Thursday, October 18, 2007

Let Slip The Dogs - NOT!

Puppies in a whirl

Thursdays are devoted to animal husbandry.

Lately we have been having a dog problem around here. Our "charming" dogs are eating a chicken nearly every day. Needless to say, I am about to go on a rampage over this, especially after I calculated the economic consequences of a dead $16 chicken that lays eggs nearly every day. The chicken murders have slowed down a bit since I threatened to execute the main criminal. My husband put him on his very own run very far from the chickens. Now I have the quite annoying, not properly socialized, new momma, Star to contend with. Seems motherhood has prompted a taste for chicken. While this is more excusable in theory, I still cannot afford it. Presently, she will have a new home in the old chicken coop for her and her puppies. Plans are to sell her off as soon as the puppies are old enough.
At Mule Shoe Farm like many small farms, the dogs have a purpose: to provide a guardian function, rid the yard of rodent pests, and act as an early warning system. These "jobs" are extensions of what dogs do naturally.
So is killing chickens, unless... We can all understand why a chicken is an attractive option to a dog. Folk wisdom holds that once a dog gets a taste for chicken, they never get over it. Folk wisdom also says to tie a chicken around a dogs neck, beat it with a chicken and various other remedies to cure it of chicken eating. We are instructed to essentially punish the dog for doing what it does by instinct. I do not believe punishment is the right answer. In fact it can be very counterproductive.
The key is to put the dog in a situation where doing its job correctly is much easier than not doing its job. In other words, don't give the dog the option of not doing its job. At the same time, the dog must be permitted to act naturally in a natural setting as much as possible. Since dogs are long domesticated, this could include anything from house confinement to fenceless containment depending on your budget. My budget is for water, not champagne or beer.
Low cost solutions include fenced areas for dogs or chickens or confine the dogs to a pen. I have found that obtaining used fencing is not that difficult and usually free. We also have plenty of rope lying around for this or that other thing. If the dog most benefits from being on a run, we will place the dog on a run. To keep the dog actively employed, the run is strategically placed near garden areas that would otherwise be subject to grazing.
In the case of new mom with socialization issues, it is prudent to keep her in a pen with her puppies. As the weather is quite variable, it needs to be somewhere that we can easily access with electricity for heat lamps and well-protected from the elements. Done.

Now what about the chickens being eaten. Really, I haven't found an effective way to keep the older dogs from killing the chickens once they already do. What I have noticed is that the younger dogs who have been around chickens since birth, could care less about the birds and in fact, pointedly ignore them. There it is. The solution. Star's puppies are not be chicken eaters if they are exposed to chickens from the beginning, even if Star, herself is a chicken killer.

This new litter can be introduced to the chickens individually once their eyes are open. To do this, we take the puppies one at a time in our hands and carry them to the chickens. Holding the puppies on the other side of the fence, the chickens approach and take a look. The puppy gets a look. Let this continue for up to five minutes or however much patience the puppy has. Make sure you take the puppy away before, it gets bored with the situation. Do this for each puppy and do this frequently as they get older. Maybe once a week to once every two weeks. How often depends on the relative intelligence of your dog for these things. The dogs pictured here, remember things quite well and are easily trainable. We do the introductions about three times for each one and move on to other things.
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