Whole shelves in bookstores are devoted to dog training. It’s hard to find someone who can’t name a dog whisperer. We have all heard of the romantic horse training masters. There is even a show on training cantankerous cats and frisky felines.
But… who can you turn to when Chanticleer gets, well, cocky?
And, in the words of the great Foghorn Leghorn,¦“I say, I say, there, where in the heck is the rooster whisperer? This boy is, I say, this boy is hankering for a mix-up. Put up them dukes.
What do you do when…
Your sweet chicks are getting those pointy primaries and other hallmarks of male-ness. Break out the blue cigars. With the help of my boys and our friends on Youtube, let’s take, I say, let’s take a (sorry, I couldn’t resist) saunter down the road of rooster behavior.
Chicken society is more closely related to horse herds than to dog packs- it is flexible and plastic.
Wisdom is held and dished out by the older birds, both male and female. Older hens school cockerels. Cocks rarely need to get involved with the cockerels, as the young males know not to challenge the older males. We mess this up by NOT having a mixed age flock. Older birds school younger ones. Chicken flocks naturally contain several adult males, with one, two or more leading males.
Adult males have a job to do. They are responsible for finding food, keeping everyone safe and maintaining peace (they are the flock policemen and this job is shared with the older hens).
Chickens communicate through body language and spoken language. Both are important methods of communication and are used simultaneously in conversation. You will need to be watching and reading both and using both when communicating with the birds. The birds are also reading your body language. This is important as you will need to be especially aware of the signals you are sending to the birds. In horsemanship this is called gaining feel, since we all interact with subtle as well as louder signals. It is critical to be able to observe the subtle signals.
Learn to talk Dude
Here are a few language lessons to get you speaking chicken, while debunking some common rooster misinterpretations.
I’m happy to see you and I think you are really cool. A rooster will turn sideways and give you a soft eye. He will bow, tidbit (touch the ground quickly and pick up things to give you as a gift), incline his body in an arc while dropping the shoulder that is on your side. The opposite shoulder will be raised. He will dance as he steps towards you. Some roosters make a “coo” or trill while they are dancing towards you.
Some will bump you and grab you with their beak (they don’t have hands). Respond by telling him he is wonderful and that you think he is the best thing! Cuddle and pet him. This is an important bonding moment these are flock animals bonding, mutual grooming and gift giving are used to maintain relationships in the flock.
Below is a video of a rooster trying to find release from being pressured by these two people. They are blocking his escape routes and making him feel uncomfortable. The rooster just doesn’t feel safe.
You are scaring me and you just don’t look right. Many people misinterpret this as aggression. Your rooster is simply telling you he wants you out of Dodge. What happens here is that subtle tests and displays have been ignored or answered incorrectly. This is common in nervous cockerels and those that lack confidence. Possible reactions:
a. The human runs away reinforcing the behavior. The rooster thinks, aha, that worked, good. Boy, am I relieved. Hmm, that person isn’t any good.
b. The human teases, hits or engages the rooster in a fight. The rooster thinks, aha, I KNEW you were no good and NOW I have proof!”
Both a and b are circumstances were the human solidifies and encourages the aggressive displays in the rooster. Both are lose-lose.
Some of the bird’s warning signs appear similar to the happy to see you display, but with tense body language. The rooster will turn sideways and display that to you (just like a bull). He will have an energized body and lifted hackles. The eye turned to you is not soft and will glare. He may begin grabbing at the ground or pretending to eat, or walking up to you with an upright posture with or without a dropped inside shoulder. Attacks happen with lightening speed at any time during this conversation.
What you need to do:
- Some cockerels go through a rough-housing phase. Deal with it. They outgrow this.
- If an older bird has entrenched aggressive displays use negative reinforcement. This tells the rooster that HIS attacks will get him nowhere. They will also get him unpleasant results.
- Utilize the spray bottle.
When the rooster exhibits the FIRST sign of aggression (glaring eye, body tilt, snatching at the ground in the pretend eating display), say a firm no as you walk towards him. Your goal is to get him to back off and yield ground to you. Keep approaching him, say no and then give him one good squirt. He will look surprised and think how did THAT happen. Back off him then, as you need to let him process the event without pressure. Animals learn from the RELEASE of pressure – not from pressure.
Go about your business and if he regroups give him another squirt. Reward positive behavior by immediately praising him. Take time to hold and love on him. Give him treats and provide plenty of positive reinforcements. Whenever he shows aggressive displays he gets the squirt. Always warn him first with the no. He has the option to get, or not get, the squirt! By remaining neutral (this is absolutely paramount), you are giving HIM the power to shape what happens. He will gain confidence as well.
Social Tip: Chickens have mutual grooming sessions. They run their beaks through each others face feathers (the ones they can’t reach themselves). One bird will assume the groom me posture asking the other bird to pet him or her. The bird will freeze and tilt their head towards the bird that is being asked to groom.
Tussle the chin feathers on your roosters. They will love this and many will begin cleaning your clothes or hair. Tilt your head towards the bird and they will groom you too! If you wet your hair, no bird can resist that as a groom me signal!
Final note: Chickens enjoy being with young friends and they love to hang-out with kids, but young children should never be involved in retraining roosters or hens that are struggling with aggressive displays. Because of their small size and jerky movements, they invoke fear and wariness in anxious birds. Happy, socialized birds = happy kids, now THAT is a win win!
Share your love my chickens stories in the comment section! We love to hear how awesome chickens are!