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Coexisting on the farm

I just want everyone to get along. I’ve always been a conflict avoider, figuring others will work things out amongst themselves, but this has gone on long enough. I can’t ignore the discord any longer. It’s time to do something about it. It has to start somewhere, and in fact, it already has. Our six month old Boxer mix Winnie is in bootcamp, learning how to get along with our fowl. 

There is a name for the phenomena that causes a dog to chase (and sometimes eat) animals: prey drive. Winnie has the strongest prey drive I’ve ever seen. She’s relentless. And with several ducks, two geese and 18 chickens on our property, it’s imperative to address her obsession. Four weeks ago I caught her with a dead two month old chicken in her mouth. Another one was “lost” that day as well, so I’m assuming it found its way to her belly.

As I began scouring YouTube, I found several videos on how to train a dog with a high prey drive. Methods taught by Will Atherton, a chap out of the UK, have been especially helpful. He’s done videos on correcting other undesirable behaviors as well: inappropriate barking and jumping, crate training, leash walking, coming when called, etc. 

I’m working with Winnie every morning before her breakfast. We’re killing two birds with one stone (pun intended), practicing loose leash walking (say that three times fast) and looking at, but not chasing our birds. I use treats and praise as rewards. Whenever she begins to pull, I redirect by turning  around, walking a few steps until I have her attention, and then approaching our walk - or our fowl - again.

Winnie is very smart, smarter than her trainer, I daresay. While any success achieved has not been overnight, we’re making progress. For the two weeks she was recovering from getting spayed we kept her in a small fenced in area whenever she was outside. This week we’ve begun letting her run around on the property and I can see a significant improvement. A couple of times she’s been chasing a chicken or a duck and we’ve been able to stop her, just with our voices. Yesterday she was running after our little bantam hen and Houston corrected her. She stopped the chase and came to Houston. It’s been almost a month since she ate that chicken.

Now if we could just get our dogs Dewey and Roe to stop their feud with Ollie, our male donkey. They go out of their way to chase him every chance they get. However, as impossible as it seems, Winnie’s response to her training has made me hopeful that I can tackle one more animal conflict on the farm. 

This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the June 10, 2023 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.

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