Why Do Dogs Kill Birds? + How to Stop the Killing & Chasing

why do dogs kill birds

For many new owners it will often come as a surprise that some dogs kill birds. It’s a habit mainly associated with cats, so for dogs to chase and attack birds whilst getting a thrill from the kill isn’t often spoken about. But it can become problematic and upsetting for some owners, and I’ve experienced it myself with our own dog.

Today I wanted to share with you a helpful guide that explains why dogs kill birds, why your dog might keep doing it despite your best efforts, and then some tips on how you can try to stop the killing with training and cheap products.

Despite what you might think, it is quite normal for some dogs to chase, attack, and kill birds, and I will explain why below.

Why does my dog kill birds?

Below are all the reasons why your dog keeps killing birds. Not all dogs will follow the chase through to a kill, some just like running after them. Either way, if you want to know why dogs kill birds, here are the reasons, followed by ways you can then stop it.

1. Killing is in their genes and DNA

Dogs are descended from wild canids and are closely related to the wolf. This means that so much of your modern domestic dog’s behavior is still rooted in the what his ancestors used to do.

Think about how they would have to behave in the wild, and what their natural prey would have been. They would have hunted small mammals such as birds and mice, and so a lot of this is still part of their DNA today. This is despite the fact they don’t actually need to kill and eat birds to survive – unless they are strays of course.

An example of how the act of chasing, attacking, and killing birds is instinctive behavior which they love to do is seen when dogs play fetch. When you throw a ball and they chase it, this is harking back to the rush of adrenaline they would have got from the thrill of the chase when hunting birds.

is it normal for my dog to kill birds
It’s normal for dogs to chase and kill birds. Image via https://pixabay.com/photos/retrieve-dog-german-quail-1753023/

The game of fetch simply mimics this in-grained and instinctive behavior that’s still in their genes today.

You can take this instinct one step further, as dogs have also been bred through the centuries to help man hunt. Certain breeds have evolved to be super intense hunting animals.

Whilst hunting dogs aren’t used as much today as they would have been in centuries past, almost all dogs still have the instinct to chase and hunt in their DNA. This ancestral lineage comes through when your dog keeps killing birds.

2. Killing to impress their owner

There’s then a theory that dogs like to kill birds and small animals due to pack mentality. In days gone by, wild dogs would have lived in packs, and there would have been a clear hierarchy of leadership in the group.

In modern times, you and your family are the pack, and it’s likely that your dog sees you as the leader of that pack.

When dogs kill birds and then bring them back to you, it’s their way of trying to do their bit for the pack as a provider, impress the pack leader, show off to you all, or even teach you how to hunt yourself.

I’ve written extensively about why dogs bring dead birds back to their owners in another blog post, but the pack theory certainly seems very believable to me.

3. Killing to get attention

Dogs will often exhibit what we believe to be negative behaviors in order to get attention from us. For example, let’s say your dog killed a bird and dumped it in your kitchen yesterday and this led to lots of excited screams and panic from the humans, then he might want to do that again.

Think about the reality for your dog’s brain; it was probably a lot of fun for him, and he would have loved you chasing him out of the kitchen for being bad by attacking and killing birds.

Dogs love over-excited reactions. It’s like play to them, so if they know you are going to chase and get manic each time they kill a bird, it stands to reason they will keep on doing it.

4. Killing due to hunger or a dietary issue

It sounds so obvious, but perhaps you’re not feeding your dog what he needs. He could be resorting to attacking birds to satisfy a big appetite. For example, dogs that get a lot of exercise will need more food and calories, so perhaps he’s killing and eating birds to fill an empty stomach.

Alternatively, it might be that your dog isn’t getting enough meat-based protein and goodness into his diet. His body could be telling him that he needs to get this by eating birds and small mammals he hunts and chases down.

You should speak with your vet, explain the problem of bird chasing, and get professional advice on your dog’s diet. 

How do I stop my dog from killing birds?

Now that I’ve explained why dogs kill birds, you probably want to know how you can stop them attacking and killing them in the first place. Some of these are preventative methods, some are actual ways you can train your dog to not attack birds.

What I did was put some social media out asking dog owners and experts how they have stopped their dog attacking and killing birds in the past. I had so many great suggestions which I’ve managed to compile into the advice below.

How to train your dog to not attack birds

1. Attach a bell to your dog’s collar

This is more of a way of stopping your dog killing bird than a training method, but it’s probably one of the most effective as it gives the birds an early warning.

All you do is attach a bell to your dog’s collar. The next time he tries to sneak up on a bird, the bell collar will ring no matter how stealth like he is trying to be, letting the bird fly away to safety before the chase and attack.

You can’t find many dog collars that come with bells, so the next best thing is to buy a cat collar bell which you can then clip to your dog one. Here’s a pack of bells on Amazon or click the image below.

2. Distract your dog with something more interesting

Dogs like to kill birds because of the movement, thrill of the chase, catch, and final kill. It’s an instinctive thing that’s in their genes and DNA.

But because the whole killing of birds is so motivated by the bird’s movement, you can replicate this with something else to divert their attention. Many dog owners I spoke to happen to be outside when the bird chase and attack happens, meaning they can quickly spring into action.

What they do is have something like a toy on a piece of string. They can quickly start the game up, be vocal, and get the dog to run after you instead… after all, you will be much more interesting, particularly if there’s a treat reward at the end of the line.

You can either use a favorite toy or appeal to your dog’s hunting instincts with something that smells great on the end of the string such as a meat-based treat. If it’s a toy, you can’t really go wrong with a squeaky bird toy on Amazon.

3. Distract your dog with a vocal command

My dog goes crazy when he sees a squirrel or bird in our local woods and will often give chase immediately. He will often completely ignore his recall training and bolt off with no regard for what I am saying… with one exception.

The word “stick”.

The reason being, as soon as I shout that special word, my dog thinks we’re just about to play his favorite game of fetch. It literally stops my dog dead in his tracks, he will stop chasing the bird, turn back, and then come to me in anticipation.

If you have a word like this which you know really appeals to your four-legged friend’s psyche, try using it to stop your dog killing a bird next time the chase starts.

4. Distract your dog with noise aversion

On a similar tip, some dog owners stop their dog chasing birds with things like whistles. You can buy emergency whistles on Amazon that let out an unpleasant and high-pitched sound.

Blow on it really hard the moment your dog starts to chase or attack a bird, and chances are he could stop the killing immediately.

5. Traditional training methods for stopping bird attacks

You can train your dog not to attack birds, but it will take a lot more work and some perseverance. To do so I would recommend watching some of the excellent videos on YouTube, one of which I’ve embedded below.

But in short, training aspects like the following can help to stop your dog from chasing birds:

  • Start with recall training when your dog is a puppy.
  • Train them to understand the “leave it” command.
  • Use leash training and reward-based incentives.

6. Give your dog plenty of exercise and attention

Dogs will often exhibit unwanted behavior when they are unhappy and don’t have enough stimulation. If your dog keeps killing birds, it could be due to a lot pent-up energy. By keeping them mentally stimulated and exercised, they might not have the energy to chase and attack birds.

See if taking your dog for longer walks, or perhaps additional walks helps. You can also play with them in the garden or yard. Games like frisbee and ball will replicate a lot of the actions they do when chasing birds, so this could reduce their appetite for killing.

7. Make sure your dog isn’t near birds when hungry

If your dog is attacking and killing birds when you are out walking, it could be a hunger issue. An empty stomach will increase their hunting instincts, making prey look a lot more appetizing than it normally would.

However, don’t feed your dog just before heavy exercise as this can be bad for them. Instead make sure that their last meal was at least 2 hours before walk and play.

8. Keep your dog on a leash

It’s the obvious solution to your dog killing birds, and not ideal, but might be the best thing you can do before he’s trained to stop the chasing and attacking.

This doesn’t have to mean your dog’s walk is no less fun. I’d recommend investing in a retractable dog leash, so your pup still have the freedom to get a run going and explore (almost) on their own terms.

Here’s a great option on Amazon (click the photo below).

9. Discourage birds away from your home

If your dog is killing birds on your property, then there has to be something that is making the chasing and attacking easier than it really should be. After all, birds don’t really want to be landing on a dog’s territory unless there’s something really appealing there for them.

To stop birds putting themselves at risk look for things like food sources that might be attracting them. It could be bird tables you have outdoors, or even some branches you need to cut down.

Another option can be bird deterrents. You can buy fake owls which are said to scare most birds away (here’s a fake owl on Amazon), or better still, a reflective mechanism like the one below which birds hate – this can also keep birds away from your dog’s water bowl too.

Dog breeds that are more prone to killing birds

All dog breeds can kill birds, as it’s in their DNA, but there are some breeds that are more prone to it than others. These are typically the dogs who have a high prey drive and have been bred to hunt.

The table below shows the dog types who more commonly have the bird chasing and attacking habit.

Afghan HoundsGreyhounds
Airedale TerriersIrish Wolfhounds
Alaskan MalamutesJack Russell Terriers
Australian Cattle DogsPharaoh Hounds
BasenjisRhodesian Ridgebacks
BeaglesSalukis
Border ColliesSamoyeds
Bull MastiffsShiba Inus
Bull TerriersSiberian Huskies
ChihuahuasWeimaraners
Doberman PinschersWhippets
English Springer SpanielsYorkshire Terriers
German ShepherdsXoloitzcuintlis

Conclusion

It is normal for dogs to kill birds, and then even eat them. As disgusting as it is you should not scold them but instead find ways to stop the killing or train them not to do it, I hope the tips above have helped.

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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