Years ago, I had the perfect chicken guarding dog, although she didn't start out that way. She started out as simply a gorgeous dog, obtained from the North Hollywood dog pound at around 5 months of age. (Sorry, no digital photos of her extreme puppy cuteness currently available.)
She became the perfect city dog, wearing a (very short) leash to follow the law, but never needing one. She understood sidewalks versus streets and although she always reached the corner before me, she never crossed without my say-so.
The first time she ever saw a chicken, she had one in her mouth within seconds of gaining access. I saw this, yelled "Java, No! Drop it!" and she did. We ended up renting this house with chickens and she once broke into the coop, only to be repelled by the big 'ol Barred Rock rooster. I came out when I heard all the commotion and found the rooster, comb bloodied but undaunted, looking unreasonably large, the 4 hens huddling behind him and Java in the opposite corner, projecting "Get this crazy thing away from me!" I let her out of the coop and she never broke in again, but we didn't ever let the hens out.
Later on I got married and we moved to Wisconsin and our current home. Pretty soon after that we got chickens. We built them a flimsy pen using black plastic netting, because it looked good. Java was fascinated. We called it "Chicken T.V."
She watched those chickens for weeks. We let the hens out, but only if the dogs were in. However, one day we looked out to discover that we had forgotten to close up the pen the night before, and the dogs were out there with the chickens! Oh No!
No problem. Java had decided these hens were hers. Our puppy Mocha was a gentle soul and had no inclination to chase or shake a hen, thank goodness.
We never lost a hen as long as Java was alive. She slept in the house, with us, and never needed to go outside at night but one night she woke me up at 3am very insistent and whining. I stumbled to the back door and when let out she dashed across to where the chickens lived. I don't know what she chased off, but it worked.
One year after Java died, we still had Mocha, and we had a new puppy Pico (a rescue cattle dog mix obtained at less than 10 weeks to try to ensure he saw the chickens as group members versus prey) but neither were any good at guarding the hens. When the fox came and started killing, the dogs woke me up, but it was more like "Mom, can you get the chickens to stop screaming? They're keeping me up." We lost 5 hens that summer. We now have an electric door on the coop that opens and closes with dawn and dusk, but I miss having a dog that keeps a supersonic ear open for the fox even when inside with me.
So, that's a long preamble to my request: I am hoping to find a puppy raised on a farm/homestead/suburban lot with chickens. I do think it's helpful to have that extra-early exposure, but I also think the puppy is better off staying with her mother and litter for at least 10 weeks. Mocha was a GSD from imported German Schutzhund lines and he was kept with his mom and litter until he was 12 weeks old. When the pups were big enough to climb out of the whelping box, the group was moved to a little house in a grassy enclosure in the farm's front yard. Mocha arrived knowing many things, including where to pee and poop. Very helpful.
(Pico had to find a new home after he "heeled" an elderly neighbor (meaning--bit her on the back of her leg near her ankle) for the second time, after much training to try to stop the behavior. He never bit a chicken, or anybody else, but I do have neighbors and they do have the right to live without fear. Sadly, he was really a fearful dog himself and hopefully his new female Malinois companion will give him the confidence to live his life without biting anyone else ever again. Mocha, such a sweetheart, was always a follower rather than a leader and Pico was totally uncomfortable with that.)
Anyway, I digress. Does anybody know of someone who is planning to have puppies this spring? I'm thinking the PNW is probably too far for me to drive for a puppy, but almost anywhere else might work. I'm fond of dogs with pricked ears and I've been fascinated by "Scotch Collies" on the web, but I'm pretty open minded. My dream is a female puppy who will be 30 to 60 pounds when grown, not a pure bred (or at least not an AKC overbred/inbred) but coming from working lines. She will live in the house with our family (two kids, a cat, a house bunny) and may very well train/compete in agility.
Update: I was laid off in February, and we are relocating to Portland, Oregon. So, now I AM looking for a puppy in the PNW!
It looks like we will be living in the city proper, in Sellwood if we are lucky, so we will no longer have one acre and a dozen hens. Predator pressure will be different--foxes less likely, loose dogs, rats and cats more likely. I was set up to get an "old-time farm collie" puppy from Indiana, but cancelled that when it became clear we were going to be upended.
You might try Craig's List. I would suggest finding a listing from a neighboring area, as I presume most dogs listed in the "Portland" listings would mostly be 'city' dogs (with city prices). You can even browse before you get there so as to have an idea of what's available.
Be forewarned: Yes, "Puppy Mills" do use Craig's List too. It's important to see where/how they are raised.
You might even ask the county Extension Agent (next county over?) if he knows anybody. A good agent in a rural county usually has a good idea of 'who's doing what' in his area.
Once you get there, you might consider putting a "Want" ad in a more rural Craig's List.
"WANTED: Farm dog puppy from working parents."
City dogs can be trained, if started early, but starting from a long line of farm dogs can make a huge difference. Multi-generation farm dogs usually have it bred into them that "I am a Chicken Cop", rather than "Gee. Isn't it fun to watch them run in panic?" Mamma wouldn't allow that! You want a puppy that knows he/she has a job...the hens aren't for entertainment.
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
Thanks John, that's good advice. I lucked out with Java--she really wanted to eat the hens, but she morphed into "if I can't have them ain't NOBODY can have them!" and was the best guardian ever. Although, I wonder if female dogs are better at this job?
Cattle dogs are amazing animals. Java was actually bigger than the typical cattle dog, at 68 pounds, and I can't say she was nearly as brave/crazy as a heeler.
Java was exceptionally cautious in her temperament. I could leave her outside a store on a sit-stay, because she would sit there silently. She didn't care to greet strangers, but she didn't growl at them either. People who didn't know dogs would walk up and pet her, and she tolerated it (because I'd trained her to tolerate it) but people who knew dogs would leave her be, because she just sat there and looked at you in a very reserved way. I remember once when I had her sit a little ways from a veggie stand. When I bought my veggies and turned around to go back to her, I saw that a mom had parked her stroller next to her, and the toddler inside was repeatedly grabbing Java's tongue as she sat there panting. She would pull her muzzle back and close it, but soon she started panting again and the baby grabbed her tongue again! The baby was under a sun shield, so mom hadn't noticed any of this. I rescued Java and we went to get her some water. . .
thanks allen, I will update my location when we actually move! It looks like my first day on the new job will be August 1st. We just made an offer on a house in Sellwood, Portland, but our chances of being picked are small. . . .