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How to stop a Dog From Attacking Birds, Cats, Chicken, Squirrels and All the Like

Updated on June 17, 2012
alexadry profile image

Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

A ''firm leave it'' command and praise is all it takes


My Rottweilers love being around chicks and chicken!


A Look into Certain Breeds

In order to understand why a dog loves to chase and attacks squirrels, chickens, cats, birds, and in some cases, small dogs, one must look into the history of the breed. There are many breeds out there bred specifically to hunt whether the dog in question was a bird dog, a dog used to chase vermin, or a dog used to retrieve. A client one day came to me crying because her Kerry blue dog has attacked and killed her hamster, all I had to tell her is to please go home and read about this breed. She then called me and told me how sorry she was for not knowing before that this breed was bred to hunt vermin!

For instance, not many people know that the Poodle is not just a pampered pet sporting outlandish haircuts, rather this dog has a history of being a versatile working dog used to perform a plethora of tasks ranging from cart-pulling, to show ring master. One of this breeds main tasks was also to retrieve game from water, indeed the name ''poodle'' derives from the German word "pudeln" which means ''to splash in water''. This breed's coat indeed has a history of being clipped that way to protect the poodle's vital organs and joints from the bitter cold waters, and reduce the chances of snagging. Some areas instead were left purposely with hair to keep the dog warm.

In order for a dog to retrieve well and be a good bird dog, it must have a certain level of prey drive. Now, all dogs have a good level of prey drive but in certain breeds this is much stronger since they have been selectively bred to have such drives in order to be good hunting dogs. So, you must understand to a certain extent that your dog's prey drive is in his genes, you may never be able to take it away, but at least you can try to manage it to your advantage.

Work gradually under the threshold

How to Stop or Reduce Chasing and Attacking Animals

So what I would suggest to do is to not remove prey drive in dogs but to orient it towards you. You want to be the center of your dog's attention where all the good things revolve around you. You must therefore become more interesting than a squirrel, rat, mouse, or anything that crawls. How do you accomplish that? By offering things that in a dog's mind are superior or at least almost equal to rats, mice, squirrels...

You do not need the stay on command, sit on command, and heel on command for this exercise. Instead, you will have to focus on the ''leave it command''. I will provide a step by step guide here on how to get her to focus more on you and learn to leave crawling critters alone. I have two Rottweilers at this time, trained using the ''leave it command'' and they live with 16 chickens and one day I forget them outdoors, and they were laying down peacefully, surrounded by the chicks, we were so proud of them! Of course, I would never purposely leave my dogs around chicken alone and unsupervised, dogs are still dogs and chicken are still chicken, those primal instincts may be buried but they will always be there!

Here is my step by step program for you which you can give a try. Do not try the e-collar or citronella spray collar for dogs attacking animals, as these training tools only tell your dog what NOT TO DO, but do not give him/ her an alternate behavior to DO INSTEAD. This is putting a dog for fail in my opinion, you want to put your dog up for success and give an alternate behavior so perform. Not to mention the fact that e-collars are counterproductive, see my article "how to use an electronic collar".

How to Train ''Focus'' and ''Leave it''

Step 1) As a first step I would recommend a good training tool to prevent her from pulling towards any critters you meet on walks. I like to use an ''Easy Walk Harness'' by Premier. This harness has a front attachment that helps prevent pulling and lunging behaviors. It can be a great training tool.

Step 2) Start by investing in the tastiest treats your dog knows. These are 100 dollar treats, treats your dog would die for, examples are slices of hot dogs, freeze dried liver, steak, boneless, skin less chicken,oven cooked chicken livers..Keep small bits of these treats handy by putting them in a fanny pack or treat pouch that goes around your waist.

Step 3) Now work on this exercise: make a sound with your mouth, anything, a whistle, a smacking noise, just not words. Place a treat at your eye level and as soon as your dog looks at you, give the treat. Repeat-repeat-repeat. The sequel is as such: you make sound with your mouth with treat at eye level/dog makes eye contact/you give treat. Do it 10-15 times until your dog gets a hang of it. Timing is of the essence: the second he looks at you the treat is delivered.

Step 4) At some point something wonderful will happen: your dog will look up at you in the eyes automatically when you make the noise in anticipation of the treat. By doing this you have taught your dog to focus on you using classical conditioning. Work on this exercise also when your dog is across the room, make the noise with your mouth to grab her attention and run to you for a treat. Now you can apply this exercise successfully to change a bit his attitude around furry critters.

Step 5) Keep her at a distance from a cage with a rat or hamster, or chicken or cat (keep her muzzled if you cannot trust her, even with the rat caged). You want to find a distance from where she does not react, so to work under the threshold. You then make the noise with your mouth, if she looks at you in the eyes you deliver the treat. If she is too aroused to take your treat she is too near and you need to work her farther away.

Step 6) Now, get gradually closer and closer over the course of a few days and see if you can still get her focus. When she is close to the cage, and is getting too close say a firm ''leave it'' accompanied by a small tug to the leash. Then make the noise with your mouth and the moment she looks at you, give the treat and throw a party, with lots of treats and belly scratches. You need to be the most entertaining thing in that room other than the rats.

Step 7) I would then invest in a squeaky toy that looks like a rat or mouse or a stuffed animal that resembles a cat or animal you need to work on. Attach it to a stick with a string and have a friend move it around the room and exercise on the leave it command, followed by your focus exercise. Your goal is to have her capable of listening to your leave it command, despite the toy is attracting her and arousing her. Always praise and make a big deal for listening to the leave it command.

Step 8) Leave the squeaky toy in the middle of the room, step back and right when you see her getting close to it, say ''leave it'' and make the noise with your mouth from across the room. You can also try to leave the toy unattended and hide somewhere in the room and secretly watch her. The moment she sneaks to the toy say ''leave it!'' followed by the noise of your mouth. If she comes to you, praise and give her a bonus (that is a handful of treats) and lots of fun! If you do this often, the fact she thought she was alone and you caught her in the tracks will stick in her mind, and she will start thinking that even though it looks like you are not there you are still there! Ultimately, she should feel like you are ubiquitous and omnipresent!

One note of caution: Never let her have the toy to play with, this toy is for training purposes only, and must be treated as if it was a real mouse/cat/squirrel/small dog you want to protect.

Step 9) At this point, if she is doing well, it is your call if you ever want to expose her to the real thing. You should keep her muzzled if practicing this and on leash, with the tastiest treats. You can also ask the ''leave it'' and focus exercise when on walks, if she does not listen, simply wriggle the treat in front of her nose and then drop it on the ground. Not many dogs will leave a treat on the ground since it is readily accessible while prey must be caught!

Words of caution:

  • Never leave your dog unsupervised with other critters or animals
  • Never trust your dog around any animals

Disclaimer: Please consult with a dog behaviorist if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors. Only a dog behaviorist may see and assess behaviors and offer the most appropriate behavior modification program tailored for your dog. Use extreme caution and make safety your top priority. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and assume full responsibility for any of your actions.

Helpful training tools

PetSafe Easy Walk Harness,  Large, BLACK/SILVER for Dogs
PetSafe Easy Walk Harness, Large, BLACK/SILVER for Dogs

The Premier Easy Walk Harness not only lets you take relaxing walks in the park with your pet, but it also helps train him not to pull on his leash. The unique front-chest attachment stops pulling by slightly tightening across the dog’s chest and shoulder blades. This gentle pressure steers the dog to the side and redirects his attention back to you.

Stewart Freeze Dried Treats 21 oz. Beef Liver
Stewart Freeze Dried Treats 21 oz. Beef Liver

Pro-Treat Freeze Dried Liver Treats are 100% pure beef liver. They were developed many years ago as a tool for training pure bred dogs for show, and as an obedience tool for dogs in the ring.

PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport, Black
PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport, Black

The Original quick access treat pouch designed by renowned trainer Terry Ryan.


Success is the result of determination and lots of practice



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    • suejanet profile image

      suejanet 6 years ago

      Thanks for this good information.

    • Teylina profile image

      Teylina 6 years ago

      Hope some people besides me who need it, read this! Good info! Well done!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We have a young Siberian Husky. She wants to chase squirrels and other things. I think it is an instinct to just chase things.

    • profile image

      CATHERINE METZLER 22 months ago

      my puppy is very hyper she has seen my pet bird up close many times we have only had her for 1 month she has been told not to hurt the bird most times she leaves him alone he is used to dogs, for no reason she tried to bite him she only got his tail, if she does it again the dog will be put up for adoption or sold!!!! the bird was here first he loves dogs i will not tolerate this type of behavior!!!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 22 months ago from USA

      What breed is this puppy? it might be your puppy just wants to play. Training a "leave it" command my be helpful, but it's always good to practice caution as it's very easy for a bird to injure a bird even non intently.

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