Know Your Dog
Dogs have a built in sense of hunt, protect, dig and eat loads of unhygienic things like chicken poo. Its just what a dog wants to do. Its your job to tame those characteristics, teaching Woofy what is not acceptable as a domesticated pet.
No doubt you have heard bad stories where one pet has had to go, but at the same time there are pictures circulating around the internet of dogs letting the cutest little animals run around and sleep on top of them. Which one is true?
What will work for one dog will not always work with another. But your dog's breed and training will have a lot to do with it.
Learn as much as you can about your dog's dominant breed. Those traits will be a good indication as to what you can expect. Each breed of dog was originally bred for purpose: herding, hunting or companion.
I would also like to add to that list: protection and guardians.
Dogs that comes from a shelter often tend to be mixed and tricky to identify the breed of. In many cases, they can be the most troublesome to integrate with chickens due to their behaviour and change of owner later in life. I always emphasise that you exercise caution when purchasing from a shelter, so getting to know them really well is top priority. Listen to the advice that the shelter staff give you about the information on their dogs, it will be worthwhile.
Predatory behaviour is a strong trait in certain dog breeds such as Greyhounds. On farms, they can be used to chase out wombats and rabbits from making burrows in the paddocks which cause extensive damage to farm vehicles. Greyhounds have a prey drive and can often kill smaller animals. But don't confuse prey with aggression. Training is key to controlling their inbuilt traits.
Playful behaviour is a very common trait amongst dogs who see everyone and everything as their play thing. They may not be aware of their own strength at times which can result in a chicken being injured or killed in one swift playful pounce. The overly playful dog can cause stress to the hens, especially if they are not separated by fencing. Playing is one thing, barking mad is quite another.
You will know your dog's personality better than anyone, but if you have your doubts whether they your dog can get along with hens then there are measures you can take before introducing hens to your yard.
What about the cat?
Cats can have their own traits and personalities too, but in general most cats tolerate hens well. The chickens can become agitated at the sight of a cat, but on the whole I have seen chickens work as a flock to shoo away unwanted cats from the yard. Chickens can hold their own. If the cats and hens have grown up together there is a harmonious understanding between them. This can be the same for dogs and chickens too, but the traits of a dog are much more important to focus on.
The most tolerant of chicken breeds are often the hybrids such as ISA Browns and other mixed breeds. The purebred chickens are far more flighty and harder for you to catch - their fright or flight instinct can be very high. So for a more successful dog/chicken integration go for the friendly, more docile, catchable breeds: ISA Brown, New Hampshires, Australorps, Orpingtons, etc. They tolerate not only excited dogs but excited children as well.
Method of Control
Having given you all those warnings and what to look for in the right companion dog for chickens, you want to get down to the good stuff and have a technique to help them get a long well together.
Since we can't train the chickens for the encounter, we can focus on Woofy.
Owning chickens first - introduce your new puppy on day one. Make sure that s/he sees that this is part of everyday life. The everyday exposure helps the dog to feel calmer and accepting of the situation.
Owning a dog first - its a good idea to see how well they get along with other animals before bringing home surprise new additions. If you know of anyone who owns chickens (with or without a dog), ask if you can see how well your dog copes seeing them in someone else's backyard. Note how well they respond to your commands when they get excited at viewing new animals.
The Introduction Day will be a test of your dog's traits, personality and training ability.
Since your dog sees themselves as your protector and lord of the backyard the order of the pet social scale can be put to the test. Slowly does it with introductions. Start with the least amount of exposure and work up to more direct contact.
Watch all of your dog's body language to know when to call it a day or to implement some firmer training tactics. Be patient with this process. It could be days or it could be weeks. Professional training may be required if you feel that you are not getting the results you need.
What we are looking for is a dog that is interested but no aggressive. Let your dog sniff as much as they like, because smells are like names to a dog.
Once you have introduced the hens to your yard, ensure that they are separated by a fence or the coop caging.
Keeping the hens in for 2 to 4 weeks is ideal. Not just so that all the pets get use to each other, but that they can get use to their new home and you can worm, pest dust them and monitor them for any signs of disease before letting them out, if you prefer the free-range method. If they are in a totally enclosed run with coop, this is the easiest method because the dog/cat will not be making any regular trips into the run.
There are some dogs that may never get along with hens, that is true, but I really emphasise consistent daily training, and on the farm as a girl I was often the one with the time on my hands to get stuck into training up our farm dogs not only for the sheep but also for learning to heard the pigs, cows and aggressive geese. So here's my tips for success (I'm not a professional, just an ex-farmer):
When your dog engages in their bad behaviour be at the ready to send a strong discouraging message by growling your command, number one.
Secondly, you can use a physical deterrent such as a spray of water.
If needed, set up a barrier between the dog and poultry area. This is not always possible in every backyard, though.
But lastly, and the most importantly, is to give a food reward for when they have obeyed your command to cease their activity.
Food rewards for good behaviour changes behaviour.
Please be persistent with daily training over the next week or two. All your hard effort will pay off with consistency.
Make sure everyone in your household helps with the retraining to maintain authority evenly.
Good luck with your dog/chicken introduction. I would really love to hear from anyone who has done it and what tips you can offer other owners.