Shepherd Dogs for Poultry Guarding
By Jennifer Floyd
Anatolian Shepherds have been used as guardians for a wide range of
hoofstock and birds, including (but not limited to) sheep, goats, horses, cattle, llamas,
ostriches, chickens, ducks, pheasants, and turkeys. The bonding process of pup or adult
dog to the stock is important with all species; however, some of the smaller types of
fowls are at a disadvantage due to their smaller size and relative fragility. While pups
are often penned with or near some of the larger animals while they learn appropriate
behavior, even a very young puppy can damage or kill a chicken in the mildest of play
interactions. That is why it is important to set the parameters of behavior quickly and
firmly in dogs intended as poultry guardians. The limits of appropriate and inappropriate
behavior should be set under close supervision, so that you can train your dog to be the
flock guardian you want him to be.
I have used Anatolian Shepherds to guard my flock of poultry for 13
years, and am now on my second generation of guards. My first six dogs were all raised
from puppyhood directly with my flock and can serve as guards if need be, but as we have
since relocated to a property where the fowls are no longer kept near the house, only a
pair of dogs live with the flock full-time. My newest stock guard was not kept full-time
with birds until she was 18 months old. The following is a description of the
circumstances in which my dogs are used.
My flock is rather varied in composition; I have both large and bantam
chickens, as well as ornamental pheasants. At times, I have also kept geese and peafowl. A
substantial number (approximately 50 - 60) of birds are free-range, and roost in one stall
of the barn/kennel/aviary building. Nests are provided on top of the doghouses in the
kennels: some birds prefer to lay in the doghouses instead! Several free-standing nests
with access at ground level are provided for the hens rearing chicks, which are also
free-range. Breeding pairs, brooding hens, and pheasants are kept in poultry netting
enclosures, and adult roosters that are not currently in breeding pens are leashed by the
leg to a swivel stake, giving them a 16 foot diameter circle, with a small house along one
edge for roosting and shade. The perimeter of the bird pasture' (about 3 acres) is fenced
with wire having a spacing of 2" X 4", and which is 5' along some sides, and 4'
on others. The 4' section has an electric wire along the top, to teach young dogs to not
jump on the fence. There is a dirt truck trail running along the 4' fence line.
Maranda's Gezme of Shahbazin (ASDI,ASDCA,RBKC,ARBA Ch. Shahbazin Alp Arslan C.D., P.C.
C.G.C., V.C.C.X. X Maranda's Zebir of Yassipinar) on her look-out point.
Predators in our area include the usual raccoons, opossums, and
free-roaming neighbors' dogs, with the addition of bobcats, coyotes, a resident cougar,
and large bands of illegal immigrants crossing over from nearby Mexico. Out of the
literally hundreds of birds I have raised, predation has resulted in the loss of fewer
than a dozen (which were in areas inaccessible to the dogs).
Dogs can be invaluable to the maintenance of a flock. They keep
predators away, break up fights in young stock, and alert you if something is out of the
ordinary (bird tangled in his leash, snake in the breeding pen, baby chick on the wrong
side of a fence). Birds that are fighting may be flapping madly, squawking and covered in
each other's blood, yet the dogs will race in, barking, swatting them away from each other
with their forelegs, or reaching in and grasping the birds by their wing or tail feathers
and pulling them away from each other. Baby chicks may be hopping right into a dog's food
bowl, and the dog will just back away with a quizzical expression. My bird guards seem to
view the fowls their own pets, regarding them with a wonderful tolerance and a desire for
peace and order.
Pinarbasi's Sahbaz (at 12 years of age) watching over her Golden pheasant.
Dogs do not just figure all of this out on their own; they are not
born with the knowledge that large, noisy feathery things are to be cherished and
protected. They are, however, born with the POTENTIAL to do this kind of work, with the
cleverness and desire to figure out how to keep the peace, and with all of the necessary
instincts for stock guardianship. How to actualize this inborn potential? The beginning is
Take your dog or puppy with you when feeding, cleaning, or doing any
other routine activities with your stock. I feed my flock early in the morning, before
leaving for work. When training my youngest flock guard, Gezme, I took her and her brother
up to the bird yard with me every morning, allowing them the opportunity to interact with
the fowls, and with the senior guardians (Sahin and Sahbaz). While feeding, cleaning, and
scrubbing things, I kept an eye on her, and if she began to put her feet up against a pen,
run around it, or chase a bird, I yelled, "Gez, Phooey! Leave it!" If she
remained interested (in a playful or predatory fashion), I'd run over, roll her over on
her side with one hand across her neck and shoulders, and the other over her muzzle
(holding her firmly but gently) and tell her, "No! Leave it!" Usually, after
using this mother dog' style discipline a few times, she would look at the birds, but not
try to chase. Until she forgot, the next day!
This is where consistency comes in - NEVER allow the dog to do something
you don't approve of. Chasing is an inherently rewarding behavior, so in order to
extinguish it, the less it is allowed to happen, the better. Also, allow alternatives;
chasing is an instinct that is not wrong, but it must be directed at appropriate targets
(something all young wild canids are taught by their mothers). A chicken may be
"No" and "Leave it" (or get rolled and pinned), but a squirrel,
gopher, or rabbit may be "That's a girl" and "Get it". That shovel or
feed dish may need to be left alone, but that bone or stick may be perfectly acceptable.
Don't try to go against or ignore the forces of instinct and nature - just direct them
into acceptable activities. Gezme was allowed to play - but only with her brother or the
old dogs. Running through the middle of the birds was a bad idea, but lying quietly near
them was O.K. Gez was fascinated by the pheasants, who have quick, sharp movements, are
apt to fly around their aviaries if disturbed, and who make an astonishing variety of
high-pitched noises. She learned that she could go up to their pens and look in, but then
she would walk away when their whistles and chirps became more frequent and higher
pitched, signaling that they were getting ready to take off and try to brain themselves
against the roof of their pen. Her brother, Gar, could eventually look in and observe
them, too, but the birds seemed to be more afraid of him at first (possibly because
Garnizon is a dark brindle, and the other dogs are all fawns).
Maranda's Garnizon of Shahbazin (at 3 months old) investigating a rooster.
This brings up another point: that of acclimating the flock to being
around something which looks an awful lot like a predator to them. My chickens and other
fowl paid little, if any, attention to Sahin and Sahbaz, who had been around them their
entire lives. However, new birds take a while to become accustomed to dogs, and the birds
also know the difference between their' dogs and other' dogs.. Skittish animals may lead
inexperienced dogs into temptation! When training a new dog, it is preferable for the
stock to be acclimated to the presence of a non-threatening dog. Just having a pup or new
dog around the stock while you are with them helps the flock accustom themselves to the
dog, which, incidentally, causes the flock to behave in a much calmer, less prey-like
Anatolians are also great mimics; think about what you are doing, before
you do something in front of them! Dig a little in a garden, and they are glad to help you
out by digging deeper, pick some fruit, and they'll try to make your job easier by pulling
off a few branches. Chase a few animals (to medicate them, they got loose, etc.), and your
dog may decide that he should help out and try to catch some too. Older dogs know that
only you have this privilege, but try not to give puppies ideas. This is why an already
trained dog is worth his weight in gold - they act as mentors', as the pup will watch the
older dog and do as he does. This can backfire, however, if the old dog has some
undesirable behaviors, as the younger dog will learn them as well.
Having self-assured animals also helps teach pups to give them some
personal space'. My pup, Gezme, was also assisted in her understanding that she shouldn't
get too close to the chickens by being walloped by some of the roosters, for the crime of
walking too close to their houses. She was also bitten on the nose when investigating
broody hens in nests, and, later in the spring, was chased by mother hens. Why didn't she
try to play with them? Well, any time she'd responded in a playful manner, I'd yelled and
rolled her. I'd also let her see chickens close up by holding one and letting her smell
it, but telling her "No" if she tried to mouth legs or feathers (I'd also allow
the chicken to bite her, if it was so inclined). Pretty soon, she was figuring that, while
chickens and such were interesting, it wasn't pleasant to get TOO close to them.
If a couple of mistakes' are made in the beginning, don't despair - it
is not necessarily a sign of an incompatible dog, if a couple of birds are inadvertently
dispatched by your novice flock guard. My first stock guard killed several young chickens
during his learning phase, but once he got the idea, I never had a bit of trouble for the
next 12 years. Try to figure out what triggered the inappropriate behavior (unusual
appearance or behavior of an individual, aggressive behavior mistaken for invitation to
play, swarming' behavior of flock prior to feeding time) and take steps to habituate your
dog to this stimulus, so that the undesired behavior pattern is extinguished. One dog had
trouble with the behavior of the flock just prior to being fed in the morning - fowls
pacing along a fence line, increased minor fighting, flapping, etc. - so the flock was
shut into the pen they roosted in, at night, for a couple of months. (Tethered roosters
remained accessible, as they were unable to perform the fence running' behaviors.) The dog
observed these disturbing behaviors from the other side of a fence, and the fowls were not
released until I fed them in the morning; after feeding, they scatter. At the end of the 2
months, the door to the roosting area was left tied open again, and as the dog was now
accustomed to this kind of behavior, there were no further problems.
Anatolian Shepherds CAN be used with great success for guarding poultry
flocks, but early supervision and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors is essential.
Much of this kind of training is also applicable to situations with larger stock, during
the breeding season, or when the young are being born. Don't make assumptions about how a
young dog will behave when confronted with a newborn for the first time; many may
automatically accept it, but many others may be completely nonplussed by the event, and
A year of training is a small investment for peace of mind and the
assurance that your flock is being watched over and protected day and night, for the next
ten years. Most dogs come into their own' between 12 and 18 months, and it is at this
point that your dog has been exposed to the events of the whole year, knows what to
expect, how to react.... and you know then that you have a 'finished' stock guard!
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