Our neighbors have a sweet Australian Shepherd female, Nala, and recently put up a hen house. Since some dogs are unable to resist the instinct to hunt chickens, I had to ask them how they would protect the coop from their Aussie. They said Nala won’t be able to get into the coop and if any get loose she’ll probably just herd them back. I hope that’s the case, but I had to know, are Australian Shepherds good with chickens?
Australian Shepherds have a strong prey drive. An Aussie unfamiliar with chickens and without training is likely to prey on chickens. At the very least, the dog will attempt to herd them. However, with proper training, they can learn to leave chickens alone.
While we wouldn’t trust a young Aussie to interact with chickens unsupervised, they can be taught. With proper introduction, training, and mental stimulation, your dog and chickens should be able to live together just fine. To learn more about the relationship between poultry and pup, read on.
Do Australian Shepherds Get Along with Chickens?
Australian Shepherds were bred to drive large animals and help humans to workgroups of cattle. Chickens are made to make food and be food. That is how most Aussies see small animals, particularly birds.
Since the prey drive in Aussies is so powerful, they will almost always have an innate desire to chase and try to eat smaller animals. Even an Aussie that gets along with people, dogs, and cats can turn into a different animal altogether at the sight of an unprotected fowl.
And we can’t necessarily blame them for this. It is ingrained into their very being. For these dogs’ ancestors, wildfowl on the ground was something they could not ignore.
Aussies also use mouthing, nipping, and shoving to get the animals that they herd to move how they want. For sheep and cattle, a little nip on the flank isn’t going to do any damage. A nip can be a death sentence for a chicken, even if the dog means well. Birds are fragile creatures, and they just can’t tolerate a herding dog in drive-mode.
All of this being said, it isn’t the end of the road. Australian Shepherds are one of the smartest dog breeds, which means they can learn just about anything given the proper training. It is possible to train one of these fantastic cattle dogs to be gentle with the more fragile animals on the farm.
Will Australian Shepherds Attack Chickens?
All dogs have different personalities. Two Aussies from the same litter can act entirely differently towards chickens with no outside intervention. It is possible you could have a dog that sees a chicken and ignores it. Though, we believe this is unlikely.
Unfortunately, any dog breed with a high prey drive is likely to attack a chicken on sight, especially if it is unsupervised.
If you are unsure of a dog’s behavior around small animals, you should never allow them to be together unsupervised.
Will Australian Shepherds Protect Chickens?
Aussies are not great guard dogs. While they do work to protect and manage cattle and other animals, they don’t like to be put in a position where they are watchful protectors. Aussies love to move. They have an innate desire to run, chase, bark, control other animals, and help their humans. This is what gives them a purpose and immense satisfaction.
Aussies do, however, make decent watchdogs. They are very attentive and visually sensitive. So, any odd behavior will be met quickly with a bark. While they may not defend your chickens, they will certainly warn you of a stranger in the hen house.
Will Australian Shepherds Herd Chickens?
Australian Shepherds will try to herd anything that isn’t a dog or a person. Anyone that has owned an Aussie and a cat under the same roof will likely tell the same story. Aussies will herd cats all day if the cats let them.
So, as it goes, chickens can also be unwanted victims of the breed’s herding instinct. This can be highly stressful for chickens, especially if the dog is just acting out of instinct and not following proper training.
Thankfully, due to the breed’s high intelligence, you can train your dogs to herd chickens just as they would any other animal. This is one of the best things to do for your dog and your chickens if you intend for them to live happily ever after.
How to Train Your Australian Shepherd to Herd Chickens
It’s not all gloom and doom when you get down to it. A properly trained, socialized Aussie can be great with chickens and can even help manage them. If you want to have your chickens roaming free-range, an Aussie can be a heap of help in keeping them from wandering and keeping the birds safe.
The first important step involved in turning your pup into a master of chickens is socialization. That requires that you introduce your dog to the birds, early and consistently.
Introducing Your Aussie To the Flock
Does this make your dog a flocking dog instead of a herding dog? Perhaps. It’s just a bit harder to say correctly. Anyway, the first step is a proper introduction. How do we do that, you ask? Carefully and slowly.
If your chickens are in a coop, letting your pup near the fencing so that the chickens are secure is a great way to get your dog familiar with the chickens’ sights, sounds, and smells. If they show any anxiety towards the chickens, remove them from the situation and try again tomorrow.
Never let the dog get frustrated around the chickens. Frustration can lead to fear and anxiety, making the dog feel uneasy and spooked around the birds.
Little by little, allow them closer to the birds, always in arm’s reach and with a leash for added security. The more time the dogs spend around the chickens, the more used to the birds they will feel, and the less likely they will be to think of them as food. They will begin to think of them as a herd.
Let Herding Instincts Come
Once an Aussie is used to chickens, it will likely naturally begin to show its herding abilities. What that looks like:
- Head Down, tail down: A dog in herding-mode will look very severe and calculating, almost like it is sneaking up on something. Their head will be lowered, ears erect and intent and tail down, not between the legs.
- Moving Around the Animals: A herding dog’s instinct is to push the herd into a manageable circle. They will move quickly around the animals’ perimeter, tightening in and forcing them to where they want them to be.
- Eyes Alert: Your dog’s eyes will be bright and wide, taking in every flick of movement from its herd as it works. It may look wild, but this is a dog in the zone.
They Should Listen to Commands
Many Aussies will naturally take the posturing of herding, but getting them to do what you want can require more work. If your dog is not responding to commands when it begins to herd, end the training and try again tomorrow.
If they ignore you, they can quickly get too worked up, which puts your chickens in danger. Only when they are accepting your commands should you allow them to continue.
What If My Dog Won’t Herd Chickens?
For some dogs, chickens will never look like anything other than prey. Or they may not care at all about herding them.
You can work harder, redoubling your efforts to get your Aussie to herd your chickens. But there is no shame in giving up either. For some dogs, it just won’t be worth the effort. And other dogs may always have a taste for poultry.
Australian shepherds are brilliant, loyal, hardworking dogs that are made to herd. They can be trained to tolerate and even to herd chickens, but it can be difficult.
While many dogs may live in peace with poultry, some problematic pooches may always be dangerous to chickens and other small animals. It is important to remember that it isn’t the animal’s fault, but it is our responsibility to make sure their herd and hunt instincts are under control.