My Turn: Deterring predatory behavior in dogs

For the Monitor
Published: 12/4/2021 6:30:43 AM
Modified: 12/4/2021 6:30:13 AM

The article on Ruby the dog (Monitor, 12/2) that killed or maimed poultry confined to a hen house prompts an examination of the mismanagement of canine companion animals.

Unfortunately, many difficulties with dogs begin with the dog owner’s anthropomorphizing their pet, nearly turning their dog into a child with “play dates,” trips to the dog park and doggie daycare as a seeming release from the dreary domestic life with humans.

Dogs are companion animals. When we give dogs higher human qualities, we often fail to effectively control their behavior. Dogs probably began attacking chickens shortly after the first chicken was domesticated. Many breeds and mongrels maintain their “prey drive” and some breeds are specifically bred to increase this drive.

Chickens are an easy target. Even if not confined, chickens are relatively slow and most breeds can’t fly very well. Once a dog gets that first kill, chicken killing can be a difficult behavior to change.

Two “folklore” methods to reform chicken killing include beating the dog with a chicken and hanging a dead chicken around the dog’s neck for days so the stench will deter the dog from future attacks. Aside from the cruelty of both methods, neither is effective.

Approximately 50 years ago, famed dog trainer William Koehler described a reportedly effective method that involved the dog, a power source and a chicken wired to deliver a shock to the mouth of the attacking dog. Fortunately, we now have ecollars or remote collars with adjustable stimulation that can deter chicken killing in relatively short order.

But such collars have more value. For example, I regularly see dogs in public places that are muzzled and often wearing warning signs that they will attack, who can benefit from remote collar training. Such dogs often become affable and less dangerous after the biting is suppressed.

So this reported episode of chicken killing should be a lesson to dog owners. Dogs are often prey animals, they are not children. We have the behavior modification and the technology to both prevent canine misbehavior and improve the lives of our companion animals. As a byproduct, chickens can continue laying eggs without interruption.

(Maurice Regan of Pembroke is a psychologist and college instructor. He also runs Companion Dog Training.)

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