Not every chicken owner needs to take their chicken for a walk but what have you got to do, if your chicken needs walking? Well, it’s a process which requires some patience, but every chicken owner can learn to train their chicken to walk on a leash. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get your chicken out and about with you in no time.
So, our guide on “how to walk a chicken on a leash: what you need to know” contains the answer to whether you can leash them at all, how to socialize your chicken for leash training, how to train your chicken with a leash, how to make a harness and leash and a quick overview of how to walk the chicken once you’ve trained them. It’s easy and a lot of fun.
How To Socialize A Chicken For Leash Training?
Before you start thinking about putting a leash on your chicken and taking it for a walk – you need to spend some time socializing your chickens. Now, some of this may come naturally to you and you may already do much of this list but it’s worth repeating.
If your chickens are not socialized they’re simply not going to react well to a leash and then you’re going to end up with a panicking chicken and possibly some scratches as the scared bird gouges lumps out of you in its efforts to get away.
Fortunately this is a fairly simple process: you need to approach, handle and talk to your chickens in the right way, then learn to use treats to get to their hearts, use the pecking order, adopt a food-based training scheme, do some perch training, give them a little praise, take them for harness-free walks and then get them used to wearing something.
Once you’re through the socialization process, the harness training process ought to be very easy. However, if at any point you encounter strong resistance – it may be worth revisiting this process again and making sure that your chicken has completely adapted.
How To Approach Your Chickens
The best time to start socializing a chicken is during their upbringing as chicks. However, this isn’t always possible, and you may find that you introduce mature birds to your flock because of illness or adoption from another chicken owner.
That doesn’t mean that they can’t be socialized as adults, but it does mean that you need to work through this process in an even more painstaking fashion and repeat it regularly.
It begins with how you approach your chickens; they may not be able to fly but your average chicken is a flighty and panicky bird. If you want them to be calm enough to put a leash on them, then you need to approach the birds in a serene and gentle fashion.
If you rush them, they’re going to startle and that means they’ll be starting in a bad mood – not a good sign for the leash holder.
How To Handle Your Pet Chickens
We carry on as we began, chickens aren’t delicate flowers that are going to break on first contact with a human being but nor are they made out of granite and designed to take any kind of punishment as part of a handling process.
You should always treat a chicken as gently as possible when picking it up, you can gently trap their wings by their sides to stop them from flapping around (and if you’re going to give them an actual bath – this is going to be essential) but you shouldn’t use any real force to do so.
Never chase a chicken around (except in an emergency) wait for it to be in a position where you can pick it up without terrifying it. You want your chicken to trust you, if you want it to wear a leash – would you trust someone who jumped out of nowhere and chased you, around? No. So don’t do it to your chickens.
How To Talk To Pet Chickens
This might sound a little ridiculous at first and we’re not trying to turn you into some sort of chicken whisperer (though we’d probably go and see it at the movies) but you can communicate vocally with chickens and, sort of, in their own language.
If you must use English, you should keep your voice low, calm and soft but it’s better to try and emulate your chickens and they way they speak to each other. Listen to them when they’re calm and content and try to pick up on the clucking and cooing patterns, they use between each other.
You don’t have to get this perfectly right but it will establish you as, at the very least, a wannabe chicken trying to fit in with the flock and it will help all your chickens accept you as part of their flock.
Bring Treats For Your Chickens
We will be coming back to the concept of food quite a lot when we talk about training chickens, that’s because the average chicken is only really motivated by food – they don’t much care about your higher purposes in wanting to take them for a walk.
They’re not particularly interested in pleasing people or other chickens for that matter but the one thing they know for sure is that they love a tasty treat. If you keep some treats in your pocket every time that you visit your flock and let them take a little nibble, they’re going to form some positive associations with you.
It might not feel fair that you have to buy your chickens’ love, but this is how chickens work – they aren’t being mean, they’re being chickens.
Keep To The Pecking Order
You should spend some time observing your chickens and their established “pecking order”. That is the order of seniority which should, in theory at least, run from you as “top chicken” to the rooster to your “lead hen” all the way down the flock.
When you come to the flock you should greet each chicken in the pecking order correctly and offer them just a little treat to get them to acknowledge your presence (note: treats are ideal for the training process but you shouldn’t continue this forever).
If you do this, they will feel respected and ought to offer you their respect, in turn. Though this doesn’t mean that every chicken is going to get to like being picked up or taken for a walk, chickens are very much like people and some just aren’t going to be won over to everything you want them to be.
Food Based Training Scheme
When you’re training your chickens, you want to use the tastiest possible treats. This is going to lead to the best association with obeying your instructions and therefore, hopefully, to an increased level of obedience.
You have two simple objectives at this stage:
- Teach your chicken to come when you want them to. When they arrive as required a little scratch or a mealworm can help reinforce a job well done.
- Teach the chicken to sit in your lap. You want them just to hop up onto your lap (pat your lap gently) and then grab a reward for doing so.
If you can master these two steps, then you’re in good shape for the next bit of the training.
Set up a perch and then it’s time to get your chickens to jump on the perch on cue. Show them a treat and put it into a cup. Then gently tap the cup against the perch. Eventually, a brighter chicken will work out what’s meant to happen.
When they hop up on the perch, it’s time for one of those tasty treats again.
Eventually, at this stage, they start to jump when they see you because they’ve worked out what’s going on. Now, you can gently pick up your chicken and give them a reward for being picked up.
Let them go again as soon as they’ve had their treat. The idea is to fool them into thinking that being held is optional and that there are rewards for choosing the option.
Praising Your Chicken
We are not entirely convinced that chickens need praise. We think that tasty treats are the only real input that a chicken needs.
However, we also acknowledge that many chicken owners may want to give praise to their birds. The best time to do this is after the treat.
The bird may, over time, come to associate such praise with a reward and you might even be able to skip the reward on occasion.
Going For Walks Without A Harness
Before you expect your chicken to walk along side you, you might want to spend some time teaching the chicken to walk with you – while you do all the walking. This helps them overcome any panic they might feel at being separated from the flock.
So, the important thing here is that you start slowly. You pick your chicken up holding them under the breast in one arm. Walk only a few yards the first time then take them home to the coop and give them a treat.
On each additional journey, you can take them farther and farther until they’re happy to go some distance from the coop with you because they feel that they can fully trust you.
Get Them Used To Wearing Something
The next bit is important, it’s time to get your chicken used to wearing something, anything it can be a chicken harness, a little warming jersey, or anything that allows them to feel something on their back.
You should, of course, reward them for putting it on and again when removing it. This process can take a little while and the first time they feel something on their back, your chicken may freak out – if that happens, move onto another chicken, you can come back again later to the bird that lost the plot.
Once they are used to wearing something – you can, finally, move on to training your chicken to use a harness and a leash and take them for a walk.
How To Train Your Chicken To Use A Harness
OK, now it’s time for the main event, you’re going to teach your chicken how to walk while wearing a harness and a leash. Now, let’s be honest, we don’t think that this is an activity for every chicken owner.
While we believe that our socialization process is of benefit to all chickens and their owners because it develops a feeling of mutual understanding, empathy and tolerance – you don’t need to walk a chicken if it’s free range.
When this comes in handy is if you have a chicken that you’ve had to isolate from the other birds (maybe it’s being bullied or is recovering from illness) and you want to take it out for exercise or when there’s very limited space in your run or yard and you think your birds might benefit from burning a few more calories.
We discuss chicken obesity at length in other articles on the site and it is, believe it or not, a serious health issue for chickens. You can help your chickens stay in the shape that nature intended them to by helping them take a walk if they can’t get that walk in their current environment.
You may get the occasional odd look but really, walking a chicken isn’t much different from walking a dog, in principle.
What Is A Chicken Harness?
A chicken harness is rather like the harness that you see on a horse or a helper dog, it’s simply designed to gently restrain your chicken and then when you attach a leash to allow them to walk with you rather than making a run for it.
You can buy a chicken harness fairly cheaply online or you could, if you wanted, make your own chicken harness.
How Could You Make A Chicken Harness?
Making a chicken harness is pretty easy, you don’t need to be a world class seamstress to master the art of chicken harness making – though we’re sure that some of the better sewing folk out there can make much prettier harnesses than we can.
Measure Up Your Chicken
Your harness will be an H-shape pattern to begin with on a piece of cloth. To draw your “H” you need to measure two things about your chicken:
- How far it is around the chicken’s neck in diameter – you can leave a little extra room when you make your plans (so that you don’t strangle them when you put the harness on) but not so much extra that your chicken can shrug off the harness.
- How far it is around the waist of your chicken – this wants to be pretty snug as otherwise it’s not going to fit properly, use a finger’s width of space between the measuring tape and the bird.
You can now draw your “H” on the material. The middle line of the H is going to run up the chicken’s back (as you’d expect from seeing any other pet harness).
Scrap First, Real Fabric Second
Before you waste good material making this harness, it’s best to draw your H on some scrap fabric and try it on for size.
You want to check that:
- The two arms of the H have enough overlap that you can put some Velcro clasps in place to hold the harness snugly.
- That they are wide enough to support the Velcro too – Velcro comes in a standard width of 0.75 inches. If you don’t want to spend a whole day trying to cut it to size – allow another 0.25 inches for safety’s sake.
- The length of the harness should be fixed, and your Velcro should support this fitting comfortably on your chicken.
It’s always better to make certain that you have everything right before you make it out of good material. You want to allow the mid-line of the “H” to sit along the back of your happy little chicken and just wrap the arms about its neckline and waist.
At this point, you’re looking to make sure that the whole thing is going to sit comfortably on your chicken – you really don’t want a harness to cause them any injury. If you find it’s a little too tight – you can always start again with some more scrap and redraw your pattern, no harm, no foul (which works much better as a pun when you say it out loud 😉).
Draw The Pattern On The Fabric You Will Use
Now that you’re happy with your harness pattern – it’s time to redraw that pattern on the fabric that you want to make the harness out of. Take your time and make sure it’s a good match for the scrap material pattern, it’s easy to let errors creep in if you rush things.
Then take some heavy-duty shears and cut out the “H” pattern from the fabric.
If you don’t know what to use as material – our recommendation is canvas. It’s durable, stretchy and cheap and its light enough that it won’t cause any discomfort to your chickens.
Then Make A D-Ring Piece From The Same Fabric
Now, the last bit of measuring for the moment. You need a strap to attach the D-ring to the harness and you make that out of your canvas too.
It should be a single strip of fabric of roughly an inch wide and a little shorter than the H-shaped piece was.
Sew On The Strapping Piece
Now, it’s time to do the heavy-duty work – the sewing. We’d recommend using a sewing machine if you can but it’s fine to hand sew if your stitches are strong (we recommend a zig-zag pattern).
Sew, the top of the strip to the harness. Then add the D-Ring before you sew the bottom of the strip to the harness. Don’t forget the D-Ring as you’ll have to do it all over again if you do.
Attach The Velcro Straps
You want to double stitch when you add the Velcro to your harness because it will ensure that it really holds when your chicken decides to strain at the leash. You don’t need zig-zags here though, that’s overkill.
The final part is simply adding a hemline with any stitch that you feel will do the job.
We’d estimate that an experienced sewing person is going to make short work of chicken harnesses and even if you’ve never done this before – it should take less than 30 minutes. It’s a very easy job and don’t forget as long as the harness works and is comfortable, your chickens won’t care what it looks like – they’re chickens not art critics.
The Use Of The Harness And The Leash
Congratulations! All the hard work is nearly over – now it’s time to put that harness on your pet chicken and strut around the block, proudly, demonstrating the bond between human and chicken.
Firstly, you need to get that harness on your chicken though:
- Make your chicken calm. This is the almost zen-like part of walking a chicken. You may want to pet your chicken if they like being petted or cuddle them if they enjoy that. Otherwise, some sweet talk and a treat should do.
- Slip the harness on the chicken. This comes with practice, if at first you don’t succeed and your chicken gets a bit riled, don’t force the issue give them an hour or two to calm down and then try again.
- Slide your harness on carefully. It’s the first time, you’re bound to struggle a little, so relax and go slow. Get the Velcro properly in place.
- Attach the leash. Then add the leash to the D-Ring and your chicken should now be fully dressed and, assuming you’re still holding one end of the leash, ready to walk.
Walking Your Chicken
It’s best not to go on a huge walk before you get the chicken used to wearing the harness. Start small and wander around the back yard and slowly work up to a trip down the lane and then longer walks until your chicken loves to go for a walk. Don’t rush it.
Why Are We Doing This Again?
We walk chickens when they’re not able to get exercise within their environment by other means. You may also find that it can come in useful if you want to show your chickens as it means you can take them to relieve themselves occasionally.
It’s also quite a lot of fun to walk a chicken and when people see you walking a chicken, they’ll come up and say “hi” and get enthusiastic about chickens too!
We hope that this guide “how to walk a chicken on a leash: what you need to know” has been helpful and that you know feel confident about teaching your chickens to walk. Remember, you have to socialize your birds before you can train them to walk otherwise, you’re looking at a panicked chicken.
However, once you’ve done that bit, then teaching your chicken to use a harness and a leash becomes child’s play. You shouldn’t find it very hard to help a socialized chicken enjoy a walk outside each day at all. We hope that you both have a lot of fun together.