buddies.