Bird Sensitivity Training or stop chasing chickens Bitch.

So I have the greatest Australian Cattle Dog in the world.  Almost.  Cleo chases everything and anything that moves.  She chases cats, all of which get away easily.  She used to chase the horses, putting the run on them mercilessly.  She doesn’t do that anymore.  She discovered that, once a mare has had enough she will lash out with those hind feet.  That only had to happen one time.  CURED! It turns out dogs can fly, but the landing sucks.

The problem we are having now is she likes to chase and catch chickens and ducks.  She often catches them.  She has never hurt one, much less killed one.  She has, on occasion, carried a duck around by the neck with that look in her eye that says, “Hey Dad, look what I have.”  She releases as soon as she is told and the duck is no worse for wear.  She will chase and catch chicken hens and just lay there with her paw on the hen while licking its head.  When told to let it go she will do so and let it leave.

They are a source of amusement for her.  They run, she chases, she catches, she releases.  No harm, no fowl (pun intended).  The only problem is, this activity stresses out the hens.  Stressed hens don’t lay eggs.  No eggs, no Sunday breakfast!  The behaviour has to stop, and NOW.

So Sheldon has suggested that we just go sit in the coup with the dog. So I did.  Well, that is a stinky prospect, but it is working.  So I grab my big ole Bible and go sit in the coup and read.  My iPad is acting up and I can’t see my iPhone screen in the sun, so back to paper.  The only paper book I own is a Bible.  Text books don’t count.  Today I read the book of Ruth.

Cleo is to lay at my feet and ignore the chickens; or at least not chase them, for now.  Every now and then I will get up and walk her around in the coup.

It was tense at first.  She wanted to pull away and chase the birds.  Eventually she got the idea that she wasn’t allowed to chase them. So she just watched.  On our first walk, any bird that moved was a target.  Of course seeing their tormentor in their territory had them all moving quite readily.  So she was a pulling a bit.  She engaged her collar slightly and went right back to heeling beside me.  Each time we came to some birds I would have her sit and stay beside me.  A gentle engagement of the collar and she would sit, or lay down, whichever I asked of her.  Eventually she got the idea that life is good when you don’t chase the birds.

I will take a moment to explain, I do use a German Prong Collar, by Herm Sprenger on Cleo.  (Note: Unless you receive training in the use of prong or pinch collars, I would suggest you don’t use one.  They should be used combined with positive reinforcement, and never to cause pain to the dog)  These collars, when used correctly, are actually a very gentle humane training tool.  Used incorrectly, they can be a torture device.  The secret to the prong collar is allowing the dog to train themselves with it.  The collar is designed to gently pinch the dog as the bitch would pinch with her teeth to discipline or correct her pups.  There is never a need to yank on the collar, or in any way cause it to break skin or hurt the dog.  When used correctly, the dog’s pulling will engage the prongs enough to remind it that it is doing something wrong.  I have never used a prong collar to train a dog before.  I have never had a dog so big or so out of control before.  Cleo is no longer out of control, but has become accustomed to the collar.  Cleo gets excited when she sees or hears the prong collar as this means she is about to undertake her favorite activity, a WALK!  Most of the time I place the prong collar on her and put her leash on her regular collar.  She doesn’t know the difference as she walks nicely with or without the prong collar.  But for the purpose of the chicken coup training, the leash is connected to the prong collar. (Note:  Herm Sprenger is the only manufacturer of prong collars I will use.  There are no sharp points, and the collar is beautifully crafted with no pinch points.  It is worth the extra money I paid for the design of this collar.) Enough about the prong collar. I may write an entry about it later.

As we are in a chicken coup and the idea is to keep her calm, and keep the birds calm, I kept my voice low and gentle the entire time.  Each time she started acting like she was going to chase a chicken I would simply utter the words “no Cleo”.  As soon as she relaxed she would hear a gentle, “good girl Cleo.”  By the third walk around the coup the ducks were calm, the chickens were calm, and Cleo was calm.  One duck hen has 15 or 16 ducklings with her.  By the third walk she stopped moving the ducklings away as I walked Cleo closer and closer to her and them.  Cleo wasn’t paying them any attention, save for a cursory glance in their direction.  The chicken hens started moving around us as I sat reading and Cleo lay almost asleep at my feet.  A gentle no was all it took to take Cleo’s attention off the hens as they passed.  No longer was she being aggressive or trying to pull to chase.  Indeed, she became quite bored.  Enough for day one.

I am not about to deceive myself into thinking she is cured of her desire to chase these great toys, but we have made progress.  When we went in the coup she was a crazy dog, desiring nothing more than to chase anything that moved.  When we left the coup she didn’t even look back.  She did, when let out after supper, make her usual dash to run around the coup looking for any chicken that may have escaped the confines.  Finding none, she returned to me.  Previously she would ignore me completely when her mind was set on the chickens.  Hopefully, after more sessions in the coup she will learn to pay attention to me, and not the birds.

As with any dog training, patience and repetition will win the day.   I am off to Yellowknife tomorrow.  She will get another session in the coup on Monday or Tuesday.  She is a very smart dog.  I am certain she will come around quickly.  By session 4 I am hoping she will heel without the use of a leash while in the coup.

About Cleo:  Cleo is an Australian Cattle Dog.  We met at the Edmonton Humane Society.  She was leery of people.  She wouldn’t let us touch her paws or her hind quarters and was very face shy.  She was petrified of the broom and would go berserk if I brought out a fly swatter to swat flies.  They said she was not good with other dogs.  It turns out she is great with other dogs, and even adopts and mothers puppies.  She is about a year and 7 months old.  She adopted me (I paid the fees) last December.  She was skinny and frightened.  Since then, she will hand you the paw you ask for.  She loves having her hind quarters scratched, and she begs for tummy rubs.  She is no longer face shy, and will even lift my hand to pat her head.  She is at her optimum weight and has great white teeth.  She was difficult to walk on the leash, and would actually hurt me by pulling so hard.  Although I had heard horrible things about prong collars, after watching some very good training videos, and assuring myself that she would not be harmed, I purchased a Herm Sprenger Pinch Collar and tried it out.  Using the techniques I learned in the tutorials, she was more controllable almost immediately, without pain to either of us.  Now she heels, sits, and lays down while on the leash whether I am using the prong collar or not.  She is a loving, happy girl, and I am glad she is my friend.