Sunday, October 17, 2010

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I was just going to reply in the comments, then this post got a little long, so I'm putting it here.

I have two questions:

One: I think there was a thread quite some time ago on BC-L (border collie list) about letting one's dogs (bc's specifically) chase chickens (or other farm animals). Many said it was a bad idea since not only did it stress the animals being chased (note I didn't say 'herd')but allowed the chaser to satisfy it's prey drive without human direction. What do you think about this argument? Note - I'm not criticizing, just curious. Bottom line is you know your situation best.

Two: What do you mean about the last thing you would do with a fearful/aggressive dog is feed him from a bowl? I don't think I've heard this before and other than the obvious issue of guarding, what is its failing (no work/thinking involved for the dog?) and how do you actually feed? Esp. if its raw and hard to offer without a bowl ... :c)

Hi Ailsa,

Question 1

I should probably clarify what I'm actually doing with the chickens. First of all, I'm certainly a herding novice! I have a bit of theory, and a couple dogs who work decently, so I just pretend I know what I'm doing!! I do think that chicken chasing is overall a pretty harmful thing. We do not allow out of control 'im gonna eat you' chasing here, at all. We've had huge success with slowly desensitizing the dogs to the chickens, and though a couple would and have caught and killed them when unsupervised, all except the little shih tzu are fine now as long as someone is with them. The shih tzu is a whole 'nother blog! :)

Anyway, West and I walk down to where the chickens live, and I encourage him to explore them. The chickens are (rightly) nervous of him, and move away. Depending which hens he's looking at, they might flap and squawk a bit, which initially scared him, but now entices him to chase them. The actual chase portion is probably less than 2 seconds, he doesn't pursue them at all. I'm encouraging ANY interaction with the chickens at this point, though I try to set him up so he's going around them rather than through the flock. I have no round pen or anything like that, just a tree where they tend to hang out, so I'm certainly not organized in all this. At any time, if he starts to get too eager about the chasing and isn't looking like he's even TRYING to herd them, I just call him off and we go play ball with Archie instead.

So, more directly, I don't think these hens are particularly stressed. They know the ropes and are free to leave, to climb into the tree, or to peck the dog. They're mostly VERY socialized and don't mind moving around a bit, though I expect they don't appreciate the real chasing. They deal with all kinds of things (cars, hawks, dogs) that I would expect to be far more stressful than the few seconds of West, though, so I'm alright with that. I do think that chasing without direction is a BAD BAD idea, and if West at any time decided NOT to listen to me, the game would end, and we'd be connected by a leash or long line until he'd proven he could listen. I expect that as he gains confidence, this will become necessary, but right now, i can just whisper his name and he comes flying back to me, mid chase, so he's very much still responsive.

Question 2

Generally speaking, fearful or aggressive dogs tend to also be under stimulated. It's WAY more relevant to dogs fed commercial food, raw or kibble, though. If the dog is eating in 45 sec or 1 minute, that's a huge waste! Billie, my previous foster, would spend 30-45 minutes on each meal (kibble in a toy of some sort)! That's over an hour a day of thinking exercise! If I'd fed her in a dish, she would have taken, maybe at most, 2 minutes per meal. Ground (commercial) raw foods can easily be stuffed into (different) food toys and frozen to prolong the eating time also. Licking, as most dogs do to finish off a Kong of food, is well known to be relaxing for dogs, so that's also a great plus when you've got a fearful or aggressive dog.

However, that said, I feed prey model, so the dogs eat whole pieces of whatever. I also almost always feed them frozen, so it takes longer to chew up. Archie is VERY efficient at eating, and he has Resource guarding issues, so I tend to let him eat as quickly as he wants. He will go through a frozen chicken quarter in a couple of minutes. I recognize it's a waste, but it sure beats trying to get him out of a crate when there's still food in there!

West is still learning and developping chewing muscles. It takes him about 20-30 minutes to eat a chicken quarter, and longer for larger pieces. I've even been thawing some meat and putting it in a kong for him (thawed) to encourage him to eat a bit more, cause he's awfully thin! FL assures me its a teenage BC thing, and I believe her, but I would still like to see just a bit more meat on him!

Does that answer everything? Also, a good chunk of this post is opinion rather than fact. If you (anyone) specifically wants facts I can back up, let me know and I can pick through it and point out what's me and what's proven. Don't assume it's fact :)


  1. Thanks for that explanation Courtenay. I think the chicken dynamic is even more relevant after poor FL's day with TWoo. :c(

    I'm certainly agreeing that socializing West with everything relatively benign is a great first step; and glad the chickens are dog savvy.

    Your description of West and eating the chicken quarters made me laugh and think of the first time I offered my bc Skye a chicken neck. The new avatar pic explains it in a nutshell. Basically, the chicken neck sat there. Skye sat there. Then I took a pic. I kept offering it to her and she kept looking mournful. So I gave up. Back to kibble.

  2. Bah. Our bichon says chicken necks are nasty. He'll only eat them if he's starving. Beef is where it's at :)