About a year ago we went to the Pasadena Humane Society in search of a new puppy. After many visits we finally chose the one - a playful little guy described as a Shepherd/Akita mix. We were taken to an office where a counsellor talked to us about the dog and asked a battery of questions. She asked if we had any other pets.
"We have chickens," we told her.
"This dog is a Shepherd mix," she said. "The Shepherd part of him should be protective of the chickens and even like to herd them around. He should be very good with the chickens."
That was what I expected. Our old dog had been a Shepherd mix. She would post herself just a few feet away from the flock, laying on her stomach with front legs forward ready to go. When a chicken wandered away from the flock, she would go get the bird and gently herd her back to the others. It was really something to see.
The counsellor continued.
"You have to be careful, though. This dog is also part Akita. They were bred to hunt."
"The Akita part of him might like to eat your chickens."
EAT OUR CHICKENS? The news should have made us bolt upright and run out of the office.
But, you have to remember the scene. We are in a small office -- my wife, two kids and I and this playful orange and white ball of fur. We are taking turns holding the little guy, his white-tipped tail going a mile a minute. But for the formalities, it's done. He's part of the family. And the thought that this little guy would eat Flopsy, Mopsy, Sparky or any of our hens ... well, it just didn't compute.
Plus, it was hard to know how to take the counsellor's warnings. She wasn't giving us the red light. She said it was impossible to know for sure what kind of mix this dog was or how the dog would react when grown. The little guy looked part Shepherd and we'd had a great experience with our old dog. But, the counsellor was definitely giving us a flashing yellow ... caution ahead.
So, how has it gone over the past year?
Well, the dog has been great. Named "Bear," his claim to fame is that last year he actually treed a real bear. It is hard to know what kind of mix he is, but he's more powerful than any dog I've ever had. He's a part of the family and is always near one of us. It has been a joy to see him race and wrestle with the kids.
But, if you asked the chickens, their reviews would not be so glowing. Bear likes to play. That's good if you're a human or another dog. But, if you're a chicken, 70 pounds of dog-puppy barrelling after you with slobbering tongue flying ... it's got to be terrifying.
Bear hasn't eaten any chickens. And, I don't think he's going to. But, he loves to play chase and, given the opportunity, will chase the chickens all over the yard. We've had some scary moments with Bear tearing over the the yard and chickens literally flying about. But, in the end, calm has been restored. No hens have been harmed.
We've learned that Bear needs to be on leash whenever the chickens are loose in the yard. We try not to give him the opportunity to play chase with the chickens.
I am sure the chickens do not appreciate that Bear is a magnificent watch dog. On more than a few occasions, he's alerted us to coyotes near the chicken coop.
We still hope Bear's Shepherd lineage will kick in and he'll be a model brother to our hens. But, in the meantime, he'll be on leash whenever the chickens are out in the yard.