Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What do Roosters and Dogs Have in Common?
How to be Completely Dominant Over Your Dog
About Roosters Asserting Dominance
I was recently offered to write articles for Paw Nation, a website that hosts a vast array of articles about wildlife and exotic animals. As much as I really love to exclusively write about dogs, at times I stumble on titles that intrigue me such as those tackling phenotypic traits, unusual behaviors and habitats of animals. At times, I also find titles that somehow relate to dogs. Today, I claimed an article about stopping a rooster from attacking people and was quite baffled from what I read as I looked for references. It sort of felt like an irritating deja' vu that raised my "hackle feathers" so to speak...Let me start off by saying that I have owned and trained chickens, and if you haven't owned any, they're smarter than you think. I always treated them with the utmost respect and kindness.
Well, it turns out that roosters are victims of the same dominance myths just as dogs. As I Googled "rooster dominance" here are some interesting sentences that rang an alarming bell:
- "Never let a rooster assert his dominance in your presence"
- "Roosters crow to communicate dominance"
- "Roosters are aggressive for only one reason: dominance."
- "Never allow a cockeral to mate a hen in your presence as this is a dominance display."
- "Roosters put there heads down like they are pecking the ground when they are challenging you."
- "You must establish dominance over your aggressive rooster"
- "The alpha rooster asserts his dominance constantly"
Now, let's precise that it's known as a fact that among flocks of chicken there is some form of hierarchical system going on. Indeed, the term "pecking order" was first described by Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe in 1921 using the German words " Hackordnung or Hackliste." The term is inspired by the fact that chickens use pecking as a defense in a sort of ritualized aggression manner. The purpose of the pecking order is to avoid serious fighting over resources because it's a futile expense of time and energy, not to mention a risky business as well. When a pecking order is in place, it's used to determine which chickens will get priority access to resources, something quite valid especially when resources are quite scarce. This prevents chickens from engaging in dangerous, time-consuming, and most of all, potential life-threatening fights.
T-Rex Nuggets to Go?
Are Roosters Trying to Dominate the World?
Just as in dogs, roosters are erroneously believed to be dominant creatures with a desire to rule the world on their agenda--and this involves exerting dominance over humans. Be careful: if you aren't establishing dominance over your rooster, he'll be trying to put you in place and it won't be pretty! You'll literally see Sir Crowington turn into Godzilla. And just so you know, if you have a paralyzing fear of chickens and roosters, your fear in not unfounded; indeed, did you know that chickens are believed to be related to Tyrannosaurus rex? For more about this read this, read the following article on Life Science "T-Rex Related to Chickens"
So what to do if you own a so-called "dominant" rooster?. Several websites suggest different strategies to solve the problem. Here are some methods sadly strikingly similar to alpha rolls and other outdated coercive methods suggested to use on so-called "dominant" dogs.
According to Living in the Country Life: "You should start by catching and holding the crossed cock of feathered fury whenever he starts acting up. "Typically the best way to hold it is take one hand and hold both shanks sort of together so it can't kick you and try getting away," says Clauer. "Then hold your arm around the wing and the body of the bird, and just hold it still until it calms down and realizes that it's not going anywhere, you're in charge, and you're not going to give in. If he starts in again when you put him down, do it again. Be persistent, as it is a slow learning process. Eventually your rooster will come to grips with the reality of the situation, submitting to your rule of the chicken coop."
Now, roosters who aren't used to being handled or see you as a threat, will likely fight back until exhausted. What looks like "calming down" and "submitting to you" in reality, just as in dogs, may just be a case of learned helplessness. The rooster just learns that you are unpredictable and not worthy of trust.
Other websites suggest to "grab the rooster and hold it upside down" and "lift the rooster up to eye level and stare at him in the eye" or worse, "turn him into a delicious potato and dumpling meal." And it's unfortunate that many poor misunderstood roosters do indeed turn into potato and dumpling meals because these methods make them more and more defensive, creating a vicious cycle!
Understanding Chicken Pecking Order
The Truth About Roosters and How to Reduce Aggression
So are roosters really ready to take over the world? Of course, that's a very silly idea that may perhaps inspire a creative producer of sci-fi movies. Until we'll be eating roosters for dinner, we know for a fact that humans are completely in charge of their lives. As humans, we are in charge of their living quarters, how much they eat and how many hens they have access to. So if roosters aren't really that interested in dominating us, why in the world would some of them attack us?
Turns out...drum roll please... that roosters are just being roosters. According to United Poultry Concerns, a rooster's ultimate mission in life is a very noble one: to protect and serve his flock. This desire is so hardwired that they will need no instructions on how to watch for dangers and stand guard. They'll do what it takes to protect their flock and fight off predators. And this often means attacking people if they feel like they are a threat.
Fighting the rooster to assert dominance over him, not only is very silly as this puts humans at an even level with roosters, but it is also counterproductive. First and foremost it can be dangerous as threatened roosters can aim for the eyes (my dad has still a scar between his eyes from an unpleasant encounter), and secondly, if you fight the rooster back or do other unpleasant things to him, you'll be convincing him more and more that you're an actual threat.
So how do you deal with a rooster that attacks you? In a similar fashion as you would when dealing with a dog who resource guards food, toys and bones; you desensitize and countercondition. In other words, you get him gradually and systematically used to your presence and you change his emotions about you, raising the levels of trust. And I know this method works for a fact.
My parents in law had a mean rooster. They kept him at bay by chasing him away using a broom kept right by the hen house. I really felt bad for this boy, so I tried walking every day by the hen house, but not that close to his hens as to make him feel threatened and eager to attack. I would then casually toss a handful of cracked corn. When I did this, he would call his harem of hens to join him for dinner. Day after day, he allowed me to come closer. After a couple of weeks, he even allowed me to go in the hen house to get eggs! From a threat, I became an ally and he even gave signs of looking forward to seeing me too!
Robert Plamondon, a benign "chicken whisperer" confirms that these methods work. In his article on "Help for Aggressive Roosters" he recommends to avoid fighting the rooster for the simple "glory of vanquishing an eight-pound bird." Instead, he recommends to act in an "un-rooster-like manner" , ignoring his invitations to fight and feeding him a handful of tasty grains instead.
So if roosters are really dominant, their behavior shouldn't change in for the better by feeding them, right? They should still need humans to show them who is boss by turning them upside down. But surprisingly, instead, turning them upside down and holding them into submission doesn't work; actually, it often makes problems worse causing people to want to engage in an increasingly coercive spiral nearing abuse. There are even stories of roosters being killed this way!
Also, if roosters are really so predisposed to being dominant, giving them one-on-one time when they are young should have little effect on their future behaviors. Instead it turns out that if you raise your rooster from an early age, getting him used to being held, touched, carried, and talked to, he'll be less likely to perceive you as a threat. Indeed, according to Rural Living Today, " the more a cockerel is handled as a chick, the less likely he is to become an aggressive rooster." And the same goes on with our four-legged companions.
Alexadry© All rights reserved, dog not copy.
DOMINANCE DEBUNKED- The Myths & Realities of Training Dogs
For Further Reading
- Dog Behavior: The Power of Counter-Conditioning
Dog counter-conditioning is behavior modification technique that goes to the root of your dog's problem by changing your dog's underlying emotional responses.
- Dog Behavior: Understanding The Process of Desensiti...
What is dog desensitization and how do you start the process? How does your dog become sensitized to a stimuli and how do you un-do it? This guide is a helpful for dog owners interesting in learning about the science behind changing dog behavior.
- A Guide to Dog Behavior Modification Techniques and ...
Say NO to coercion and say YES to rewards. Learn effective modern based dog behavior modification techniques. As the words imply, behavior modification entails modifying a dog's behavior for the purposes of increasing or decreasing wanted and...
- Understanding the Dog Fight or Flight Response
Understanding dog fight and flight response is important if you're planning on learning more about your dog behavior. Learn how fight & flight responses are important in changing dog behavior.
- When Dog Behavior Modification for Aggression isn't ...
This guide is meant to help those dog owners who have been implementing dog behavior modification for aggression and aren't seeing desired results. Following are some helpful troubleshooting tips.
- Can you Reinforce Your Dog's Fear?
We are always told not to pet, cuddle or comfort a fearful dog because this may reinforce fear. But can you really reinforce fear in your dog? Learn what the experts say about this.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 04, 2015:
Awww... glad you got to have this rooster trust you and that he know even cuddles with you! Chicken are often underestimated, they are very smart and can be clicker trained too! There are some amazing videos on youtube!
cheriepie on August 31, 2015:
This article is fantastic. A breath of fresh air to see someone advocating--gasp!---treating them with kindness instead of beating them.
I have four roosters, all Asian gamefowl breeds, one actually rescued from cockfighting. One of my boys, when he was about 4-5 months old, started getting just a little aggressive. He'd peck my hand whenever it came near him, and try to spur me if I grabbed one of the other boys (defending his brothers--can't really get too mad at him for that!) I read up on chicken body language, same as I taught myself dog and horse body language, and reacted accordingly. Now that rooster hops in my lap to snuggle and cuddle with me.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 20, 2013:
Thanks wetnosedogs, as with other animals, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on October 20, 2013:
Congratulations on getting work on Paw Nation!
Interesting about Roosters. I was wondering if you were serious about how to handle a rooster to calm him down! Glad your tossing corn worked well.