Want to learn how to train your dog to herd backyard chickens? Then read on!
If you own a chicken coop, training your dog to herd your chickens is a win-win scenario. First, it allows your chickens to range safely in the backyard. And second, it gives your dog much-needed exercise and stimulation. (Related: how much exercise does your dog need?)
The first question to ask yourself is:
Do You Have the Right Breed for Herding Chickens?
Learning how to herd chickens is no easy feat. And while any dog can potentially learn this skill, some breeds are born herders—while others are liable to struggle.
Chicken-herding dogs need high intelligence and the right instincts for this task. Common breeds that fit the bill include:
- Collies and Border Collies
- Australian Shepherds
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Great Pyrenees
- Welsh Corgis
Next, let’s talk about some of the skills you’ll need to teach your dog.
The Importance of “Leave It”
If your dog already knows the “leave it” command, congratulations—they already grasp one of the most important skills needed for chicken herding. If not, don’t despair; there’s still time to teach this vital skill.
“Leave it” is one of the fundamental skills your dog should know, along with commands like come, heel, lie down, sit, and stay. “Leave it” is important for herding because it helps ensure your dog has the discipline and self-control to do their job.
Gauge Your Dog’s Instincts for Herding
Pay attention to how your dog interacts with others—both other animals and with you. If your dog has a tendency to walk in circles around you, trying to influence you to move in a certain direction, congratulations: this is a sign that your dog could be a great fit for chicken herding.
If not, don’t despair. Your dog may just need to be shown the kind of behavior you’re looking for. Once your dog is able to remain well-behaved around your chickens, let them watch you as you fulfill the desired herding behavior. Once your dog is able to understand what you’re up to, there’s a good chance they’ll take the cue and begin to follow your lead.
Play Catch to Teach Obedience and Chasing Instincts
“Catch” is one of the simplest and easiest games for both you and your dog—but don’t let that fool you! This game can be crucial in your dog’s development as a herder. More specifically, it teaches the critical skills of:
- Obedience, and
These are two instincts your dog will need to have drilled into them in order to be an effective herder.
In order to make this game even more effective, try adding this simple twist: make your dog fetch the ball only on command. This ties in some of the self-control from the “leave it” command and combines it with chasing.
This, in a nutshell, is how you train your dog to herd chickens: by teaching them the basic fundamental skills (like “leave it” and “chase”) then combining those skills into higher-level functions.
Another way to train chasing in your dog with with a flirt pole—learn how to build a flirt pole for dogs here.
Be Careful About Introducing Your Dog to Your Chickens
Don’t make the assumption that your dog will automatically be friendly to your chickens. Remember, some hunting breeds may see your chickens as prey! So be careful and watch your dog’s behavior around your chickens. If your dog seems anxious, nervous, or overly excited, consider introducing your dog to your chickens slowly and gradually until your dog becomes used to them.
Continue to Watch Your Dog’s Body Language
Obviously your dog can’t tell you what they’re thinking, so watch their body language instead to get an understanding of how they’re feeling with their new herding task.
What you’re looking for is your dog to approach the chickens with their tail down, and then to run circles around them to keep them together and safe. If your dog seems confused, unclear, or distracted, they may need more training—or they may simply not be a great fit for chicken herding.
Don’t Force Chicken Herding on an Uninterested Dog
Training your dog how to herd chickens can be one of the most useful tasks for both you and your dog. But chicken herding isn’t for every dog. Depending on your dog’s breed, intelligence, and temperament, it might simply be a bad fit.
So if you seem to be getting nowhere, don’t try to force the issue. If, on the other hand, your dog appears to be picking up the task, have patience with them. It can take some time for them to completely grasp the idea of chicken herding, but once they do, it will be a rewarding experience for the whole household.