Is my dog hunting or herding my chickens?
June 16, 2021 11:17 AM   Subscribe

We have a mini-Aussie, he's 8-months-old. He's got a lot of predatory instincts. He caches food/treats by burying them. He does that kill-shake move with toys. And he's actually caught and killed four things in the yard so far: a mouse, a rabbit, and two wild birds. He's currently obsessed with our flock of chickens.

We've done a lot all along to introduce them to him and to reward him around them. We have baby chicks and teenager chicks and adult hens and roosters and they are fenced in. But he's still managed to catch, I dunno, five or six of them? over the last month or so. They either get out, or he catches them through the fence. Thing is, he doesn't kill them. He just pins them.

He seems particularly alerted when they are in distress. And early on in his life he alerted us to a hawk in the chicken yard by howling (he hasn't howled before or since).

He's a shepherd, but also clearly a good hunter. For those who know dogs better than I do, can you tell if this behavior is protective or predatory?
posted by 10ch to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
 
Your dog is a predator, and pinning the chickens is horrible for the chickens. Is there a way to keep your dog away from the chickens? Even if he doesn't kill them, he is stressing them out terribly.

I'd also suggest you contact a trainer to see if there's anything to be done about him killing wildlife. I mean, maybe you're ok with your dog killing wildlife? I would not be.
posted by Glinn at 11:23 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


One more vote for predator. My dog is a shepherd, and he does not pin anything. For instance, he spends a lot of time trying to herd the animals we have, but he never, ever touches them. He never kills wildlife, contrariwise, he calls me for help if he encounters a mouse. They are not afraid of him. He does fight dogs he perceives as a threat to our family, including the animals, (which is a problem in itself) and he barks endlessly at the lone wolf that sometimes hunts on our property.
On the other hand, he destroys his toys completely. And he buries every bone I give him. I don't think those things are necessarily connected.
posted by mumimor at 11:34 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: To clarify, my question is "For those who know dogs better than I do, can you tell if this behavior is protective or predatory?" It isn't, "What should I do about it?" I appreciate all input/examples on the former and am not interested in the latter.
posted by 10ch at 11:52 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


I've had chickens for two decades. Some dogs ignore chickens after a few sniffs, some murder them. Not much in between. Dogs that kill chickens never pin them except to slow them down enough to bite. They grab them in their mouths and crunch them asap. I don't think your dogs behavior fits neatly into your categories. I think your dog isn't sure what to do so he just stops the birds to figure out what to do next. I'm quite sure he wouldn't kill them intentionally.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 12:16 PM on June 16


Best answer: It's predatory. Herding is predatory, not protective. But it's modified predation. Herding dogs have been bred to have a strong desire to do certain predatory behaviors (stalking, chasing, heading off escapes) but not others (grabbing and killing), as described in this article on the canine predatory instinct. Your dog clearly has some instinct to kill. He may not have killed any chickens yet because they're big enough that he doesn't know how or feels slightly intimidated by them or because you have rewarded restraint around chickens or because they don't make the kinds of movements or sounds that arouse his killing instincts. But pinning is not a protective behavior.
posted by Redstart at 12:18 PM on June 16 [16 favorites]


Predatory. Killing mice is a good thing. I would not trust the dog around the chickens, except that he seems to have gotten part of the message to not attack the chickens. Trainable? Hard to say. I caught my JR Terrier trying to get chickens through a fence and I'm pretty sure he stopped.
posted by theora55 at 12:26 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Herding, for the most part is modified hunting that stops at the stalking/chasing stage of hunting, the grabbing hold/pinning stage is where your dog is at is the next step often used with small prey, and it's very easy for it to go from there to actually killing the chickens, which is what I imagine your dog is trying to do but it hasn't figured out the knack yet. Chickens are easy to accidently kill and make a very nice flapping action when they do die which dogs find exciting and will most likely make your dog want to do it again, even if it never eats the prey. This is not in anyway protective but is instead your dogs natural instincts to to train for hunting, it's just instead of using a stuffed toy with a squeaker in it's having a lovely time terrorizing your chickens, soon to death.

It can be with a lot of dedication be sort of kind of of trained out, but as someone that has owned chickens and dogs, once a dog decides chickens are fun to kill, it's is a lot of work and never 100% successful. Strong dog proof fences and keeping the chickens out of line of sight with screening are the best way to keep both safe as dogs are often triggered by the movement of the birds.
posted by wwax at 12:27 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


Herding isn't a protective behavior, it's predatory behavior. Humans have modified the behavior through selective breeding and training, but it's still predatory.

What you have is a dog that is hunting chickens but isn't killing them (yet). That's why he's pinning the chickens.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:30 PM on June 16


Response by poster: This is very helpful, and I'm now convinced it's predatory. Thanks for the input, shared experiences, and link to Whole Dog Journal.
posted by 10ch at 2:12 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


My Great Uncle had herding dogs. They got out in the middle of the night and starting herding and refused to stop, just chasing the cattle back and forth and terrifying them. They had to be shot to stop them, and they were trained dogs.

It's very predatory.
posted by Dynex at 4:18 PM on June 16


Best answer: IMHO*, it's predatory + plus being a young pup and not knowing what to do with his instincts. Pinning birds versus herding/watching birds is an example of that immaturity. An adult Aussie would want so much to herd the birds, but would never touch them.

You can train your young dog not to touch your chickens. He can approach, look at, and maybe even herd (your choice) chickens, but he can never ever touch chickens.

That's a lot easier to do through punishment (vocal correction with a loud voice and physical removal from the chicken) than positive rewards. I had to train my first Malamute and subsequent huskies from chasing cows or horses, which is a shooting/death offense in Montana. After training, they wouldn't even look at a horse or cow.



* Behavior Specialist (for humans) has been part of my job title for 30+ years. But the principles apply to all species. I've also had 30+ years of Malamutes and Huskies, who have a huge prey drive.
posted by ITravelMontana at 6:33 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


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