Teaching Sassy About the Chickens

We get many questions about how we deal with a trained bird dog and retrievers and free ranging chickens.

Rhodies Gene Sassy

Sassy and Gene practice “leave it” while the chickens free ranged today.

Readers often wonder if they need to buy a certain breed of dog to guard their livestock and how t0 train them?

I was worried about this very issue when we decided to get our chickens. Sassy is a very high energy Labrador Retriever and certain birds are her prey. Her job is to find them and bring them home.

Sassy sleeping on gun

Sleeping on the gun case after a good long hunt.

As a trained hunting dog she has been taught to capture and retrieve birds as part of the hunting process. Of course I was nervous that she would want to do that with my baby chicks who were then just about the size of a woodcock, one of the birds species she has been taught to retrieve.

Sassy love

Good girl Sassy! Getting a lot of love and praise for such good behavior!

When the chicken were very tiny and in the laundry room in their brooder, we initially introduced them to her quite early. We let Sassy smell the chicks  liberally while telling her to”leave it,” our cue to teach her when we want her to not touch, mouth or pick up a particular thing. Pretty soon she learned their cheeps and when they cheeped, “I am hungry,” Sassy would come and get me and alert me that they needed me,

VERT Sassy snow beard USE

Sassy, the wonderdog!

Sassy Gene coop USE 11-2-14

Standing at the chicken run on her lead was part of her training process.

I took her outside with me when I had chicken chores to do. I always keep a close watch on her and her behavior. She has always behaved very well around my chickens but no matter what, I have always been mindful she is a trained bird dog and keep my eyes on her and my ears open.

I’ve come to the conclusion that its not the breed of the dog but rather the consistent training that is most important.

Apparently Sassy understands that being on the field is where she hunts and retrieves birds and only when instructed to do so. Apparently she instinctively views these birds on our land as “different” and not birds she is supposed to go after.

Good girl Sassy!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Dogs as Family Members – Our Waterdog

So many of us homesteaders have dogs and consider them real members of our family, especially a working dog.

Sassy sleeping on gun

Sassy sleeping in the sun after a long days hunt.

Gene and I are no different. We happen to be Labrador lovers and always had Labs as part of our family. We have often had up to two Labrador Retrievers at a time, and at the present moment we now have one Lab, a petite 55 lb. black Lab we call Sassy.

Ball Sassy CUTE

Sassy and I play ball outside almost every day. I kick, she retrieves.

Sassy came to us rather unexpectedly when another Lab owner saw how we treat my chocolate Lab “Sprit” that has since passed on. This lady stopped us, introduced herself and complimented us our Spirit’s behavior. She also told about an outstanding breeder of Labs in a nearby community where she had purchased her own dogs.

Sassy eyes

Intelligent eyes!

As these casual encounters often do, one thing led to another, and we brought home this 12 week old black Lab puppy that has been bred tiny for field trial work. In fact, she was the one dog that this breeder had planned to keep her for himself and train her. We heard sweet stories that his four daughters had been really taken to her, played with her and dresses her up in dog clothes on their bed. The girls had already named her Sassy and it fit her personality 100%, so it stuck. To this day when Sassy hears the voice of a young girl her tail wags in circles and she is ready to play. I honestly think she has wonderful memories of those girls.


Some of us pick up sticks – some of us just like to lie down on the job and chew them.

Now at just age seven, Sassy is a petite powerhouse that lives to run and retrieve. And she is a wonderful companion dog to me on the homestead as well. She does chores with me every day, helping me to feed the chickens, give seeds and water to the songbirds, picks up sticks in the yard when I do and generally keeps me company. She looks like a puppy but is a fierce watchdog that I would not want to get on the bad side of either.

Sassywaiting to swim

Retrieving bumpers is part of her daily training.

Late this winter Sassy was feeling unusually poorly and ended up with what we think was a viral infection in her lungs. For a dog that absolutely must be run and hour or more every day, this dog was down for the count. She slept and she wheezed, we were starting see her bones poking though and we knew she was losing weight and we were worried. After about a week of sleeping all day and night, we took her to our vet and came home with an antibiotic and cough suppressant.

Sassy bumpers waukeena collage

On your mark get set go. Swim to that bumper and bring it back.

We started the antibiotic immediately and she rallied a bit on day three but then just stalled. I was concerned that this bug was antibiotic resistant and she was going to relapse. I’d heard about a holistic vet in a nearby community and gave her a call. Through our phone conversation Dr. Dolan told me about a high quality supplement company that makes supplements for equines and canines. They make a product that boosts the immune system and I felt that this product was just what we needed.

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Sassy the snow dog as well as a waterdog!

The veterinary formula product is called Canine Immune System Support and is made by Standard Process out of Palmyra, Wisconsin. This company that has been in business since 1929 make only certified organic whole food supplements for canines and equines. More information can be found at http://www.standardprocess.com

The ingredients of this Immune Support product are Bovine liver, nutritional yeast, bovine and ovine spleen, rice bran, bovine spleen BMG, bovine thymus extract, carrot, bovine kidney buck leaf wheat juice, pea vine juice, wheat germ, mushroom, Spanish black radish, kelp as well as Minerals including Calcium, magnesium and Zinc as well as other ingredients. I have not listed every single ingredient found in the box, but you get the main idea here.

I admit, it was expensive but I was willing to give it a try.

Within a little over two weeks Our Sassy girls was back with us. And not only was her energy level high once again, her coat was shiny and soft. And perhaps I should not judge her insides by the look and feel of her coat but her pep was back to normal and she was well again.

We have our beautiful girl back again.

I am not being paid for this commercial. I am talking about it by my own free will as I am a happy customer.

Small House Homesteader, Donna