|Posted by Tish Toren on January 15, 2016 at 7:00 PM|
Don’t despair! Your pup sounds like a good boy who just needs more guidance. A three- or four- month-old pup is still very much a baby. He has a baby’s short memory and a baby’s difficulty with impulse control. English Shepherds generally have moderate-to-strong herding drive. In a young pup what often happens is his instinct to follow along behind and control the livestock or desire to play with them escalates to a hunt/chase stage. Because birds are fragile, injuries and even casualties can result. This is why it’s so important to keep a young pup under “surveillance” or on a long line during early exposure to poultry. Even though English Shepherds CAN learn not to bother, even to protect free-range fowl, they aren’t born knowing your rules or thinking of chickens as pack or littermates. It’s a behavior that tends to develop with maturity and as a result of calm, consistent training. It’s always best if they never get the chance to kill something, but they are certainly not permanently ruined by it, and most certainly not as young as your pup is.
We’ve lived with working ES long enough we’ve been through all the various stages of chicken desensitization and relative trust. We’ve even had a few birds slobbered to death or close to it. With time and work, we’ve gotten to where, not only can we trust any or all of our dogs loose while the birds are ranging, they will actively watch over and protect them from predators if necessary.
Your pup is a smart boy. Most English Shepherds are, and this can give the impression that he has more maturity and resolve than he really does. The problem you are having is a very common one. It’s easy to look at his brilliance in other areas and think he’ll catch on as quickly to everything you try to teach him. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I assume your pup’s breeder does not have livestock, or at least does not have free-range poultry, or I’m sure he would have instructed you on how to safely introduce him to your flock. Chickens are the most tempting of all livestock for dogs to deal with (even dogs as biddable and smart as English Shepherds). Chickens move in a jerky, silly way, they are small, look and smell very different from pup’s other friends and family (like prey or even toys rather than pack). They run and squawk in an exciting, enticing way. It can take an otherwise average English Shepherd pup close to a year to be completely impervious to the temptations of chicken chasing. Some will learn quicker, others will take even longer. Much depends upon how much time you spend with your puppy. If he is allowed to follow you around all day, constantly receiving feedback and having his behavior shaped he will reach milestones long before a pup who spends most of the week in a yard or crate while you’re away.
Immediately, TODAY, all unsupervised contact with poultry must stop. Pup must be watched and/or kept on a long line whenever he’s outside and poultry are loose. This way, a correction/redirection can be given whenever the pup even looks at the birds wrong. This will be much easier and much more effective than giving him enough freedom to get into trouble and then having to UNtrain the problem. Later, you can drop the line, letting it drag along behind him to make it easier for you to get him under control quickly should he have a weak moment. This may sound like a “drag” to deal with (sorry, couldn’t resist!), but as long as you are patient and consistent in your training, time will fly. Your pup will grow up, and you will be able to gradually allow him more and more freedom until he proves himself completely trustworthy.
Later, as pup progresses, the line can be left off, but pup should still be WATCHED. A soda can with a handful of pennies or pebbles sealed inside is an effective tool for breaking the pup’s attention when he’s focused on the birds in an inappropriate way. It can be shaken or even tossed in between him and his quarry for a startling correction if necessary. There have been times I’ve had to toss whatever I had on hand in between to disengage a playful pup from chasing– empty bucket, grain scoop, whatever. The most important thing is that he consistently is stopped from doing this again. There must be no further reward in chasing. If you are lax in this area and he is allowed to sneak off to have more “fun”, it will only reinforce the bad behavior and make your job harder, perhaps even impossible.
If you were thinking of using your pup to actually herd the poultry later on, you should know that to overcorrect may give him the idea that poultry are off limits altogether. In my opinion, considering what’s happened, it’s most important to get him off the idea of chasing and harassing them NOW. I’ve found that my English Shepherds have more than enough herding drive and desire to help that even after being “in trouble” at some point for bothering birds they will still work them as needed .
Again, the ability to discern when and how to approach the birds is something that comes with maturity and as a result of clear consistent training.