Dogcharmer: Sasha

What do you do with a chicken chaser?

Martha's 5-month-old rescue German shepherd puppy has a troubled relationship with chickens. — Martha Sullivan


I can’t believe that this is not a classic Island scenario. We have rescued a 5-month-old German Shepherd puppy (actually bred in Germany, and purchased at a very high price by an owner who crated her for four months, 24/7). Anyway, she is beautiful, and the cats have put her in her place, my 8-year-old chocolate Lab loves her and plays with her endlessly, but … we have free-range chickens.

The Lab responded quickly to a training collar, but not this puppy. Nothing is more exciting than the squawking, feathery, hens and rooster racing around. Unfortunately, they cannot endure the rough play my puppy engages in with my Lab. She did kill one hen. We tried a collar, which the puppy seemed distracted by, but not controlled or stopped by. Any thoughts? I grew up here on Martha’s Vineyard, where dogs were put down for killing chickens if tying a dead chicken around the dog’s neck didn’t work to dissuade the behavior. Sasha understands “no,” “sit,” “OK,” “stay,” “up,” and “wait,” but these commands are ignored when a feathery hen rambles by.

Thank you for your thoughts,


Dear Martha,

Another chicken killer. And you’re right, it’s not an unusual scenario wherever dogs and chickens are not separated. I recently helped a person on Chappy whose dog killed a chicken in front of her grandchild. Ugh. Depending on whom you read and how you define, there are about six to eight different types of aggression. Dogs, although domesticated, evolved from wolves, and are predator animals. It’s why the puppy leaps after the blowing leaf, why many dogs are car chasers, and why you should never run from an aggressive dog. The fast movement elicits the prey drive! Add noise to the movement, such as a squawking chicken, and it intensifies the prey drive in dogs. The key is having the dog ignore the chickens whether you’re around or not, like not touching the hamburger you left on the coffee table when you walk out of the room. It has to do with the behavior, NOT YOU. However, I’d start with YOU, you as a representative of the Dog God. With Sasha on leash, I’d teach her to leave tempting food morsels that I planted surreptitiously. This has to be done on a loose leash, with Sasha not being held back, but only corrected (usually with a leash snap) if she lunges for the food morsel. When she cooperates by “leaving” several different temptations, it’s time to do the same thing walking among the chickens, with Sasha on leash.

Next, it’s time for Sasha to learn that you were just speaking for the Dog God, the god of dogs who keeps Sasha in line even when Martha’s not around. Time for the E collar, using tone, vibration, or stim, depending on Sasha’s temperament and sensitivity. Now with you observing Sasha without her realizing it, you use the collar if she goes after a chicken. You say nothing because it has to do with her behavior chasing the chicken, not you. The Dog God sees all, and doesn’t like it when Sasha chases chickens. Shutting down this strong instinctive predatory response would probably be best served with the help of a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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