Chickens and Dogs

I’m a great believer in animal training. The animals that we live with should have manners so that they are safe and a pleasure to be around. My goats know the word “off,” which tells them that I won’t come into their stall unless all four feet are on the ground and they back up from the door. Lily sits while her dinner is put in her bowl. I even trained my chickens to pose for the camera so that the tableaus for Tillie Lays an Egg could be photographed. One of my best friends has trained everything from dolphins to alligators and I’ve learned much from her.  And yet, Lily and the hens can not be let out together. I’m realistic about what I can do and what will stick in Lily’s brain.

Some dogs are absolutely fine with chickens.


vintage photo from Terry Golson’s collection, date unknown


When I first got chickens, I had a dog named Nimbus, who was likely an Aussiej/Husky mix. She was a good hunter. But she also had impulse control and was a joy to train. It was easy to teach her not to chase the chickens. I did this by rewarding her for being still and calm around the hens. I never was, however, able to get her to not eat the poop.

Lily spent the first half-year of her life running wild on a southern farm, where I think that much of her diet consisted of hunting rabbits and such. She is mostly rat terrier and is reactive to movement. I’ve trained her not to charge and bark at the chickens. But, if there’s a sudden movement, a switch in her brain flips and she takes off after it. A squawking, running hen is sensory overload for Lily. With hours and hours of training I could possibly overcome her natural tendencies. I don’t have those hours. And it would never be 100%. So, I rely on fences to keep the chickens safe.

I’m often asked whether a dog will get along with chickens. Yours might. Or not. Don’t assume that all will be well. Put in the time to train the dog to lie down calmly while the hens are near. Teach your dog to come away from the hens when called. Don’t teach through fear and punishment (with water sprays and leash jerks) as that only serves to teach the dog that chickens are something to get angry over. And always assume that a friend’s dog, or your neighbor’s, or the stray wandering through your yard, will be chicken killers.

I’m currently introducing Lily to Phoebe, the new bunny. Lily still hunts and kills wild rabbits. She took one whiff and look at Phoebe in the pen and went into coursing mode. I asked for a down.


Every time Phoebe ran past, I rewarded LIly for calmly watching. This is what I did to train Lily to accept Candy. Candy discovered that she was quite safe in her pen, and would tease Lily, running the fence line, challenging Lily to chase her. Poor Lily. Those rabbits make it hard for Lily to be a Good Dog. We’ll have to wait to see if Phoebe has the same sense of bunny humor.


  1. I guess I got very luck with my 3 dogs, my Bichon will on the occassion give them a chase but just for fun to get them riled up, my cocker/cavalier spaniel guards them, though on the occasion when the Tiger lillies are tall and the chickens are taking a nap in them the Cocker comes out in her and she flushes them out ( I guess somethings are just so deep rooted you can never break it fully) and my Maltese came at 14 years old and he is quite blind Im not sure he knows thier there

  2. We are in the process of training our six month old German Shepherd and it’s tough! Our last shepherd was five when we rescued her and brought her to the farm. I literally took her to the pen and said, “Never chase the birds.” She never did. The puppy on the other hand….. ;) Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it!

  3. We have two retired greyhounds.
    Tilly is safe with the hens. They seem to sense this and will happily peck around her if she’s sunbathing when we’re out working in the garden. That said, I feel it’s unfair on her to leave her unguarded with them.
    Tiggy, on the other hand, is a boy who works solely on instinct (and of course, years of training and being rewarded for chasing the ‘hare’!) He’s also much, much faster on his four feet than any chicken could ever run or fly. He caught two of our girls within days of getting him home. Literally pulled me over in his frenzied rush at them. Hence we now have a one-legged chicken who has made a good recovery and is happy to lay eggs every other day ;-) … And a greyhound who wears a muzzle when we go anywhere, as you never know when a neighbour’s cat may cross his path!

  4. Mighty Quinn, who is an Aussie, is fabulous with anything. The Cabrarator … not so much. The Goatmother has managed to train her not to chase the ducks, but she likes to stalk birds, squirrels and chipmunks. We are working on it, but I think there is a natural instinct in the smaller dogs that makes them tend to be ‘ratters’ … so as you say … anything that moves flips the switch. Oy.

  5. “I even trained my chickens to pose for the camera?”
    Please, please, do share your secret!
    I know my hens get transfixed by sounds my camera makes,
    or the small flashing light… but any other tips would be of interest to me.

    • I used clicker training. The hens were trained to follow a target stick and stop when it stopped. Same method to train dolphins. In some ways chickens are easier. Very uncomplicated and food motivated. Click on the link for my friend above and you can read all about it.

  6. I have always lived in a city but my family roots from both of my parents are ranching and farming. For a while, I had a little secret desire for backyard hens. However, we have two city border collies, too. They are incredibly smart and eager to please (also clicker trained). My daughter competed with one of them in agility when she was a young girl and I think with consistent work AND vigilance, I could train them to leave the chickens alone, especially now that they are older dogs. But no one would be happy about it (the dogs sometimes “chase” birds high up in the sky within our small suburban back yard). Add in the fact that we have urban foxes, raccoons, coyotes and even mountain lions, it is good that my dream died. Thank you for generously sharing your experiences and life, Terry. It’s one of many reasons why I enjoy your blog and cams so much.

    • Am very glad not to have mountain lions here. Love the BCs. I used to do agility, and I got Lily through a rescue that said she was one. They were wrong!

      • There are lots of interesting perceptions about BCs. We are not experts on any but our own, though, by any means. We adopted our female from someone who insisted she was an Australian Shepherd. They were wrong, too. I forgot to mention the city skunks – definitely could do without them :-). I’m fairly sure our dogs still have not learned to leave them alone, even after a very, very, very smelly never-to-be forgotten incident.

  7. When we had the farm our Eskimo Spritz was born in the barn and abandoned by it’s mother. The hens and sheep were a part of his life. Eskies need to have a job, they are easily trained and have been used in circus’s. As Griz grew he took on the job of animal guard, barked if there was any pecking or bumping and kept control of the sheep. He could be trusted to live in the barn with the hens. When we moved to a house he became a house dog at 10 yrs. old. He took his place under my son and kept me in line. He owned me. I’m thinking about getting another Eskie and some chickens. I’m not near as sick as they thought I was and I miss both the hens and the dog.

    • Your Eskie grew up in an ideal environment for an active and smart breed. Glad to hear that you are optimistic about your health!

  8. Because I’m a wus, any new dog I’ve brought into the family has been in late spring or summer. I don’t want to potty train in the cold.
    The reason I mention that is I always seem to have at least one broody hen in spring and summer and my fool proof way of training dogs not to chase is to introduce them to a broody hen. One peck on the nose and few flap of the wings in the face is all it takes. I’ve never had it fail.

    • Maybe your dogs were also wusses :) Lily would have taken a peck as a challenge. Scooter… a glare would do him in!

  9. Yet another reason why I love this blog Terry – your wonderful wee farm and so many interesting comments every day too!

    We have two rescue Cairn Terriers. They will chase anything that moves – anything! They can never to be trusted off lead. That is just their nature…chase and kill any wild critter that moves – immediately! BUT…just this morning we came around the corner of the house with both dogs off lead and within their protected area and what’s out in my back yard?….why a huge flock of wild turkeys! (hopefully eating all of the horrible ticks!)

    Instructed both to sit and STAY and by golly…they DID! Go Figure. I think they simply were amazed at those big old birds and didn’t move a muscle. The squirrel, chipmunk and wild bunny population however? Doooomed.

  10. Our Westie is a chaser of chipmunks and mice. It’s her absolute favorite pastime. She’s very well trained and was taught to roam with the hens in harmony. I swear sometimes she scratches at the dirt like they do when she thinks they might have found something good. I was unsure of her with the chicks when they were VERY little because she IS a terrier. But now that they are older, she likes to go into the run and check on them when I lock them in at night.