Can Dogs and Pet Birds Get Along?

Many bird owners have contemplated the purchase of a dog or cat. Others already have mixed pet households. Having both dogs and birds in the same household, raises the issue of the safety of the birds.

I am a dog trainer, and while I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, I can assure you that there is valid cause for concern. There is no such thing as a breed of dog which is good with birds, kids, cats or whatever. Training will of course cut down on the odds of rover eating tweety. But I’d definitely avoid the sporting breeds and most terriers. Though we have hunting spaniels in the house with our four birds, we provide supervision and training. No dog is allowed in any room where a bird is free. And even when caged, no dog will be left alone with a bird. This has avoided a tragedy.

Just the same, here is why dogs and birds will never make a trustworthy team. Dogs are predators. They hunt mostly by smell, but movement attracts their attention and stimulates the hunt. Birds, as all of you probably have noticed, like moving. In fact, they make quick rapid moves, the most inviting type of movement. To a dog this is as good as waving a flag in front of a bull. While dogs have never had the reputation for killing birds that cats have, they also have never really had the opportunity, until birds are brought into the house. I’ve had countless people come home to find normally placid calm dogs of all breeds literally SITTING on over turned bird cages, looking down at frightened feathered pets. Most of them were not exactly going for a meal. But all of them wanted that fast moving critter out of the cage to at the least play with. However, when you have a few ounces of feathers pitted against several pounds of furred muscle, who do you thing is going to win?

I usually recommend to my students, who want both a dog and a bird, that they buy SCAT mats. These mats come in a variety of shapes, are plugged into the wall, and produce a static shock when stepped on by dogs or cats. They can be placed in doorways to keep pets out of an allergic child’s room or your bird rooms. They can be curved around trash cans or around a bird’s cage. If a dog is very young, the first time he approaches a bird cage and sets a paw on the mat, the result usually gives him reason to think that getting too close to that feathered toy in the cage is NOT a good idea. Of course this only helps discourage the dog from going up to the cage. It won’t help the bird if he ever gets within reach.

Anyone who does get a dog which will be around birds should thoroughly obedience train it. Teach it the command LEAVE IT, which means ‘don’t touch it, don’t even look at it or you will suffer the consequences of my wrath’. Also teach it OUT which means ‘spit out what ever is in your mouth right this instance’. A soft mouthed dog won’t crush a bird, but just carry it. So OUT can get a bird back unharmed before other thoughts enter rover’s mind. A well trained dog, hearing LEAVE IT, will veer away from an object with all haste and speed, as if he were about to run into a mac truck. A well trained dog hearing OUT will spit out a T-bone as if it were poison. A well trained dog is a must around children and a must around households with mixed species pets.

With birds, reptiles and fish residing in our home, our dogs all learned LEAVE IT and OUT before they even learned sit. It has paid off in spades, especially the day I had a visitor who was a reptile lover. When I left the room to get coffee, she unlatched the restraining bolt and opened the door on the iguana’s cage in order to pet her. Off went the iguana, chased by two of the spaniels and a rotty in the room. One LEAVE IT, combined with a DOWN STAY and all three dogs immediately froze like statues, while I growled ‘keep your hands off latches in the future’ to my panic stricken guest and pried the iguana off my curtains. Untrained dogs would have had tail of iguana for a snack.

If you have a mixed pet household , never forget to train, supervise and set rules for your dogs and cats.