Nightmare Scenario!

Rusty and the chooks - waaaayyy too much interest

Rusty and the chooks – waaaayyy too much interest

I have chickens and I have a dog. That combination was tried and failed miserably in the past. We put a lot of effort into finding a dog that would make the combination more successful. Rusty had zero interest in poultry when he was a pup. Then he grew up and bird chasing became a great hobby. The cockatoos on the farm see him running and take flight (well, there was one old, sick bird that didn’t take flight, but I saved him by shouting at Rusty who actually dropped the poor thing).


Rusty, so innocent in appearance

I struggle with and try to stay on top of Rusty’s interest in my chooks – not that I’ve had huge success. He no longer jumps on the chicken wire surrounding the run when I’m inside with the chooks, but he watches them too keenly for my taste. And if anything “exciting” happens in the chook run which causes flapping and squawking, and general chicken frenzy, well, then all bets are off.

That’s one half of the nightmare scenario.

Molly - a month before the incident

Holly – a month before the incident

My chickens are not really pets. All 6 of them were adopted when they were well beyond chick stage (3 were 2 years old, 3 were 3 years old when we got them). They are sweet things but not keen on being held and avoid contact. Except when I open the run and they’re expecting goodies. Then they cluster at the gate. Holly, being more foolhardy than the others, even tries to peck a few blades of grass outside the run when the gate’s open. Sometimes she tries to make a break for it but I scoot her with my foot. You’d think she’d have learned because she escaped on day one using this sneak-out-the-gate method, only to be captured and carried by Rusty. But I think she’s forgotten.

That’s the 2nd half of the nightmare scenario.

Rusty = match, Holly = fuse. An explosion waiting to happen – and it did.

Holly was a bit faster and more persistent than normal Sunday morning and out she darted. Rusty, on my heels, grabbed her and took off. I shouted, he ran faster. He paused and loosened his hold on Holly (because I yelled “leave it”, to adjust his booty or to catch his breath?). She flapped (bad mistake). Rusty grabbed again and ran again and I kept yelling and chasing. 99% of the way around the run, just outside the gate, he paused again (again, why?). I got him to release Holly (it’s all a blur) and held his neck to the ground scolding. Holly waddled away. I started to drag Rusty to his run (he wouldn’t walk – I think he knew I was unhappy; I wouldn’t let go of the scruff of his neck – he was right, I was unhappy). My plan was to lock him up and then try to capture Holly. She waddled into Rusty’s run (I’m serious, this chook has a death wish). I went into the run telling Rusty to sit and stay (yeah right).

The battle field

The battle field

Rusty lunged at the fence of his run, Holly fluttered, Rusty lunged some more. Somehow I caught the bird and she settled right down (surrender or did she sense a rescue?). She seemed okay. There was a drop of blood on the top of her head and she was ruffled but otherwise I didn’t see any problem. I didn’t want to investigate too much figuring emotional trauma was the biggest concern. I’ve heard chickens die of fright quite easily.

All through this drama, Lenny was screaming at the top of his lungs in the chook run. He didn’t like his girlfriend being eaten (rather gentlemanly of him if you ask me). I plopped Holly back in the run and she waddled to the corner with Lenny clucking behind her. She sat and contemplated. He stood guard.

I fed the chickens and gave them fresh water (Holly loves fresh water – I overflow the containers so she can dig in the mud – she didn’t). She sat and contemplated some more. Lenny stood guard some more.

Ruffled and missing 1 drop of blood

Ruffled and missing 1 drop of blood

Feeling safe

Feeling safe

About 30 minutes later I went down to see how Holly was doing. When Lenny saw Rusty in the distance, he raised the alarm. I made Rusty sit and stay – this time he did (he was far enough away to be able to control his enthusiasm). Holly had moved about a foot from her corner. She waddled into the nest box when I got too close.

She looked okay. Ruffled and stressed no doubt, but she always looks ruffled (she really needs to get her new feathers) though stress is not her MO. I think she even laid an egg a few hours after the attack (I guess it was well progressed), but skipped Monday. On Monday morning (yesterday) she was subdued but, by the end of the day, she was back to chasing Molly away from the warm mash I’m making them every day (Molly is sick and it gets cold at night). I’m making Rusty sit and stay well away from the run every time I go down to the chook run and he obeys. Everything is pretty calm just 48 hours after the incident. So I guess that means it’s closed.

As to what comes next, I guess Ever Vigilant will be my motto. And to think my dream was that my dog, who had no interest in poultry, could wander the farm with my free ranging chickens protecting them from the foxes. No free ranging for my birds 😦




About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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21 Responses to Nightmare Scenario!

  1. gillybirds says:

    That must have been very scarey. One of our dogs was crouching over a runaway hen. I let a screech out of me that was probably heard several miles away. He froze and I pulled the very scared bird out from beneath him. Heart stopping!

    • Heart stopping is right. At one point, when Rusty was at the far end of the run, I thought “well, that’s it, she’s dead”. Horrible. Then, about an hour after I rescued Holly my shoulders started to ache and my throat was killing me. I strained my vocal chords and whether it was tension or stress hormones or what – I overburdened my back and shoulder muscles. I couldn’t believe how physical my reaction was to the attack.

  2. I want to have chickens someday so I find the experiences you share to be very helpful; I am taking copious notes and making a lot of mental notes.

    • Oh dear. I hope my posts don’t discourage you. I really love having chickens. Okay, if they didn’t ever lay an egg, I’d be less enamoured with them. But they are wonderful animals just fraught with health problems and too tasty for their own good!

      If you can get them young and let them free range, they actually are pets. But even if, like my latest batch, they arrive to you as aloof adults and must be kept fenced, they are still sweet and curious and funny little things to be around.

  3. I am really worried for you and your nightmare situation. That look of Rusty’s in the first photo is definitely way too interested. And I don’t really think Rusty looks innocent in appearance in the second photo either. 🙂 He looks very young and perky and excitable and oh dear, not a good “bird protector” at all.
    I know some people are lucky and they seem to be able to have dogs and chooks free ranging together but maybe they are small dogs? I have read many blogs where dogs and chooks co-habitate but can’t remember what types of dogs they usually are. I do feel very sorry for your nightmarish situation. I know these girls aren’t pets like our last beautiful girls but we still don’t want anything to happen to them. And potentially they may become pets or you may replace these ones with pets as time goes on and then … I don’t want to think about it.

    • Exactly! That’s why I tried so hard to find a dog that wasn’t at all keen on birds. I’ve heard there are breeds that are more likely to chase birds than others but that it’s more up to the individual dog. Unfortunately we have the wrong dog on both counts. You’re right, he’s not innocent in any way – too playful by half!

  4. pattigail says:

    OMG Laura..that is TOO MUCH excitement for me! I am so lucky that Fergus is the gentle soul that he is..Amber loves him and always comes over to see him when he comes out. But she pecked him once so he is very wary of her now. It is hard enough protecting my girls from hawks and bears…at least I don’t have to worry about Fergus. I am glad everyone is ok but too scary!

  5. vuchickens says:

    How traumatic! I’m glad she survived! I’m sorry your Rusty isn’t the chicken guard you were hoping for. Maybe he’ll get better. He probably thinks he’s helping you to some degree, though, or else I imagine things would have been much more violent?

    • I imagine when he’s 12 years old he’ll be better. Between now and then I can only hope.

      He’s half kelpie which is an Australian cattle dog. They are bread to herd cows. I thought that was the potential problem as I’ve heard of kelpies running in circles around a chicken run keeping the chickens in the centre. In fact I specifically wanted to avoid any cattle dog variety for that reason. But I was fooled by what I now know was lack of confidence on a farm with 50 dogs and flocks of poultry and dozens of cats and… Rusty was overwhelmed so he left everything alone. Now that he’s secure and happy he doesn’t leave anything alone – absolutely everything is a potential play mate. I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be violent with the chickens, I’ve seen him carry around tiny birds and little field mice who end up escaping when I call Rusty off (it they don’t flutter or run, I can get him to drop living creatures – even Holly eventually). He doesn’t bite, but he does like to drop them and jump on them to make them run and play chase. There is nothing Rusty likes more than a good game of chase. Oh dear!!!!

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  7. Oh dear sometimes dogs and chickens just don’t mix. You may remember a couple of years ago my neighbours dog got into our chickenhouse and destroyed one of our chickens. I think they think they are play things – this dog was even muzzled and it just killed with its paws. Best to just keep them apart if you can.

    • I can see how a muzzle might not do the trick. Rusty would pounce if he couldn’t grab and run. And I don’t think a chicken could hold up under much pouncing. I’m sorry you lost a chicken that way, I will do my best to stop mine from experiencing a similar fate.

  8. cohutt says:

    Per Yogi Berra: “It’s Deja Vu all over again”…..

  9. Oh no, Laura! Between the chickens not getting along and now this your little place is definitely lacking animal harmony. So sorry to hear this.

    • That’s what I was thinking – where’s the harmony? I’m so gentle and quiet and peaceful around my animals, sure that I’m creating a loving, nurturing environment. They just aren’t getting it. Maybe I need to play some Buddhist chanting music over loudspeakers for a while!

  10. I was on the edge of my seat reading this! How much more scary for you in the moment. I’ve been in a similar situation with my mother’s terrier-x dogs and and the neighbour’s pet rabbit. OMG. At least once they caught it, they didn’t know what on earth to do with it and dropped it. No moving = no fun. They’re all about the chase too.
    Gah. Dogs! And cats too, it’s amazing how much they can change given different living circumstances. Rusty sounds like a delightful dog, but just not gonna leave the chickens (or anything else) alone. I wouldn’t count on him mellowing with age either, looking at my mother’s dogs.
    How good are chickens at learning? Is it likely to have taught Holly to be a bit less escapist? or is her nature as completely set as Rusty?

    • Oh Lord, Rusty’d definitely go for rabbits. He pounces in the long grass on what I now know are small field mice. If he catches one I think he just carries it around dropping it hoping it will run some more. (I’ve seen him carrying a live one once but never actually seen him catch one.) I got him to drop one last week but I’ve seen 2 dead ones in the past week so I think he “plays” a little too long for his friend’s good.

      Well, I don’t hold out great hopes for Holly in the long run but she definitely isn’t darting out the door right now. She hangs back and let’s Lenny get underfoot.

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