You’ve probably heard that when your dog delivers you a dead bird he caught from the garden, it’s because he sees you as part of the pack and is trying to “help” you. The sad reality is, however, that although our furry friends try their best to help us, cleaning bird carcasses out of the carpet probably isn’t the most convenient thing, particularly if you have a weak stomach!
When Claude our French Bulldog started chasing and even killing birds occasionally, we had to look into how to train our dog not to attack birds. We were able to tackle it with a mixture of training and adaptations to routine and habit.
If you follow these 11 simple steps, you should be able to stop your dog chasing birds, and in worst cases attacking and killing them.
How to stop a dog from killing birds and chasing them
You will read some really obvious tips online to help you learn how to stop your dog chasing birds. I want to give you something a little bit different though, with some tips you might not have heard of before.
All of the steps below we used in combination to stop our dog from killing birds in our garden, and he’s now stopped the behaviour. It includes training tips and also preventative methods.
1. Add a bell to their collar
The humble bell is small, yet powerful. This seemingly minor change is effective because the bell gives a warning to birds if your dog is nearby, which gives them time to escape their furry clutches and not become your pooch’s lunch.
It is also a generally useful object to have as a dog owner because it means that even if your dog is out if sight, you will still be able to hear where they are, keeping them close and away from harm.
2. Redirect their attention to a more positive outlet
Although it might seem like your dog’s attention is fixated on the bird they want to catch and attack, it can work to redirect their attention to something else.
We would attach a favourite toy to a string. This then can act as an active stimulus and give them something else to chase. You can see which toys our French Bulldog loves to play with and we’ve had the best success with.
Alternatively, you can utilise your dog’s exceptional sense of smell by bringing meat-based treats along with your walk to distract them if it seems like they are looking a little too hard at that bird over there.
Claude loves to chase sticks. When he started to bound after a bird, I found that if I said “stick” it would immediately divert his attention away from chasing the bird, and coming to me to play instead.
3. Use noise aversion
This technique works by making your dog associate unpleasant noises with them chasing after birds, which will in turn make them less inclined to do so because they will associate it with a sound they don’t like.
We didn’t use an unpleasant noise to stop our dog chasing birds, but instead invested in a standard sports whistle.
Claude is used to me whistling, but he isn’t used a sports whistle. By blowing on the whistle when he started bird chasing it made him stop in his tracks as he wasn’t used to the noise.
This worked very well too.
4. Training methods
Although it might take some time for dogs to properly listen and respond to commands, once they know them it can be an invaluable way to avoid any feather-related disasters!
When teaching your dog how to not attack bods, it is good to start in a low-distraction environment and use stimulus such as treats to help your dog get positive reinforcement from the command.
For any commands, it is best to teach your dog when they’re a puppy because it is easier for them to learn at that stage. If this isn’t possible, remain resilient and patient throughout the training process or, if necessary, seek the help of a professional trainer.
- The recall command: This is where your dog learns to come at your command, which is especially useful when it comes to chasing birds. At your cue, they would stop in their tracks immediately and return to your side. You can learn how to train your dog with recall commands in this guide.
- The “leave it” command: This one does what it says on the tin: it can be used both as a deterrent and damage control. By this I mean that even if your dog ends up catching a poor bird, this command should teach them to let it go.
You can find plenty of instructional videos on YouTube which detail how to get the best from these commands. I don’t yet have any videos on our YouTube channel on how to train a dog not to attack birds. We will soon be uploading those in the coming weeks though, so please subscribe to get our weekly videos straight to your inbox.
5. Make sure they’re exercised regularly
A lot of dog’s behaviour issues are due to them having pent-up energy, so if your dog has lots of long walks and playtimes, they will not only be having the time of their life, they will also be too tired to start chasing those pesky birds!
This is especially true for larger dogs or those bred to run like lurchers and greyhounds. If one walk a day doesn’t seem like enough for your dog, see if you can squeeze in two or find ways to extend your route.
Alternatively, you could play frisbee with your pup in the garden for half an hour or get an interactive toy – like a tennis-ball shooter – for him to run after as many times as he likes.
6. Don’t let them walk when hungry
We all know that dogs are natural hunters who, as wild wolves, would rely on prey as food. Although time and breeding means that those days are long gone for dogs, their natural instincts remain.
If your dog goes out hungry and sees prey within his grasp, they will tap into those instincts and pounce. This is the time when they will be more inclined to chase, attack, and kill birds.
If you fill them up with a good meal before they go for a walk or a play, what need do they have to chase around birds?
Handy Hint: There is a slight caveat with this though. You should wait for 2 hours after a meal before taking your dog on a walk. Find out why in this article about how long to wait after feeding your dog.
7. Learn to recognise your dog’s body language
By learning to understand your dog’s body language, you will be able to identify certain behaviours as warning signs that they have spotted a bird and are getting ready to chase it.
Although every dog is different and has body language and responses unique to their personality, general signs that dogs might have found a bird they want to chase include a stiffening body, shaking and a firm stare at something.
If you notice any of these signs, assume that your dog has seen a bird – it is time to act fast, perhaps by putting them back on their lead.
8. Keep your dog on a lead
If you aren’t quite confident in your dog’s ability to listen to commands or to leave birds alone, a lead is a good option as it allows you to have full control over your furry friend.
This means that you can both have an enjoyable walk without worrying about them playing tag with some pigeons. This is especially useful if your dog is either adolescent or exceptionally difficult to train.
Besides, having a lead doesn’t have to mean that your dog lacks freedom – retractable leads mean that they can have free reign to run as far as you want them to, meaning that you can adjust the length based how many birds are in the area at that time.
9. Adapt your walking routine
Of course, it can be difficult to avoid birds altogether, but it is worth noting that they are most active at dawn and dusk, so it is worth walking your dog in the late morning or an early afternoon if they are prone to bird-chasing.
If you work a 9 to 5 job this may well prove difficult in which case, try and keep your walks to industrialised areas as wildlife is more common in the park than it is in pedestrianised streets.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, then another possibility is to hire a professional dog walker so your pooch can still hit the parks even if you’re working!
When considering the latter, however, you must think of your dog’s temperament – if they have a tendency to be timid or snappy with people, they aren’t comfortable with, this may not be the right option for you.
10. Keep birds away
Although it might be difficult to control the comings and goings of birds in parks and fields, there are safe and non-harmful measures you can take to stop birds from flocking to your garden and being at the mercy of your excitable pup.
You could remove items that attract birds like food sources, tree branches, birdbaths or empty bird houses.
A non-toxic bird repellent is an equally as reliable method, whilst orange rind and lemon peels have a similarly repelling effect for a fraction of the price.
11. Employ a professional dog trainer
If all else fails and you still can’t stop your dog from chasing birds, then the final option is the most expensive; professional help.
Many dog trainers will have experience in training dogs to not attack birds. You can find trainers like this typically in areas of the country with lots of farmland, as dogs will need to be trained to not attack livestock and chickens in these places.
Other questions you may ask
Aside from the tips above on how to stop your dog chasing birds, attacking, and in worst cases killing them, here are some other small tips.
Why does my dog chase birds?
It is part of their natural predatory instincts and, as well as that, they see it as a fun active stimulus for them to play with!
What to do when dog hurts birds?
Birds go into shock very easily when injured, so it is advised to put them in a covered box (with breathing holes) in a cool, safe place whilst they recover from the shock.
Whilst they are recovering, keep any other pets away and call up your local animal rehabilitation charity so they can come and collect the bird for further treatment.
It can be really frustrating and concerning when dogs chase birds. Not only is there a chance they could get lost, but it can also lead to birds being harmed.It is important to remember, however, that every breed is different, and subsequently it may be more challenging for some breeds (like hunting or herding dogs) to stop this behaviour.
With the above steps, right training and patience, it is in fact possible.