For those of us who keep chickens, and like them, it is really easy to get attached to them. Their personalities and the way they interact with the world around them are so endearing, and it gets worse when you start to form a bond with a particular chicken.
Naturally, you might want to allow your chosen chicken in the house with you as a sort of pet. But even a moment’s thought will reveal the problems with that idea.
Chickens poop, and they poop a lot. They don’t ask to be let out like a dog and they don’t use a litter box instinctively like a cat.
Actually, that’s a good question: is there a way to potty train a chicken?
Yes, chickens can be potty trained, but not easily and not with a 100% success rate. Chickens have little control over their bowel movements compared to mammals.
Chickens are pretty intelligent, no doubt about it, but this doesn’t mean that potty training them or training them to do anything, for that matter, is going to be easy.
There are fundamental and physiological obstacles that you’ll need to overcome if you want to potty train your chicken so it can hang out in the house with you. Keep reading to learn more.
I Cannot Train my Chickens to Do Anything. Can I Really Potty Train Them?
Yes, it is possible in the strictest sense to potty train a chicken. But chickens are well known for being difficult bordering on impossible to train, at least compared to mammals.
But come up with the right approach, patience and the right incentives it is possible to potty train your chicken so it doesn’t make a mess all over your house or in any other space.
I will warn you upfront: be prepared for a long ordeal and, at the end of the day, you have no guarantee that this will work.
Why Would Chickens Need Potty Training?
For most chicken keepers, their birds will never need potty training. That’s because they’ll just use the bathroom outside like they have since forever.
In the coop, in the run or out roaming in the yard, chickens tend to go wherever and whenever they need to…
This is the way it is supposed to be and is just fundamentally part of being a chicken. They certainly don’t need potty training in such a case.
But if you want to let your chicken in the house with you, or keep them in any other indoor area that is atypical, potty training is pretty much the only way to prevent them from making a horrendous mess wherever they go.
In short, it is rarely required, but for one or two special chickens it is a good idea.
Potty Training Chickens is Exceedingly Difficult
Now, let’s get to the bad news. The bad news is that training a chicken to do anything, and potty training them in particular is extremely difficult.
There are several fundamental reasons for this: first and foremost, chickens just don’t respond to human interaction and verbal commands like other animals, mammals in particular.
They are certainly intelligent but chickens, like most birds, are just not wired that way.
Furthermore, the concept of using a designated spot for each and every bowel movement is a pretty intricate concept, and chickens have no compunction whatsoever about pooping where they live and sleep, so you have that working against you.
Chickens Do Not Have Control Over When They Go
The other major hurdle we must overcome when attempting to potty train a chicken is that they generally go at the instant whenever they feel the urge.
If you’ve ever noticed your chicken is just walking around pooping seemingly at random, there is a reason for that.
The reason is that chickens, like all birds, lack a sphincter muscle that permits them more control over the movement and discharge of solid waste.
Said another way, whenever it is time for a chicken to poop, they just poop, and they have little control over the timing of it.
That being said, they do have a certain degree of control, and we must incentivize and teach the chicken to use this control in order to get a reward. This is the only way to effectively potty train a chicken, and we’ll talk about those steps just below.
But first, you’ll need a few things.
What Do you Need for Potty Training?
Luckily, you only need a few things to successfully potty train a chicken, assuming it’s possible for them to learn.
The two most important things are your chicken’s favorite food or treats, to be used as a reward, and any object that makes a clear, easily recognizable sound you can use as a signal.
I highly recommend using a training clicker, small bell, buzzer or something like that. Pick something that is easy to keep on you at all times.
Lastly, get puppy training pads, newspaper, an actual litter box or anything else that you want your chicken to actually poop on.
Basics of Potty Training Your Chicken
The following steps will help you potty train your chicken.
Step 1: Learn Your Chicken’s Potty Indicators
This first step is vital. You need to really pay attention to your chicken. Observe them as they go about their day and you will start to notice that they probably have a pre-poop behavior or set of behaviors.
Your chicken might dark back and forth, squat down a couple of times, stand really still, puff up their neck feathers or anything else. It is often unique to the individual chicken.
Once you think you have positively identified this behavior, keep it in mind.
Step 2: Give Chicken the Signal when You See Potty Indicators
Begin the potty training by bringing your chicken indoors and taking him to the litter box or pooping spot and keeping in there until he does his business once or twice.
When he does, give him the signal using your chosen noise maker. Don’t give the chicken verbal praise, because they can easily confuse it when they hear you talking and that is counterproductive.
Now, as your chicken moves around your home and you notice that pre-pooping set of behaviors we identified in step one, give them the signal.
Step 3: Take Chicken to Litterbox / Potty Spot
After you give the chicken the signal, grab them and take them to the potty spot or litter box until they do their business. When they do their business, sound the signal again.
There will be accidents, lots of them, just accept it and be ready for plenty of cleanup.
Step 4: Give Treat
After you sound the signal and the chicken poops in the potty spot, give them a tiny tidbit of their favorite food or treat as a reward. Only give them the treat when they poop in the potty spot.
You’ll give them a treat every time they manage to accomplish this, so keep the portions tiny so you don’t blow their dietary requirements.
Step 5: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Now, the truly hard part. You repeat these steps over and over and over again in the hope that your chicken will make the connection between pooping in a specific place and getting a treat.
The cycle looks like this:
- you observe pre-pooping behavior
- sound signal
- take the chicken to the potty spot
- chicken poops
- sound signal
- and give treat
This requires lots of diligence and an equal amount of patience, and keep in mind there is a chance that your chicken frankly will not put two and two together.
All you can do is try, but remember that it is possible for this to work and with enough repetition and a little luck your chicken will soon be darting off to the potty spot every time it needs to poop.
Food is Your Only Reliable Motivator
I want to reinforce the concept that food is your best and pretty much only option for incentivizing your chicken during this task.
Yes, chickens have emotions. Yes, chickens even form bonds with people like other animals. However, nothing works as well as food when it comes to potty training.
Do not expect to pet or verbally praise your chicken and have it respond like a dog or cat would. That just won’t work.
Consider Chicken Diapers
One of the best ways to get around the chicken potty training dilemma is to skip it entirely. This is not to say you can’t bring your chicken inside with you.
If you are sure you want to, consider equipping your chicken with a specially made diaper.
Yes, that means you’ll have to take care of a diaper changing duty, but this is a far simpler and more straightforward solution for keeping the interior of a building sanitary if a chicken is going to be inside.
Consider, too, the people have been putting diapers on birds for various purposes for some time now, so it’s a much easier problem to solve.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.