Is euthanizing the dog really the right answer?
One year ago this month, this little fella was terrorizing the neighbourhood; chasing, killing and eating chickens!
Meet the 7-month-old Foxie cross.
All I can say is that I was thankful for two things:
- that he lived near me and
- that he was not a chained dog
At least he was free to express himself and without training, rules and regulations, express himself he did!
Now this wasn’t his fault – he didn’t know you weren’t supposed to kill nor chase chickens – he was just having some fun and found a way to get his own dinner.
So by the time we moved in in June 2017 his time was already marked. The council had laid traps for him and euthanasia was on the cards – if only they could catch him.
Now this little dog is a social thing – loves people and absolutely LOVES dogs. All he needed was to be included into his pack/family. The family he lived with for 5 months had busy human lives and the dog was left to his own devices and with no fencing meant that his roaming area was quite vast.
Every day – and I mean everyday, from first thing to late at night he would be at ours. Following me around on my chores, playing with the girls – he had already decided he was moving in.
To cut a very long story short, it was decided that he would come and live with us. He officially moved in July 2017 and started his new life with a new name – Hemi or Hemdog or Hemstar as he is called.
Old School Comments
I have no time for comments like:
- “Once a chicken killer always a chicken killer’ or
- “If he eats one, that’s it he’ll never stop – he has the taste for it”
These are old, archaic comments that go with old beliefs of the dog. Thankfully we have learnt a lot from studies of dogs and how they actually operate and have a better understanding of the dog’s needs.
Introduce free-range chickens
Our chickens arrived from various places, all re-homes, around September. Of course this wasn’t plain sailing – no one had ever told Hemi off for chasing chickens before!
So the training began
The actual first steps for Hemi was to teach him the new commands he would need to move on.
We would take Hemi out around our property to feed the chickens while he was on a long leash. He was rewarded for a sit/stay. He’d be told to ‘leave it’, and ‘look at me’ to redirect his gaze.
The chickens were managed and the dog managed until he showed no signs of chasing – a firm ‘NO’ was always used when he looked at them with intent along with ‘leave it’ and ‘look away’ – always rewarding the positive action.
Hemi did catch one chicken and it was made very clear that this was a bad thing and that we were not happy. It’s very important not to ‘set your dog up to fail’. By that I mean don’t put him in situations that he may fail on. For example allowing him outside alone with the chickens could end in disaster – so only allowing him out supervised meant that he couldn’t make a wrong decision – he couldn’t get into trouble nor be told off. He was supervised so would only do right things – all part of the training.
There were also other factors in Hemi’s training that had to be addressed:
- he was a wanderer, a roamer
- he wouldn’t look you in the eye
- he wouldn’t come when called
I spent months trying to get Hemi to look at me. His eyes would divert immediately and his head lowered. Being someone who knows and loves dogs I found this to be most upsetting. I spent some time assuring him that it was ok and a good thing to look at me.
Getting him to come to me was a longer effort. He would come so far but never near. He’d stand there just looking from a distance. To get him to come to me I’d have to squat down, open my arms up and put on the happiest voice (all non-threatening gestures). We went through many treats as he ALWAYS got a treat for coming even if it took him half an hour he would always get a treat and a big cuddle for coming.
No matter what your dog does / or how long it takes – if they come to you always be so, so excited, happy and elated – rewarding them for doing so. Never get frustrated in how long it may take. Never tell a dog off that eventually comes – because he came, he did what you asked. Imagine if you were called over by someone and then they hit you when you got there – would you go back next time they called you?
This took me a good 2-3 months for him to gain trust in me. I had also noticed that when I went to pat Hemi that he would freeze and go stiff – with him it’s all about the trust.
And I think this was really Hemi’s issue – his trust had been broken. He is a sensitive soul and he wanted to be included (just like any dog – they want to be part of their family).
The wandering issue was also being worked on at this time. We had farm fencing so nothing that contained a little dog!
Every day and night we would go around the property with Hemi on a long line – rewarding him for every positive action. Telling him no at the boundaries if he went to cross – reward, reward, reward!
Eventually the long line came off and a flashing light was installed on his collar. This way we could see a red light running all over the property. We were at peace that Hemi was on the property and he got a bit more of a free reign. I’d call him to come to me and reward him when he did. I wouldn’t make him come inside when I did call him – it was just to reinforce the commands and reward the good behaviour.
Fast track one year
So with all the time and effort that was put into Hemi we have received the most beautiful, loving, intelligent dog. He interacts with the chickens and I’m never concerned that he is going to chase one.
The other day he was eating a bone on the lawn and one of our chickens walked up to him. He picked up his bone and moved 10 metres away. She did it again (pushing it I thought) and he picked up his bone and moved farther away!
What good decision-making!
It’s ALL in the training - don’t blame the dog!
With dogs it’s all about:
- Implement the same rules (and the same language) so all household members are using them
- reward the good behaviour
- replace bad actions with a good action
- reward, reward, reward
- repeat, repeat, repeat!
- show them the love; include them in your family
- always end your training sessions on a positive – if they are not doing what you want then give them a command they know, to end on a positive note
- and remember 10 minutes a day training is all that is needed
Changing behaviours doesn’t happen overnight, we spent nights out in winter weather with Hemi teaching him the rules. It wasn’t easy then, but it sure is easy now!
Is Euthanasia the answer?
I spoke with the Animal Services team at the Council and explained how Hemi now lives with free-range chickens, how intelligent he is and how much he has learnt.
And that maybe, just maybe the dog shouldn’t be blamed, that maybe we should blame the owners for unwanted behaviours and hold them accountable instead.
And I must say this little guy Hemi has a whole lot of love to give.
What do you think
Should the dog be blamed for their actions?
Is euthanizing the dog the right answer?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below