Etta is not the only critter we have around here. Aside from the cat, we also have 8 chickens; Buff Orpingtons, Easter Eggers, Partridge Rocks and a Golden Comet (in case you were curious). We got Etta as soon as we moved into this house and the chickens came very shortly after. Before we had the chickens on site I had some lovely pastoral visions of the dog sleeping in the afternoon sun with chickens scratching in the turf all around her, everyone living in harmony… Well that is not exactly how things turned out. When we got the Pullets I would take Etta down to the coop every time I had chicken chores to do. I would praise her when she was calm, which was about half the time. The other half of the time she would tear around the fenced in run making the chickens go nuts. This was clearly not acceptable. My daydreams of Etta protecting the chickens were not to be. I really had to rethink how this was going to work. I wanted the chickens to be able to free range without risking an Etta perpetrated chicken massacre. I decided to try and teach Etta to keep her distance from the coop and the chickens, rather than trying to teach her to love them (and I mean love them like siblings, not like dinner).
I needed to teach Etta to respect the girls and the fact that I value them. She needed to understand that they are not just feathered squeak toys! I started having her sit and stay about 100 feet away from the coop while I fed and watered the chickens. If she crept closer or made a fuss I would put her back inside the house or put her on her tie out line. So far this has worked out well. I am able to have Etta outside, off leash and line. We can play fetch and hang out on one side of the yard and she has never darted toward the chickens, even when they are out ranging and come within about 100 feet of us. When the chickens are loose I never let her out unsupervised. I love Etta to death but I still do not, and probably never will, trust her to remain civil with the birds when I am not there. If you get a pup around chickens when they are very very young you CAN teach them to herd and protect the chickens. Herding and protecting breeds can be especially good at this. As much as we may want our pets to act a certain way and respect certain boundaries, we have to remember that they are animals with instincts. Etta is a bird dog, a hunting, stalking hound at her core and that is something that will not change. Had we adopted her at 8 weeks, rather than 4 months I think my visions could have been a reality but now I will be happy with harmony at a distance.
You can see the hens in the photos above. Their names are: Enid, Eunice, Belinda, Bertha, Ginger, Penny, Lucy and Laverne!