Q. My dog thinks our pet bird is prey. How do I get him to stop?

A. Just because our dogs eat their meals out of a food bowl doesn’t mean predatory behavior is nonexistent. Predatory behavior remains instinctive to dogs, even though it’s been thousands of years since they evolved from the wolf. While predatory behavior toward small animals may only go as far as the chase, with no harm done to the animal, some dogs may proceed further, depending on the situation and their excitement levels.

If your canine tries to injure or kill the bird, or has a past history of killing small animals, consult with your veterinarian for guidance or a possible referral to a qualified professional.

Watch for signs of predatory behavior in your dog. Freezing, stiffened body posture, hardened eyes and a tightly closed mouth are signs of predation. Your dog may stalk other animals, crouching down toward the ground and walking with calculated steps. His tail may stiffen and stand up straight. Intense focus on the smaller animal is another indication of predation. The predatory sequence can be extremely fast, with some dogs showing very little warning before they move in for the attack. Quick or sudden movements from the potential prey animal can trigger the chase sequence from the dog.

Keep Your Bird Safe

The safety of the bird and the prevention of an incident are paramount. Even if your dog is simply showing interest in your bird, rather than exhibiting predatory behavior, he can still accidentally injure your bird in play. Supervision and secure housing for the bird is a must. Birds should be kept in strongly protected housing, high out of the dog’s reach. The cage should be securely attached; it should not be possible for your pooch to jump up and knock it over.

Many birds have high socialization needs, so shutting them up in a room away from the dog isn’t the best solution; this can be stressful for your bird because it limits her ability to interact with people. Instead, create a safe space in your main living area by setting up an exercise pen around the cage to keep the dog away.

If you are removing the bird from the cage, put your dog in a secure area, out of sight of the bird, with a productive toy such as a stuffed Kong. Alternatively, put the dog on leash with someone else holding the other end. Reward the dog with treats for calm behavior around the bird, such as sit or down stay. Active behaviors that keep the dog busy while still on leash, such as fetching a stuffed toy, can help keep his focus off the bird. You might also consider putting the bird on a leash when you take her out of the cage, to prevent her from escaping and going within your dog’s reach.

The more opportunities your dog has to expend energy throughout the day, such as walks and games of fetch, the more likely he is to be relaxed at home — and not torment your bird. By redirecting his focus and rewarding calm behaviors, you can shift your dog’s attention away from the bird. If your pooch remains bird-obsessed or repeatedly tortures your bird, professional intervention is needed. Being an object of prey puts stress on a bird, and rehoming may be the best option if she is repeatedly stalked, lunged at or otherwise tortured by your dog.