Dog and Chicken Harmony
Dogs have a natural instinct to hunt and eat birds. It’s a part of who they are. This natural desire has the potential to create quite a challenging situation when raising chickens in conjunction with the family dog. I have experienced these challenges myself, and they’ve ultimately carried me to a new place of harmony.
My dog, Bella, chose me as her human in 2008. Bella, who is now nine years old, is a black and white female Labrador Retriever and English Springer Spaniel mixed breed who has never been through any sort of behavioral training. She’s just a regular dog who’s main purpose in life is to simply be with me. Bella is insanely intelligent, and she will go through (or over) anything to get to me, if we are separated. Many of her crazy stories are in my book, One with Nature, One with Love.
Bella had been my sole companion for a few years prior to the first chick arriving at my ranch. Those first years raising free-ranging poultry alongside Bella were very difficult. Her hunting instincts were on high alert as she would chase the chickens around the yard, nipping at them. My first batch of chickens had permanent pasty-butt (runny poop stuck to their hind feathers), resulting from living with the stress of being chased by the dog. There were two separate occasions, a couple years apart, where my dog had successfully trapped a chicken. She had killed and partially eaten the bird in the first occurrence. The second attempt resulted in the chicken surviving the attack, but dying months later after being unable to fully recover from the trauma.
When Bella was young, I tried using the shock collar on her. However, administering an electric shock to her neck every time she attempted to stalk a chicken seemed wrong to me. I remember how weak and ashamed she looked every time I used the collar. I ditched that torture device pretty quick, as I learned that using the collar actually made her aggression worse, when she wasn’t wearing it. As in all things in life, negative actions always produce more negativity. By shaming my dog with pain, I was stifling her true self and creating more anger within her that would surface at a later time.
Everything I learn while raising animals is a result of the animals telling me their secrets. I simply observe them. I let them show me the right way. The truth. After the first few stressful years raising free-ranging poultry with my free-ranging dog, I tried a different approach. I stopped using force to control the situation. I stopped micromanaging my dog and my flock. I shifted to a more feminine energy of openness and surrender. Things began to fall into place. Homeostasis was born.
It may seem ironic, but one of the greatest truths I’ve learned is that the more space and freedom you give an animal, the less that animal will retaliate. This is quite different from just letting an animal do whatever it wants. That’s not what this is about. It’s more about the energy you emanate. It’s about holding the power with the animal, but allowing that animal the space to be itself. For me, I feel it as an awareness within myself of each of my animals and their unique desires. I create the environment that allows each of them to express their natural tendencies and allows their natural desires to be fulfilled, all the while emanating a loving energy that creates harmony within the environment. This does not mean that I allow my dog to fulfill her natural instinct to hunt and kill my chickens. Instead, it means that I let my dog be free from harm–free from shock, pain, and shaming. I give my dog a loving environment, which means I do not scold her for chasing my chickens, but instead, I divert her attention towards something positive that I encourage her to explore. I call her attention back to me. I allow her to do the things that make her happy: eat poop, roll in poop, drag dead things out of the woods and into the yard, hunt rabbits, and eat mice from the pasture. Energetically, I do not allow her to pay attention to my chickens. She understands that the chickens are part of our ranch, and she must co-exist with them. Through the energy that I put out, she understands that her attention must be on me, and not on the chickens.
I do not physically do anything to restrain my dog from my chickens. She has full access to them, but she doesn’t have an interest in them any longer. Over time, her needs have been met, so she does not put her attention on the chickens. Occasionally, she will slip back into attack-the-chicken mode, but it’s always because I have somehow slipped out of meeting her needs. If I pay too much attention to meeting the chickens’ needs, and do not hold this loving energy for Bella, she will retaliate. Harmony requires a constant state of awareness. If my energy falls out of alignment, disharmony will occur between the different species of animals. The disharmony is a cue to become aware of my energy state and heal it. Raising chickens with the family dog is an opportunity to harness that internal loving energy and expand it to encompass the entire environment on the ranch.