Farmers often struggle with keeping their chicken coops safe from predators. Foxes, coyotes, even raccoons are constantly breaking into chicken coops and stealing chickens for dinner.
Large scale chicken farmers and homesteaders both have a need to protect their chickens from predators. When properly cared for and kept safe, an egg-laying chicken can live from 8 to 15 years on average.
Most have heard of using livestock guardian dogs to protect sheep and goats…
But will livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) protect chickens? Yes, they certainly will. There are many different breeds of livestock guardian dogs, and some of them are better than others at protecting the chicken coop. The top recommended breeds for protecting chickens are Great Pyrenees, Maremma Sheepdog, and Anatolian Shepherds.
The worst breeds to use as chicken protectors include Greyhounds, Jack Russell terriers, and Huskies. Read below to find out everything there is to know about using livestock guardian dogs to protect your chicken coop.
Introducing Dog to Chickens
Historically, guardian dogs have been used to protect goats, sheep, and some types of cattle, but few have been used to protect chickens. Livestock guardian dogs are bred through generations to protect the livestock they oversee, and if a livestock guardian dog isn’t familiar with chickens, they will need intense training to be a great guard dog.
Choosing a livestock guardian dog from a line of working dogs is the first step to having a successful introduction to the chickens. A reputable breeder understands that these dogs need to be raised with livestock and often have chickens on their properties in addition to sheep or goats.
Training a livestock guardian dog to guard chickens properly could take weeks or months and most of these dogs do not reach maturity until they are two years old on average. Their training is not fully engrained in them until they are full grown.
Introducing guardian dogs to chickens who have not been raised from birth with chickens:
- Set the Tone. The environment needs to be calm in order for the introduction to go smoothly. If the guardian dog is excited and worked up, the chickens will be nervous. The best way to do this is to make sure the dog is exercised and tired before the introduction. The dog should also see this introduction as well as training in a positive way, so be prepared with rewards like treats for desired behaviors.
- Keep the Chickens in the Coop. The first time your livestock guardian dog meets the chickens, the birds should be in their coop so that there is a barrier between the animals if the chickens are all free-range, corral them together on one side of a fence.
- Keep the Dog on a Leash. The dog should be leash trained as well as known basic commands before being introduced to chickens. When the dog approaches the birds for the first time, they should be kept on a leash so that the handler can control the environment.
- Train in Proximity. Work on training commands such as sit, stay, down while near the chickens. After each successful round of responses, move a few feet closer to the chickens. This gets the dog in the right frame of mind to listen to the handler and remain in a training mindset.
- First Introduction. Once the dog has reached the barrier, they should sit and stay at the fence. Allow the dog to calmly lower its head to smell the chickens as they walk by. Continue this kind of introduction for several days.
- Move into the Coop. The first time the dog goes into the coop, they should be kept on their leash. If the chickens are free-range, the dog should spend several hours per day working with the handlers around the chickens. Continue training exercises in the coop with the dog.
- Off-Leash. After several weeks the livestock guardian dog should be able to remain calm while off their leash around the chickens. The dog should remain by their handler’s side and not be let loose to run without supervision for several more weeks.
- Part of the Flock. After several weeks or months, the livestock guardian dog should be ready to remain with the chickens while they are free-range or stand guard in the chicken coop, especially at night.
If the dog shows aggression towards the birds at any point in their training, the dog should be removed immediately. If this behavior is ongoing, the dog will probably not be a good livestock guardian for chickens.
Training a livestock guardian dog requires a lot of time and patience. The handler or farmer needs to be able to spend considerable amounts of time working with the dog for training to be successful.
These dogs also need a job to do and are most happy when outside with the flock and working. Although they will be socialized with their handlers and probably other members of the farm, they should not be treated as pets or live regular farm dogs.
Professional trainers are available to help farmers and ranchers with their livestock guardian dog training. One of the best ways to get connected with a trainer is through the breeder.
Before Getting Guardians for Your Chickens
Some dogs that can make great livestock guard dogs, such as Weimaraner dogs, terriers, and greyhounds, are also bred to be bird hunters. Most reputable breeders who claim to have pure livestock guardian dogs will not breed from dogs that have been used for hunting or any purpose other than being a livestock guardian.
If a farmer tries to use a dog that is bred for bird hunting as a guard for their chicken coop, they might discover that the predator they need to worry about most is the dog itself!
Livestock guardian dogs also need a lot of continuous training to stay good at their jobs and keep their senses sharp. When these dogs do not have a job to do, they can become destructive. Farmers will also need to take care to train the dog of the boundaries of the farm as they will wander off to expand their perceived territory.
Livestock guardian dogs are also known to bark a lot during the night when predators are trying to snack chickens as they sleep. If neighbors are close by, they may not appreciate the constant barking.
Best Breed for Flock Protection (and why)
Great Pyrenees are one of the best protectors of chickens because while they are aggressive towards predators and threats, they are very gentle and nurturing towards small animals, including children and chickens. Their size alone is enough to scare away most predators, but they also have a deep, loud bark that will alert the flock and farmer of nearby danger.
The Maremma Sheepdog is another very popular livestock guardian dog known for being territorial and good at protecting chickens from both ground and air predators such as hawks, vultures, owls, and eagles which is particularly important when it is time for eggs to start hatching. Maremma sheepdogs have a muscular build and a very intimidating look about them but are gentle with small animals and very protective.
Anatolian Shepherds are a large breed with incredibly fast speed and great agility, which is perfect for scary off the smaller predators that tend to go after chickens such as foxes, raccoons, weasels, and small coyotes or wild dogs. They are also highly intelligent and don’t require much human interaction. These dogs let their instincts guide them and are particularly good at protecting chickens.
Answer Related Questions
Will guardian dogs protect other flock birds?
Yes. Livestock guardian dogs can be trained to protect any kind of livestock, including different types of birds. Some guardian dogs are used to watch ducks, swans, geese, and pheasants. It is important to ensure that the livestock guardian dog chosen is not bred to hunt birds.