How do I stop my dog chasing?

4 October 2009 234 Comments
How do I stop my dog chasing?

Many dogs are confined to a lead, re-homed, or worse, because their owners can’t stop them chasing.  It’s not their owners’ fault, they’ve spent hours out in the foulest weather shouting, yelling, pleading, cajoling and worrying. The better dog trainers tell them, “It’s a recall problem. More obedience exercises!” and that might help for a while, but the problem’s deeper than that.

In order to find the answer though, we need to ask a different question. It’s not, “How do I stop my dog chasing…”, or even, “Why does my dog chase…?” but rather, “What does my dog get out of chasing?”

Stop! How To Control Predatory Chasing In DogsUpdate:
As a result of the very successful APBC predatory chase seminars and the frequent requests for more information on the subject, I’ve expanded this article into a full book, “Stop!” How to control predatory chasing in dogs.Find Out More

Like any good detective, you always have to look for the motivation. There are a number of reasons a dog can seem to chase, including things as diverse as fear, territorial behaviour and social interactions.

Because these motivations are all different, the solutions need to be tailored to suit each one, but true chasing is predatory behaviour and we need to identify it as such before we can address the problem. Check the list. If you can tick any two plus the last one, it is almost certain that your dog is predatory chasing.

Predatory Chase

  • It will often be exhibited towards more than one target (cars, ankles, rabbits, cats, sheep, joggers, bicycles?).
  • Dogs will actively seek out opportunities by going out of their way to find it.
  • They will become excited at the sight, scent and sound of their prey items, perhaps even making small ‘yipping’ noises.
  • Chasing may be preceded by stalking or searching.
  • It can happen anywhere.
  • It is stimulated by movement.
  • They look like they are enjoying it – not anxious, scared or worried


What Do Dogs Get Out Of It?

The answer lies in internal reinforcement. Dogs inherit instinctive behaviour that is too complex to be learned by every generation. You don’t have to teach a dog how to dig, he doesn’t learn to lift his leg to pee, they are instinctive actions, called “motor patterns” by ethologists.

Chasing behaviour is part of the inherited predatory hunting sequence. The sequence is genetically “hard wired” and prepares wild canines to catch prey in order to survive, for example, by searching for or stalking it.

“External reinforcement” is the way we usually train dogs: we give them a biscuit or a pat when they do the right thing.

“Internal reinforcement” is when the brain gives the body a feeling of pleasure. It is similar to the buzz we feel when we score a goal, win a race or achieve that top exam result.

Each part of the inherited hunting sequence is internally reinforcing. Dogs don’t need a biscuit as a reward for performing it; they do it out of sheer pleasure. In brain chemistry terms they get a buzz of dopamine every time they perform an inherited motor pattern. This is the same reward system abused by people taking Cocaine or Ecstasy, so you can imagine the addictive possibilities!

In original canine terms, the wild animal inherits exactly the right amount of each part of the sequence to lead it into the next. Because domestic dogs have been selected to exhibit exaggerated parts of the sequence and omit others, the whole predatory hunting sequence is rarely in balance in modern breeds. Variation appears both between and within breeds. Spaniels benefit from a huge internal reward from searching, but little or none from stalking. Pointers get huge internal reward from stalking, but not from a killing-bite, because of hundreds of generations of selective breeding. Individuals within each breed will inherit more or less of each part than others. This is the variability that makes some spaniels better at searching than others, or some pointers hard-mouthed.

“Chase” is a motor pattern, or behaviour, that is inherited. Dogs that chase are being internally reinforced just by doing it. They don’t need to be externally reinforced with a biscuit or a kind word, because the behaviour is rewarding in itself.

Why they won’t stop

Put simply, they enjoy it. Hugely. They enjoy the “high” they get from endorphins buzzing around their body to such an extent that they close down other senses to concentrate upon it. All focus is on the target as the source of pleasure. This is the first reason that owners cannot recall their dogs when they are in full flight. Their dogs simply don’t hear them.

Dogs with a high inherited drive not only derive great pleasure from chasing, they also need to perform it. They are driven to perform the behaviour to receive the boost to their feelings that it provides. They are constantly looking for outlets for it.

A dog with chase drive towards the top end of the scale is not easy to control because it is very difficult to counter internally reinforcing behaviour with external reinforcement. A dog will not stop chasing for the promise of a biscuit simply because a biscuit is not as valuable as the internal dopamine boost from the chase behaviour. In fact, nothing is more valuable than the thrill of the chase. Neither can you punish them into stopping for good.

Dogs with lower chase drives will comply for a while, but if they are not given the opportunity to express the chase behaviour in some way, the drive to chase will eventually outweigh the value of the biscuit or the pain of the punishment. The second reason owners cannot control dogs in full flight is that there is nothing the dog wants more than what it is doing now.

Understanding why dogs chase is crucial to controlling them; knowing that they take massive brain-chemical induced enjoyment from it; that they aren’t deliberately disobeying us, but obeying a stronger internal urge; that they can’t actually help it; that they’re fulfilling a hunger inside them, because they were bred like that.

Once we see chasing from the dog’s point of view it becomes easier to understand how to control them, because training a dog not to chase is not like training one to sit. The desire to sit for a reward is more or less the same for every dog, but each dog’s urge to chase can be negligible, immense, or anywhere in between.


If your dog is of a breed that was originally bred to chase it’s a safe bet they have the genetic hard wiring in their brain that makes it so enjoyable, but it’s also possible to ‘accidentally’ inherit a strong chase tendency in exactly the same way some pups inherit too long or short legs for their breed.

Dogs of this type seek out opportunities to chase because of the enjoyment they receive from it but unfortunately, if we leave them to it, they often direct it towards what we consider to be the wrong target. Children, rabbits, cats, cars, joggers, livestock, aeroplanes, deer, cyclists… remember, they are actively looking for opportunities to chase because it is so nice to perform. They often have a primary target, the one they use the most, and then a hierarchy of others.

The First Step

You can’t deal with a long standing chase problem in isolation. Because we are working within the parameters of internal reinforcement and a need to perform the behaviour, we are interfering with the balance of the dog’s emotions. Dogs have a limited number of ways of improving their emotions and if we temporarily deny them an opportunity their emotional balance may plummet, leaving them stressed and anxious.

The first step therefore is to scan your dog’s environment for anxiety; take out as many challenges as possible and introduce as many emotional improvers as you can. Challenges will include any fears that your dog has, for example noise phobias, separation issues and social concerns. Emotional improvers will include things like chew toys, a dog walker, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone, where appropriate. Reward based obedience training invariably improves relationships and the opportunities for positive interactions.

ImageIt seems strange that to stop your dog from chasing things you first need to address something that appears as unrelated as a fear of fireworks, but think about it for a moment.  The fear of fireworks makes a dog miserable, and the anticipation of that fear causes deep anxiety. Chasing is a way for the dog to cast off those anxieties and enjoy huge pleasure, improving their emotional bank balance. If we remove the challenges, the need to dispel the anxiety through chasing reduces accordingly. If we can’t totally remove the challenges, and sometimes that just isn’t possible, adding other things that improve the emotional balance will go some way towards reducing the need to chase.

Conducting an environmental scan for anxiety is not a simple matter and beyond the scope of most dog trainers. If you are not sure how you can help your dog in this way, you may benefit from contacting a qualified behaviour counsellor.

Control the Opportunities

Having established a reduction in background anxiety levels, we can start to look at how to control the actual chasing behaviour, for which there is now less need.

The problem arises because we have no control over the behaviour. To control chasing, we need to control the dog’s primary target. But we can’t control cats and rabbits, can we? No, so if we want to control chasing, we change the primary target to one we can control.

Initially we have to prevent the dog from continuing to reinforce the unwanted behaviour. Many owners make the mistake of trying to train their dog when it is actually chasing. Forget it. You can’t. The competition for the reward is too great.

What is your favourite exhilarating activity? Hang gliding, ballroom dancing, cuddling your grandchildren, alligator wrestling, strip scrabble, or extreme ironing? Imagine you are halfway through and I say, “Stop that now and I’ll give you a biscuit.”

Would you?

No, and neither will your dog.

Conversely, some trainers recommend that punishment through devices like electric shock collars will stop your dog from chasing, and they might, temporarily, but let’s examine what is happening. The dog chases as a way of improving their emotions. They need to chase something to maintain the positive aspects of their life. It fills an emotional hole for them. Punishment not only restricts a source of enjoyment, but also introduces pain and more anxiety into the dog’s life. One of the few ways in which the dog can enjoy themselves has become a source of pain. The overall effect will be to increase frustration and stress, and to make chasing even more important to the dog! Relate that to taking an electric shock in the throat every time you cuddle your grandchildren or glide across the ballroom floor.

If you want to stop your dog chasing rabbits, start by preventing them now. This is not optional, it is essential. Every time your dog chases a rabbit they stay in an addictive feedback loop. “I get a brain boost from chasing rabbits – I need the brain boost – I need to chase rabbits.” Do not take your dog anywhere near rabbits. Change your walk, take them swimming instead, at the very least keep them on a lead, but find a way to stop the continued addiction now. Imagine a little part of your dog’s brain that is labelled, “Got to chase” and another part that has a picture of a rabbit as a label. Every time your dog chases a rabbit, there is an extra connection between the two brain centres. The more connections, the more difficult it is to prevent.

Changing the Target

If the strength of the neural connections are represented by the red arrows in the pictures, we need to get to the position where…


Start to focus your dog on a toy, but not in competition with the problem. Change the chase context; play in a different place. Indoors is always good, or the garden if there are no rabbits. The new chase toy may depend upon your dog’s old preferred target. Many dogs will chase a ball, but inveterate chasers may be so focussed on their primary target that they ignore toys. Be inventive; make the new target sufficiently like the old one to stimulate your dog to chase, but sufficiently unlike it not to increase the brain connections with the old target when they catch it (if the dog still thinks they are catching a rabbit, the neural connections with rabbits are strengthened).

This is pure dog training, so use short bouts and lots of them, in a place with absolutely no other distractions; always stop before your dog gets bored and always end up keeping the toy yourself. Build up those neural connections between the “Got to chase” centre and the one with the picture of the new toy as a label. Play, play and more play.

Once you’ve got your dog’s attention, work on teaching a retrieve. Check here (link to Teaching Your Dog to Retrieve) if you have difficulty in teaching your dog to retrieve a toy.

Do not allow access to your dog’s favourite toy at any other time. Keep it special and always retain it when the game finishes. Your dog will be quite keen to play with the new toy so long as there are no rabbits about.

Keep practising in a place with no distractions until your dog is desperate to play the game. Because you are continuing to prevent other chasing your dog’s chase drive will be high, but focussed on the new game.

Predictive Command – The Best Recall Ever

Now introduce your recall command. Call, “toy!” in a bright and breezy voice every time you throw the toy for your dog. Pretty soon your dog will associate the word with the unconditional arrival of the toy. Start to use it when your dog is not expecting it. Call, “toy!” and as soon as your dog looks, throw it behind you. The word becomes predictive that there is a game on offer.

This is the time to take your training up a notch, for the best recall ever. Always work in a place with no distractions when you are training something new. Take two identical favourite toys and ask your dog sit/stay while you throw the first one as far as you can without using “toy!” command. If your dog won’t sit/stay, keep them on a lead or hold their collar. Wait for a count of five, then give a “fetch” command and release them. Immediately call, “toy!” and throw the second toy past their nose. As the first toy is dead and the second still moving, they will choose the live toy to chase. Go pick up the ‘dead’ one, then ask for the ‘live’ one back and repeat.

In this clip I’ve progressed a little to rewarding “looking at me” with the throw of the second football. I’m also using Belle’s name as the predictive command but your dog will probably respond better to a brand new one like, “Toy”…

If your dog doesn’t stop for the ‘live’ toy but pursues the ‘dead’ one, substitute the first thing you throw for something less valuable, to make it less attractive. Don’t worry if they go searching for the ‘dead’ one after they’ve picked up the ‘live’ one, you have achieved your goal by focussing on them on the second toy.

After three or four throws, your dog will not set off after the first one, but wait for you to call, “toy”. Don’t. Send them for the first one. Start again. This time wait until your dog is a third of the way to the first one before calling “toy” and throwing the second.

Next time call, “toy” but don’t throw the second one immediately. Wave it above your head for your dog to see and when they start to come back, reward with the throw.

Occasionally, your dog won’t chase the first toy, waiting for the second. Don’t reward that with the second toy, but send them on, going with them to find and play with the first one if necessary. You control the game; don’t be manipulated by your dog.

Leave it later and later to call your dog back and then start to reduce the time the first toy is ‘dead’ before sending them. Your final aim is to throw the first toy, immediately send your dog, wait until they are almost there, call, “toy!” and wait until they come all the way back to you, before playing with the second one. It’ll take a little time to achieve, but that’s what I call a recall!

In this clip I’m leaving it very late to stop Belle, but rewarding immediately.

Slowly introduce non-competitive distractions, for example for rabbit chasers, play the game whilst other dogs are about, or where children are playing football nearby. You are not yet ready to compete with the old problem. If you have difficulty finding a good place or if you just need a little more confidence, you could tie your dog to something sturdy with a long line before playing the game. When you feel ready to progress, untie the line and let it drag, making sure there are no loops in it to get caught. Your dog will feel slightly inhibited by the pull of the line and you will have more control. Shorten it by degrees until there is none of it left at all.

Total Control

Eventually the neural connections between “chase” and “toy” will outweigh those between “chase” and “rabbit”. Your dog will come to prefer the toy to chasing rabbits. The time will vary with each dog and how much previous reinforcement they received, but persistence will pay off.

When your dog spins round and looks eagerly for the game every time you call “toy”, you can test how well you are doing by taking them to a place where there are rabbits, but in the distance. Keep your dog on a long line and when they look in the direction of a rabbit, before they start to run, call, “toy” and play the game in the opposite direction. Do not at this stage wait until your dog is in full flight; remember they close down senses they don’t need, like hearing, when they are chasing!

If they play with you, inch closer to the rabbits next time. If they don’t, back to the garden and reinforce the new toy some more.


Even if your dog responds by ignoring rabbits completely, which they all will eventually, you can never give this up. If you don’t satisfy your dog’s chase needs, they will revert to finding their own targets again. But now you have the ultimate reward! Your dog wants the toy more than anything else on earth and can be asked to perform any behaviour to earn it. Recalls, sits, downs, eye contact, it is the ultimate training tool!

Not only do you have full control over your dog’s chase behaviour, you also have the rapt attention of your dog any time you want it.



  • Tim said:

    I have a 11 month old German Wirehaired Pointer puppy, who comes from very good working stock (both parents are Field Trial Champions), and who I am gun-training. I have successfully trained working gun-dogs before, so I’m not a complete novice.

    His recall and drop to a whistle at a distance are very good, but he has an extremely strong chase instinct, and all the training goes to pieces if he encounters game. Occasionally, he will just put his head down, even if there is no game nearby, and just head off, at full speed, in a straight line, and will run for hundreds of yards away from me, free hunting. Eventually, he comes back.

    I’d like to try your technique, but I don’t want to turn him off game altogether, and just get him fixated on balls or dummies, since as a gun-dog, he’ll be required to find, flush, and retrieve game. To flush game to shot, or to point it, he’ll have to hunt and find it – he just mustn’t chase it!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Tim,
    Yes, there’s no reason why you can’t half-implement the training if you want your pup to work game. The article is written for pet dog owners who don’t want their dog to chase at all. Just adapt the bits you need for what you want.
    As an experienced trainer you will know that 11months old is a time when they often go off the rails a bit anyway.
    Good luck,

  • Peter said:

    My 15 month old Male Lab cross is well socialised and not anxious about anything, although he hates being on the lead, and this can lead to aggressive barking and pulling towards other dogs. This largely disappears if off the lead and allowed to approach, sniff and play.

    He just loves chasing and unfortunately being chased. This means that in addition to chasing cars, bikes, horses, joggers if given an opportunity, he will keep out of reach if he steals or finds a ball. People laugh, but it’s not funny. I can be hours trying to get him back on the lead. He constantly adapts, refusing to be tricked into being caught. Note he doesn’t usually run out of sight and usually returns to the vicinity of me within a few minutes, but just out of reach. This means we can’t go home having to return across a busy road. If by chance I do get the ball of him it’s relatively easy to get him back because the game is over. The chance of me retracting the ball is increased if he is distracted by other dogs, or he’s dropped the ball and lost it, but usually he remembers to keep it in his mouth. The only other retraction technique is to sit and pretend to be disinterested, obviously this takes time.

    I’ve tried the ‘total recall’ technique by Pippa Mattinson. This is easy with food inside the house and outside without distractions. But as soon a a dog, bike, ball or interesting toy is available this goes out of the window. Having another ball doesn’t work. I’ve also used a variety of tempting toys such as yapping dogs and even carrying a loudspeaker with barking dogs. However, after vague initial interest he adapts, and quickly releases it’s a trick. A constantly long attached trailing lead, sort of works but is unpopular with other dog owners and of course quickly becomes impractical if I hold it in woodland.

    Why don’t I simply keep him on the short lead all the time? Well my stomach muscles have only just healed from all the pulling towards other dogs, and restricting play and exercise can introduce other issues! Having a belt and an elasticated shock absorbent lead, helps though. Neutering or temporary chemical neutering is an option, but after reading various articles on behavioural and health effects on male dogs I’m reluctant to go down this path.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Peter,
    This is far too complicated to discuss over the internet. You need a professional to come and see you with specific advice. You can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

  • Yvonne Linlow said:


    I hope you can help. I have a year old Bullmastiff x Rottweiler x Bordeaux. In general she is brilliant.

    When she was a puppy she used to chase bikes and joggers, but she doesn’t do that anymore as I used to hold on to her when they went past and she has learnt not to do it.

    She does bolt off after birds as you’re trying to stop above, but very infrequently. I would like to stop it so will be trying the training process.

    My problem is I have other animals in the house and she wants to play with them and show dominance over them, as she is bigger she half whacks them, playing, but this might do some damage, if they run off its ‘the chase is on’ so we end up in a bit of a mess! I want her to live in harmony.

    Would the process above be suitable or do I just need to wear her out on walks more?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Yvonne,
    Although this seems to be a “chase” issue, it clearly goes deeper than that and will need more investigation if you are going to change it effectively. I am not seeing private clients at the moment and the issue is too difficult to explore by email. You need someone to come and see you and your family of animals in order to help you. You can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

  • Colleen said:

    I have recently adopted a 2 year old Podenco X Galgo and I am having trouble with the chase drive. He is fantastic with no distractions but as soon as he sees something small and furry he is totally focused on that. Off the lead he would be gone, I once spent a good half hour fighting my way through brambles as he had got his harness stuck and couldn’t get back out. On the lead he will pull (he is very strong), he will whine, whimper and bark and is constantly searching for it. He is constantly on the look out for game (or anything furry) and a walk on a lead involves me constantly pulling from one animal track to the next, even on the long leash he is so focussed that I cannot always get his attention. If I call him back, he may start to come to me but if he smells, sees or thinks there is something to chase he is distracted again. Where I live, there isn’t anywhere to walk him without distractions of cats, rabbits or foxes, even in the garden he can be distracted by birds in the trees. I would appreciate any advise you could give.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Colleen,
    You’ve adopted a hunting dog. Hunting is what he is for. He was born to hunt. He is doing exactly what he is supposed to do. You can get him under control, but it will take a great deal of time and effort, and you will need to work on your relationship away from the context of hunting first.
    You can find out how to improve your relationship with your dog in my booklet Guide & Control Your Pet Dog’s Behaviour, available at and you can find out how to deal with predatory chasing in my book “Stop!” How to Control Predatory Chasing in Dogs, available at
    If you need help with either you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

  • grant Aynor said:

    I have a 2yr old rescue dog, probably English collie/cocker spaniel mix. We have had him from young and he has always been great apart from chasing. Ducks, geese, squirrels,cats but never people. I normally taking him out for 1-2hours but its making walks stressful which is making things worse. I thought he would have grown out of it now so any help would be appreciated

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Grant,
    Yes, of course – try the book – available at

  • Sharon said:

    I have a 19 month Springer Spaniel who is very fast on paws. We live at a park so this is where his early morning walk takes place. Now that it is light mornings joggers and people on bikes are now about. As Buddy is off leash running about due to the trees we don’t know if someone is there until we hear him barking or see him running in full flight mode. He goes from side to side of the person barking. This is his main exercise walk so don’t want to start keeping him on his leash however I am being left with no option. The biker this morning said control your dog or I will get him out down. He’s such s friendly dog but just doesn’t like bikes or joggers…

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Dear Sharon,
    I am not currently seeing private clients, and dog behaviour problems are just too complicated to consult by webmail.
    Dogs chasing people is a very serious matter and I strongly urge you to seek professional assistance.
    You can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

  • Dee said:

    Hi David,
    I have adopted a bordercollie/akita mix that is 11 years old. I have only had him for 18 months. He is a great dog, super friendly with people, gets along with the house cat, and most other dogs that mind their own business. He has been learning to recall off leash over the last year, but as this spring has come, his chase drive has come to full throttle. It only happens when we walk in the woods and I try to let him off leash. He was much better last summer (first summer with us). He always returns within 1-3 minutes (after lots of yelling and a remote collar alert) but I worry he will not sometime in the future or encounter something that is dangerous when he is out of sight.

    I’m afraid he has become so happy and comfortable with us this year, that he is just going into predatory drive. Is it possible the opposite of your article is true – LESS stress bringing out more predatory drive?

    I look forward to your response.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    You make a good point Dee.
    Very often rescue or rehomed dogs inhibit their previous behaviour for a while in their new environment. Only when they feel comfortable in their new circumstances and when they feel able to predict their relationship with the new people (and dogs) do they revert to their previous behaviour. We call it the “honeymoon period” for rehomed dogs. All seems perfect because they do very little. However, once the honeymoon period ends (could be a month or as much as twelve) they start to behave as they have previously as they sus out what they can get away with.
    It is likely that last year’s lack of chasing was abnormally suppressed in your dog and this year he has reverted to what he has always done because he thinks he can get away with it (and it appears that he can!)
    Good luck,

  • Dee said:

    Thanks for your insight – that is exactly what I thought! Back to long leases for this boy for awhile!

  • Ian Holgate said:

    Hi my wife and I are the proud owners of an 15month old border terrier.
    He listens well and reacts well to the badic commands,
    He has a group of four legged friends with which he regularie plays.
    I am a keen runner and he loves our regular runs.
    But let him off the lead and he’s off, not to be seen for a good 10-15 mins.he’ll return on his own accord unless you call him, then he’ll be off all day.
    I was hoping that after a good run or cycle, he would be too puffed to chase anything, obviously not.
    Any ideas would be gratefully accepted as i would like to start trail running with him but is nigh on impossible if he’s on a lead.
    Thanks for any help,

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ian,
    You and your dog have incompatible requirements. You want to go for a run and your dog to come with you. Your dog, like most dogs, finds just running for long distances very boring and is going off doing what he enjoys, which is hunting. Hunting is great fun and he can do it without any input from you. You therefore become surplus to requirements, so he doesn’t listen to you.
    Running him for long distances builds up his stamina, so the more he runs the fitter he becomes – it doesn’t tire him out.
    The only way you can keep him with you is to be more interesting than hunting. It is a common misconception that dogs enjoy “walks” or “runs”. They don’t enjoy the activity of walking or running, they enjoy the activities they get up to on walks or runs. If you don’t provide something enjoyable for your dog on your runs, he will find his own fun, which currently appears to be hunting by himself.
    There are many ways to build up your own attraction and to engage your dog whilst out, but it will involve some training for you both. You can find details in my books, Guide & Control and Stop!

  • Ruth Davis said:

    Hi am finding your articles really interesting and useful. My husband and I own two gorgeous 14 month cocker spaniels, brother and sister. Their recall was excellent until about 3 months ago when Maddie our girl decided that chasing butterflies and especially swallows was much more exciting than coming back. I have had three walks with a local pet therapist, she confirmed they are acting like teenagers

    I always reward them when they come back, let them “go and play” often during our plays in the park. Maddie sits, scanning the horizon, looking for swallows, and off she goes chasing and making little “yipping” sounds. I have been using a whistle and a long training lead but there has not been any improvement, and now Morgan her brother has also started to not come back when calked. He has always been much more a “Mummy’s boy”, always keen to please me

    I am looking for advice please on how I can try and stop the total focus on birds, if I can stop it, or should we walk them elsewhere … other local parks are too close to very busy roads so I cannot let them off their leads there. Is this a “phase”? I retired last year and we collected them two days later so I am with them the majority of the time

    I look forward to hearing from you
    Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ruth,
    The problem you have is that chasing the birds is a more interesting pastime than staying with you. You need to become as much fun as chasing the birds. It isn’t a “phase”, but increasing control through recall games will help. My book “Stop!” will give you a more complete understanding.

  • karrie stone said:

    We have had our Working Cocker Molly from a pup she is now just a year. She has a lovely nature is well socialised with other dogs and humans and is never aggressive but lately her behaviour has become more erratic on walks; she loves chasing joggers and it’s obviously a game to her but 10 days ago she ‘nipped’ one on the leg and drew blood. Luckily he was understanding but it’s of great concern as although we are experienced dog owners and trained her to fetch and retrieve etc, which she started to respond well too, it’s a source of worry. I have a experienced dog walker who helps me as she needs loads of exercise and I have some mobility issues. My husband walks her for a couple of hours each day at weekends. We have all decided to try walking her on the lead to try to curb the ‘chase addiction’ but I’m not sure it’s having effect. She has happily worn an open muzzle when let off the lead but I wonder what your views on this? So for the moment her walks to being on a lead when in the local woods etc. Can you offer any help as we love her dearly her nature is lovely she just ‘loses” it once free!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Karrie,
    Muzzling and keeping her on a lead is one way of keeping people safe, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue. Without seeing the behaviour it is difficult to say exactly what might be the cause (you describe it as a game, but nipping is usually more fear-based and often appears around social maturity, ie about 1 year old), but using the game-playing protocol described in this article and more extensively in the book should be enough to gain control of her either way. You could start playing the game on walks with her on a long line for safety, then gradually as she becomes more responsive and less focussed on joggers, dispense with the line.

  • Pennny Smith said:

    I have a 4 year old yellow Labrador who has elbow dysplasia. We have always exercised him as a normal dog – running about, sniffing etc. but we have recently acquired a 2 year old Labrador bitch who likes chasing him and she runs like the wind. I am now worrying about my yellow Lab as he is so tired and hardly moves all day, she is exhausting him. I have suggested to my partner throwing a ball with a ‘hurler’ for her but he doesn’t like the idea of this. Is there any other way of slowing her down a bit?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Penny,
    I’m afraid I don’t have a magic wand – you already have your answer. I once knew a handler of a GSP who spent the first hour of each day throwing a ball for her to bring her down to more normal activity levels. Also in your case it would be good to take the focus away from your yellow lab to give him some peace before she breaks him. Use the hurler.

  • Bekki Wilkins said:

    I have just come across this very useful article. I have a 13 month old Bouvier des Flandres who likes chasing. She chases horses, bikes and runners mainly, this has now developed into a chase with barking. As she is a large breed this can be intimidating for others.
    I believe bouviers used to be used for herding so it’s not a ‘chase’ as such, she’s just trying to get everyone together – Will introducing a new toy and training as per your article help with this?
    Many thanks

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Bekki,
    Yes, it will help you get her under control. The essence is to make your game more exciting than the other one.

  • Jane Sorby said:

    Hi David,
    We have recently rehomed a 3 year old Tibetan Terrier – we already have a 9 year old Bedlington. We keep free range chickens and we accept that the ‘free range’ element is now on hold! However, we have had her for about 10 weeks and recently she has been impossible to get back into the house at night. We have a very large garden and she is fixated on anything roosting or moving about. I think she came from a home with a tiny garden and has just realised the scope she now has to chase. She also yaps, which I’m concerned about because of the neighbours (all the trees are on the boundaries). Her behaviour is encouraging the Bedlington to join in so that now I can’t trust her with the chickens either – before the TT came, she was 100% trustworthy.
    I have read your article for help but my main problem is that the Tibetan has no interest whatsoever in toys of any sort. I am reluctant to get anything remotely similar to a chicken or that makes a noise. A ball bores her rigid! On the few occasions she has been persuaded to play she suddenly switches off completely after a couple of minutes and walks away. Overall she appears to have settled well, she is walked off lead every day to allow her to run as much as possible, but only away from other dogs as she can be aggressive (unpredictable) and her recall is poor unless there are no other distractions. Can you suggest an alternative method to help break the chase instinct and/or come in when called at night?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jane,
    I’m afraid you’re trying to run before you can walk. You can’t give your new 3 year old terrier free rein in your big garden and expect her to behave. Even after ten weeks you will have little value for her and she won’t recognise you as someone to be considered as worthy of taking advice from. It’s little wonder she ignores you and does what she wants.
    You first need to control her whilst you build up a relationship in which she considers your advice worth taking. If that means restricting her to lead walking in the meantime, then so be it. My book Guide & Control will give you some idea of how to do that, and I appreciate that a ball might not tug her rug – so you need to find something that does, as she obviously likes chasing things!
    Also, walking her off lead when she can become aggressive towards other dogs and has a poor recall in the face of distractions is asking too much of her. She needs some serious guidance, which you are not in a position to provide.
    Try walking her on a long line, which you can let drag when there are no distractions whilst you practice recalling her and deal with her dog aggression – both of which need to be addressed before any predatory predilections.
    Of course she doesn’t come in at night when you allow her to frolic with the chickens and have no means of controlling her – it is far too much fun. Don’t allow her to do it at all until you have trained a good solid recall.
    In short, you have a great deal of training to do. When she is very dependable you can start to address her predatory behaviour.
    If you need help with any training you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

    Good luck and best wishes,

  • Vikki said:

    Hi, I have a 1 year old working cocker spaniel who is generally very obedient. The only issue we have is if we call him to sit and wait to let a car or bike past once we let him go he will chase after it, barking. He can sometimes be called back but he will just go again. He does not chase them any other time, only when we’ve called him in to wait. Any suggestions on how to solve this? Thanks

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Vikki,
    It is difficult to ascertain the motivation here without seeing it, but you can change the motivation and behaviour by rewarding the sit more, and then extending focus on you. Every time a car comes and you call him in, clip him on the lead and reward the sit with something high value (toy? treat?) before unclipping him long after the car has gone, so he doesn’t chase it. Once you have established the sequence of reward you can withhold it for longer so that he sits and focuses on you as the car leaves, expecting his reward. The car leaving then becomes a cue for him to sit and wait for his reward rather than a cue to chase it.

  • Vikki said:

    Thank you, I will work on this!

  • Garry said:

    Hi David.
    We have a 1 year old lurcher bitch who had great recall. This stopped at 7months and now only comes back when she is knackered usually. She lives to chase other dogs and get chased but if no dogs are around she will chase cyclists or bark at passers by, and can seem aggressive but I know it’s playing, the person does not. I’ll definitely be ordering your book but is there anything I can do in the meantime for obedience ? My dad always had lurchers and they were always obedient with great recall She is collie greyhound I believe but grandparents were deerhoundx saluki or similar.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Garry,
    It’s back to basics whilst you re-train your recall. She’s clearly having more fun with others than she is with you, so you need to control (prevent) her access to chasing other things and make yourself more interesting. Take her out on a long line to control her – if you don’t have verbal control you must have physical control. Retrain the recall for reward, preferably a toy-game with you. The book will give you more details, but this should be enough to be going on with.

  • Garry said:

    Thanks. I’ve ordered the book and will keep you posted.
    One other thing if you don’t mind. When I’m getting her sprinting 30-40metres to retrieve a ball her behaviour is really good, bringing ball back and waiting to go again. Should this be more focused on recall and training just now rather than just letting her sprint after it ? Thanks for

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    That’s great for now – you can let her drag a long line if you need to in order to maintain your physical control, but eventually you will be using that to keep her focus by using two balls and working on her recall. In short, if she needs a burn, play the sprint game under control, but you will develop it later. The book explains it at length.

  • john said:

    Thanks for the very informative article.

    Confirms my fears that this is something I cannot stop them doing, it is just very natural for them and punishing them in any way will do no good at all.

    Other than the chase they are brilliant dogs, very well behaved, responsive to all commands, very well socialised etc but when they get a smell of Deer, Rabbits, Hares, Pheasants there is just no stopping them. And as all the walks are in places where these are all present – in the countryside where we live I either have to keep them on leads or let them do what is natural to them although i don’t like it.

    The part where you say “they just are not hearing you” is so true.

    They just get into a ‘wild’ but I guess very natural state and hunt.

    That is such a basic instinct for them. They are just being dogs and I have to accept it.

    Good thing is… they always come back. And they are very pleased with themselves !!

    Thanks John

  • Ruth said:

    Hi, I have a 6 year old Malinois Belgian shepherd which I walk in the countryside away from roads. When she gets near to the woods or an area of thick hedge which I think has rabbits in it she bolts off and totally ignores me calling her and then after upto 30 minutes when I think I have totally lost her she suddenly appears by my side all calm and ready to carry on walking with me. Sometimes she can be just walking with me in the middle of the field and decide to bolt off in the direction of the woods even though she might not have done it for some weeks. She doesn’t appear to be chasing anything in particular but I am sure there are rabbit smells around. When my husband walks her in the same fields she never does this and she doesn’t chase people or bikes etc but does like to run up to greet dogs and have a play chasing around with them if they cooperate! What am I doing wrong?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ruth,
    I’m not completely sure but I don’t think it is a ‘chase’ issue if she doesn’t do it much of the time and never with your husband. It sounds more like a boredom issue. Whatever it is that she’s doing is more fun than staying with you. Try making yourself more interesting by playing some games on walks and practising your training (recalls, sit-stays, drops, whatever so long as it’s fun), or teach her some searching games and play ball. Make yourself more rewarding to be around. That way she’ll prefer to stay with you rather than go off on her own.

  • Tracy said:

    Hi David,
    We are fostering a failed hunting dog from Cyprus. Breed is not 100% certain but would say Springers X Pointer.
    He chases our cat and becomes very heightened. We can carry the cat and hold the cat whilst we clicker and treat the dog but as soon as the cat is in motion it all changes.
    We haven’t had him off the lead whilst out on walks so not sure if he would chase anyone/anything else. He has seen wildlife but mainly ducks etc with little movement.
    Do you think it’s prey drive if it’s only directed at the cat?
    We spoke to a behaviourist who told us to teach ‘move’ but when the dog is in chase mode it’s clearly not enough. I’m really concerned for the safety of my cat.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Tracy,
    A hunting dog can fail for many reasons, including too high a chase drive or lack of control, so “failed hunting dog” doesn’t give us many clues unless we know why. Regardless, a dog that has been bred for hunting and presumably encouraged from an early age will have built up a higher than usual chase drive, so there is a clue there for us. The fact that motion stimulates him is another, and he’s exhibiting it towards a prey-like animal. It certainly sounds predatory and I think you should be very concerned for the safety of your cat to the extent that they should not be alone together.
    The other aspect of this is that you are fostering, so I guess you haven’t had him very long. If he is to heed your request not to chase your cat you have to have control of him. Control is based on your relationship and can take many months to establish. If he’s not getting off lead he’s also probably looking for opportunities to chase (as he has been encouraged to do so previously). There are many things that can be done, but it’ll be a long haul – all the explanations and techniques are in the book.
    Good luck,

  • Tracy said:

    Thanks for that, we’ve had him for 4 weeks. He is golden in every other way. We don’t leave them alone together.
    I think it’s common for hunting dogs to get dumped in Cyprus, he is very bright and picks things up very quickly but obviously the safety of our cat comes first. I believe he failed as he wasn’t interested but I can’t be 100% about that.
    Sadly the layout of our house doesn’t give the cat a clear entrance/exit so we are constantly on our guard,they are totally separate when we leave them.
    Thanks again for your help.

  • Ron said:

    Hi David,

    Your article makes a lot of sense and involves some of the same principles I use in frisbee dog training.

    The problem – we have a 2 year old Aussie Shepherd show strain bitch who has been spayed and she is trained for K9 Frisbee sports. She is a keen chaser of discs as she should be and she has immense prey drive which is only directed at rabbits and squirrels. She does not chase anything else.

    Recently her drive went into warp factor 9 as soon as she realises there are squirrels about she is off on the chase fully locked on target and cannot be recalled until the chase is over and she then always comes back. This can range from 30 seconds to 10 minutes and can be totally out of sight during this time.

    She is not an anxious dog at all and loves any ball game and frisbee game but the drive is now at the stage where intervention is required. No other external reinforcer or game matches the squirrel chase. And she is super clever and manipulative.

    As you may or may not know Aussies are natural born chase dogs and have exceptionally accute eye sight and the slightest movement can trigger the chase.

    Stimulus removal is very difficult indeed as squirrels are everywhere except for the beach which is our daily walk. We love walking out doors and find it hard to avoid rabbit and squirrel free places where we live.

    Yesterday we were walking in loggerheads in Wales and the first hour in the woods was fine and we were using the 2 ball method until she lost one. When I throw only one ball she knows she can posses it and then the chase begins as she is in control and can choose to retrieve or posses. Whilst possessing, she saw a squirrel and instantly chased in warp facto 11 and did not return for some 10 minutes.

    I always reinforce the return and never punish (positive trainer).

    I wonder if your above technique will work for such a high drive chase machine ? Or whether another approach may be required ?

    Many thanks in advance.


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ron, all I can tell you is that it has worked on dogs with a very high chase drive previously. The book provides a more in depth explanation, but your sticking point seems to be in the possession of the first ball. You need to increase the value of the second ball (the one you possess) so that she will bring back the first or you do not have control. Retrain the exchange in a place with no distractions over a short distance. Make the ball you have more attractive by bouncing it or playing with it by yourself. You can conceal a squeaky in your hand to pretend the ball you have squeaks (but never let it go).

  • Simon said:


    I have a 2 year old german shepherd who is very friendly and sociable but he loves to chase other dogs. If he sees a dog in the distance he will run up to it as fast as he can and no amount of calling will convince him to stop. Most of the time when he gets to the other dog he will sniff it and then when called he will sprint back to me. Sometimes however if the other dog is particularly playful he will take a long time to come back. I like him to play with other dogs because he’s very friendly but because of the breed and some peoples preconceived ideas about them his behaviour sometimes worries other owners. When no other dogs are around his recall is perfect it’s just dogs he wants to chase. I have tried to get him interested in toys etc but they have no effect. It’s not a massive issue as I know he’s perfectly friendly and will always come back after a while but if you have any specific advice for this sort of behaviour I would appreciate it.



  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Simon,
    This isn’t a predatory issue but a social one, however the crux of the solution is more or less the same. He currently prefers to go to see other dogs rather than stay with you. Your task is to make yourself more attractive so that he prefers you. You have three options, toys/games, food or social attachment. My booklet Guide and Control expands upon them and how to use them. As with most aspects of dog training there are no quick fixes and the groundwork is the most important aspect, addressing the basics out of context. All dogs only come back when they feel like it. The priority is to make him feel like it even in the face of distractions, because you are the most important thing to him.
    Oh, and by the way, it may not be a massive issue for you, but it could well be for other dog owners, seeing a GSD thundering towards them – I know it would be for my dog.
    Good luck,

  • Megan Ryan said:


    I have a 2 year old beagle male (intact) , he has issues with chasing bikes / joggers and people without dogs at the park. He never chases anyone who has a dog. I’m not sure if it’s a case of boredom without a dog to play with because he’ll sometimes leave a dog he is interacting with to chase a person. He’s never nipped anyone but he mainly barks and switches side to side perusing them.

    Due to this I’ve been keeping him on the lead for the entire duration of his walks to make sure he can’t bark or chase anyone. But I know it’s not exactly fixing the issue and for a lively dog like him he can’t be expected to live his life on the lead but equally his behaviour is not good at all. Should I seek the help of a behaviour expert? I’m not quite sure what to do.



  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Megan,
    Interesting behaviour, but I’m not sure from the description what the motivation might be (although it sounds a bit fearful). I would probably need to see it to be certain, so I’d encourage you to see a qualified behaviourist. You can find one at and

  • Tania said:

    Hello Mr Ryan

    I found your article via the Horse and Hound forum and it has given me lots of ideas, thank you, but I am not sure yet to what degree I may have a problem. I have a 4 month old boxer x old english sheepdog and was deliberately seeking a non-terrier based crossbreed in order to walk cross-country with minimal risk of the dog disappearing. However today she started to follow scent trails on the heathland and jogged about everywhere with her nose firmly to the ground. She attempted to chase a misplaced squirrel at one point but was checked by the lead.

    My question is could this be a prey hunting behaviour and might it increase the risk of her behaving like a hunting and chasing dog after all? She has boundless energy and I dread having to keep her on a lead for long since she is already very strong and still growing.

    Best wishes

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hello Tania,
    You have an interesting situation in a young pup. At four months old she is building areas of the brain that will serve her for the rest of her life. If you allow or encourage predatory behaviours now she will build up the capacity to enjoy them for the rest of her life, which I guess you don’t want as, if she enjoys them they will be difficult to prevent. However, she is highly active and looking for outlets to keep her stimulated. To keep control of her you must have control of the things she likes to do – keep her interested in you. Whilst it is fine to allow some free-sniffing time so she can learn about the world, I would be calling her back to me for short games (which can involve fetching or searching too) before she becomes too intensely occupied elsewhere. I’d also be practising lots of obedience-type games so she enjoys them too – on a long line so that is able to make choices, but you have ultimate control.

  • Madeline said:

    I found your article very helpful. I have a kelpie cross Max who we adopted a year ago. He is a good boy with what I assume is a strong chase drive. He is polite but extraordinarily focussed around small children and small dogs, we are very careful. He patrols our back garden and chases birds constantly. He is very excited by the calls of the birds.

    I have become concerned because he is becoming very frustrated I assume by his inability to catch them. He has started growling and attacking sticks, plastic sheeting and his outside bedding after a bird chase. Yesterday he ripped an inside cushion and his dog bed when he heard bird calls, not good for any of us.

    It is difficult to encourage him to play with toys, very disinterested, he’s amenable but not particularly trainable. I know a poor workman always blames his tools but big difference between him and our other kelpie.

    Any advice much appreciated.
    Thanks, Madeline

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Dear Madeline,
    it’s not a great deal of information to go on, but it does sound like Max is becoming very frustrated about not being able to catch what he is chasing. It is a normal adaptive reaction and not uncommon. However, if he likes to chase birds, he likes to chase toys – you just haven’t found the right toy yet. The drive is there, the problem is that he is only currently stimulated by birds, so you have to find something that starts to stimulate him in the same way. If conventional toys aren’t doing it for him, look at things like a shuttlecock on the end of a flirt-pole. Be imaginative – go for it!

  • Marisol Pineda said:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for your article! I found it very helpful. I do have a slight challenge with the recall part of the training. My dog Chance is 5 years old, all white pit-bull mix (maybe American bulldog or Staffordshire terrier with maybe some lab in her) and she was also born 100% deaf. The only eye contact she gives me is in the mornings maybe when she’s calm and relaxed and just waking up. Other than that, she looks away, even with her favorite chase toy, a tennis ball. She looks at the ball or the treat and not me.

    My problem is she has always had a strong prey/chase drive. I think I helped her with that one day when I noticed she liked to chase me on the other side of the fence. Now she pulls and tugs whenever she sees a fence so she can chase and bark at me on the other side. Lately, she’s been wanting to go after my cats and also little toy dogs. Today she almost gave me a heart attack when she ran so hard and fast after this little dog , who was off its leash, that she puled her leash right out of my hands and started chasing that poor little dog! The owner and I were so scared. She stopped when the dog pivoted and came around my way and my dog found me standing there waving my hands at her to stop. She stopped and looked confused. After reading your article I now understand why.

    How could I help her if she can’t hear me?

    Thank you, Anything helps,

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Marisol,
    I think the issue here is that because Chance can’t hear you she makes some inappropriate decisions without looking to you for guidance. Although I don’t usually place great reliance on gadgets, I think in this case a remote controlled vibrating collar would help (NOT a shock collar). The collar vibrates gently on her neck when you press your remote button. You need to introduce her to it properly – check out some of the specialist “deaf dog” websites for advice – and train her to look at you when the collar vibrates. Once you have that in place you can start to train her to look at you when their are distractions, and from there to come back when you ask, using the principles in the article.
    Good luck,

  • Pam said:


    I have an 11 month (almost 12) sheltie who is currently recovering from an injury sustained when he broke through a small fence chasing a squirrel. Needless to say he chases squirrels, rabbits, and had chased birds. Through desensitization I have been able to get him 90% calm when in my yard with birds around. I take him in once I sense the reactivity growing. But there is nowhere around I can train without squirrels or rabbits, and his drive for these are much stronger. Obviously, my fencing has all been replaced but he still will try and go through,jump over, etc, anything if he sees a rabbit or squirrel–this makes walks virtually impossible.

    To complicate matters he has been on restricted exercise for 6 weeks while recovering, so has had little outlet for his energy (I do give lots of chew toys, puzzles, target training time). He is extremely strong and pulls excessively when attempting to get him in the house once he starts with a chase.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Pam,
    the principle is to train an alternative, acceptable behaviour that is under your control out of context, so start in a place with no distractions. If the only place available is indoors, then so be it. Because your dog is a manic chaser he will take whatever opportunities are available. If the only opportunities are through you, you have control of him. Once established you can start to introduce distractions at a distance, eg with the back door open, then into the garden and so on, each time taking care to keep control through the attraction of your alternative behaviour. By slowly increasing your preferred behaviour in the face of distractions you maintain control. The book explains it in greater detail – but in essence it is a long road of small steps, the first of which is to take a toy and have fun with your dog.
    Good Luck,

  • Pam said:


    That is fine but how does a game translate to walking on lead in a suburban neighborhood? I don’t often have areas to let him off lead, and wouldn’t trust it if I could anywhere that was not fenced such as a dog park. He gets along wonderfully with other dogs–so that is not an issue.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    You didn’t ask about going for a walk in an urban environment! Walking on a lead in an urban environment is a control and training issue – you need a relationship in which you are in control of your dog and the training to ensure he walks with you on a lead. Chasing is another issue. It sounds like you also have a basic recall problem – which is simply another training issue. My book Guide and Control sets out the basic protocols for improving your relationship to achieve control over your dog.
    Good luck,

  • Clare said:

    I have a rescue dog from Cyprus, we believe he is a coonhound cross and was used for hunting before being dumped. So his prey drive is very high! Once he has caught a scent there is no stopping him and nothing will make him come back. Unless he can’t see me (sometimes). After a while he looks up to see if I’m still there and sometimes he notices I’m gone (hiding) and will come but other times he carries on for a while longer.
    I’ve tried obedience training with him using food and toys but nothing really seems to help. I find it hard to train him because we have rabbits anndnd guinea pigs at home. We also live in the country so everywhere has rabbits, pheasants, sheep and all sorts of wildlife for hire to chase. What would be the best possible route to take for training?
    He would be fantastic as a search and rescue dog. But they can take 3 years. There are no scent work training groups within nearly 100 miles.
    Hope you can offer some advice.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Clare,
    If he could be trained as a search and rescue dog he can be trained to work with you. You’ll find all the details of how to train him to do that in the book.

  • Kate said:

    Dear David,

    I am so pleased I found your article, it has given me hope. I have a 18 month old staffie cross lurcher (we think – was a rescue pup) She has been well socialised with our cats, dogs, horses and no problem until recently.

    She has shown increasing predatory chase behaviour over the past month or so. She managed to bring down and kill a deer and since then has turned full throttle and now sees our cats as targets. I am keeping her muzzled and away from the cats at the moment.

    I was beginning to come to the conclusion that I would have to rehome her with a cat free home, which would break my heart.

    I have spoken to my vet and he was not sure this ‘instinctive’ behaviour could be rectified and advised I contacted an animal behaviourist. (I have left a message, waiting a reply)

    Having read your article I am going to give your advise a try. She is being restricted to lead only walks. I now realise that she needs to fulfill her chase desire and will introduce a toy indoors and proceed from there.
    I will buy your book to help guide me.

    Just wanted to say thank you for writing this article, really appreciated!


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Good luck Kate!

  • Graham Barnes said:

    Hi there David, I’ve just ordered your book on predatory chasing! We’ve got a cracking 9 month old male cocker who is training up very well and gradually ignoring more and more distractions-by following the advice you’ve given earlier like play games, make me more fun than anything else and long leading. He used to chase after any dog in Kent but is now ignoring them, not really interested in regular birds like pidgeons, and not even bothered by squirrels and he is now doing his training like sit/stay etc in fields of sheep whilst ignoring them even when really close. But birds on the ground are a different matter when out in the country and his behaviour is exactly as you describe in terms of being completely deaf to anything else when the chase is on. However he does come back within a minute or two-he doesn’t disappear for hours. So he is only on a lead now in places where he might find birds to prevent him from self-reinforcing this and I will work through your book. My question is…our friends and neighbours have some chickens and I was thinking of taking him into their garden and practising basic training etc with them next to him in the pen-i.e. training to control his instincts with them nearby. Would this help (I gather this is part of gundog training?) or would it just reinforce his drive to chase birds?
    Thanks! Graham

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Graham,
    ‘steadiness to chickens’ training won’t do any harm and might help, but there’s no guarantee it will transfer to other contexts. Having said that if I had the opportunity to do it under controlled conditions I would take it.
    Good luck,

  • Emily said:

    Thank you for this very helpful article! We recently adopted a 2-year-old dog that we were told was a lab mix with low prey drive. He’s actually a redbone coonhound who, being a hound, is extremely interested in small game. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but we adopted him specifically in hopes that he would be able to coexist with our two rabbits! Obviously, they are fully separated and probably will be for the rest of their lives.
    To my question: our dog has been very easy to train (highly food-motivated) but we’re not sure what to do with his tendency to spot and bark at rabbits he sees from our backyard. He does go into full chase mode and it is very difficult to redirect his attention, though not impossible. Is spotting and barking (followed by sprints around the yard) fun or frustrating for him? Is this something we should permit as natural dog behavior, or something we should try to redirect and train down, as you described above?
    Thank you!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Emily,
    I think that his behaviour will become more intense over time and will indeed cause him frustration. If he were mine I would redirect and train down as you suggest.

  • Sarah said:

    Hi David, thanks for the info, I came to your workshop on this a few years back but was having difficulty in remembering the exact methodology. Looking forward to trying this with my young labrador who needs lots of self control work 🙂

  • James said:

    Hi David,

    I have 3 rough collies. One will sprint at the sight of a bicycle at the park or seek where the sound of a motorcycle is and if in eyesight, he will bolt for it. I feels it’s only a matter of time where he sprints to the motorcycle at the wrong time, and that motorbike will be the last thing he sees.

    His brother, is catching on, on his ‘games’ but is not quite as athletic so can’t keep up. Nonetheless, the two of them will go mad at the lawn mower, or at kids on skateboards, or any other moving object (it’s not even a chase, it’s a bark like mad, and if off-leash, sprint and sniff the scared skateboarders).

    Anyway, they are always on-leash unless at the park due to the above issues. The park however, has some surrounding roads and a bike path within it (the bicycle chasing). I am a bit of an asshole in that because of their breed, I’d rather the first collie chase and piss-off a couple of bicyclists but still be able to exert his energy rather than be shackled by the leash over the hour walk. He is young (under 2 years) and as this article mentions, once he is fixated on the chase, I no longer exist.

    I could allow two collies off leash, and this one on leash, and we wouldn’t have any issues (he is the youngest), apart from the energy exertion issue and then perhaps he develops anxiety watching his siblings roam free while he is leashed. Or do I have to leash them all? I don’t have a motorbike to ‘desensitize’ him. And the lawn mower gets the same treatment every time too.

    It’s safe to say I and the family have been hopeless in effective training the most recent two, but I don’t want this to cost them their lives.

    Any suggestions?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi James,
    I’m not sure from your description that the chasing is predatory – there’s a good chance it is fear-based from your description, but without seeing it I couldn’t be sure. You also have a degree of social facilitation going on, which means your dogs are paying more attention top each other than to you.
    Having said all that, the book “Stop!” will provide you with the methods to firstly control and then change the behaviour. Although you have no ‘tame’ motorcycles, you do have a lawnmower with which you can start the desensitisation process. As you seem to have several issues I would recommend that you seek out a competent local trainer to help you. I would also strongly recommend that you prevent your dogs chasing people (whether riding vehicles or not) from a legal point of view.

  • James said:

    Thanks for the quick reply David, no it’s definitely not fear, more excitement and that the activity of chasing is far more exciting than whatever it is I have to offer.

    I will purchase your book stop on my Iphone and have a read through it that way.

    I local trainer should help (i’m in Australia) however the scheduling and costs may be difficult at this time, but I will definitely keep it in mind.

    They don’t chase people, just people on bikes/motorbikes or skateboards 😉 haha.

    If you ever head down to Australia, update your blog and perhaps we can get in touch (I’m happy to pay a premium for someone like yourself who is an expert in these matters).



  • Peggy said:

    This sounds like a great idea, except my GSD dogs love to chase rabbits and cats, but have absolutely no interest in toys. They will work for treats. Any other ideas? Thanks

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Peggy,
    There is no ‘except’. If your dogs like to chase rabbits and cats then you can develop their interest in toys. You just need to apply yourself to it. Just because you haven’t done it in the past doesn’t mean you can’t do it in the future. It just takes a bit of thought and effort. The book will give you ideas if you need them.

  • Todd said:

    I don’t usually ask questions on these sites. When I see SO MANY people asking, I assume at some point the author will become overwhelmed and stop answering. That being said, you seem to be SO patient and considerate of your readers and we are SO desperate for a solution, I’m going to give it a try…

    We have a 6 year old terrier mix that we recently adopted. We don’t know much of his past accept he was found as a stray. He knows some basic commands and shows signs of previous abuse. Our problem is not the chase instinct in and of itself. It’s the fact that it is all consuming. When outside, that’s ALL he wants to do. Look for something (or someone) to chase. Usually rabbits as that’s what’s most prevalent. This is so all consuming, he doesn’t even care about eliminating! He saves the eliminating until we’re back inside! No matter how badly he may need to go, finding and chasing is more important. I read your article with great interest as you seem to have a good handle on this situation. My problem with reducing this behaviour comes with your suggestion of getting him to chase a toy instead. At his age, he is not a dog who enjoys chasing a ball or stick. He doesn’t seem to desire play. He doesn’t want the inanimate! Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for reading.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Todd,
    An adopted six year old terrier mix, whose background you don’t know because he was found as a stray doesn’t give us much to go on. He is also not giving you much to work with, but that is as may be. We work with what we have.
    The first thing to recognise is that this is not going to be easy. You have a dog that is in the ‘difficult’ category, but that means when you succeed it will be all the more enjoyable 🙂
    You don’t say how long you’ve had him for, but it often takes six months to establish a basic relationship with an adopted adult dog. It could yet be early days.
    And that relationship will be your start point. It has to be forged and guided by you, otherwise he’ll continue to do whatever it is he likes. My Guide and Control book gives you some pointers on how to do that.
    Once you have the relationship right you can start to train. Basic obedience exercises are always good. Don’t think you can get away without them, because you have a dog that we already know is ‘difficult’ and you need all the help you can use to control him. It might be a good idea to train him to toilet on request as well.
    Then you can start to introduce toy-play. Yes, some dogs are more difficult to introduce to toys than others, but you need to work at that too. Be inventive and start in a place with NO distractions (indoors). If he likes to chase, he will chase toys. You just need to find the toy and method that tugs his rug.
    Then you can progress to working on his chase drive. The Stop! Book will give you a more expanded version of the article, which in your case may be more helpful.
    If you get stuck or need help you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

    Good luck and have fun.

  • Georgia said:

    Hi I’ve recently got a 3 month old Patterdale x Jack Russle. are there anyways to make sure they will not pick up the chasing habits, say if I let them play chase enough with a decoy will he not see the need to chase rabbits or other animals when exposed to them?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Georgia,
    Yes, you are right, providing appropriate outlets for your dog’s chase instincts is a good way to control them as they grow up. What you must be careful of is not to overdo it so that chasing becomes too important for them. Teaching them obedience and calm relaxation is equally important.

  • Kirsty said:

    Hi David – have read your article and all the above comments with great interest, what you say makes so much sense but I have questions.

    I have an 18 month old border collie bitch; as you’d expect she is intelligent, learns new things easily and mostly she is a pretty obedient dog (if rather hyper and a tad highly strung) but she chases cars and cyclists, and her focus is absolute!

    The 2 x toy idea sounds fab.. and indeed I think we may have cracked the concept in spirit
    – with just one ball for our beach walks where we always take a ball and ball launcher aka “the rod of power”…at the beach she is perfect because her ball is her 100% focus and much more interesting than anything else, she totally ignores people and other dogs with barely a lapse!

    At home in the garden her frizbee is focus, perhaps I will try taking it to the woods with me where the cyclists are present and see if there is improvement,
    (I don’t take the ball as it’s not a practical place to launch it)
    Or do you think I should try and introduce another toy specially for the woods?

    But what on earth do I do about her chasing cars…she does it in the boot of the car too, stalking any approaching oncoming vehicle and then lurching after it with force and barking, it doesn’t even have to be moving…parked cars are also prey (I suppose she perceives them as moving because we are?)!
    It’d very hard to throw a ball to distract her and drive simultaneously!
    And same goes for a short walk along the road by my house where we may encounter cars, I can’t suddenly throw a ball or any toy in that scenario either.
    Because of where we live we have to go in the car to get anywhere so denying her being in the car for a while is also impossible.
    I have previously tried various distractions or look at me techniques for both situations but her instinct to chase is very strong indeed and so far nothing works, one or two things have worked for a short time for within the car and then ceased to be effective as she quickly figures it out as “a trick”

    Thankfully I have no real need to walk her anywhere near cars very often and am very fortunate to live 10 mins equidistant from a beach or woodland where she can be exercised without this hazard and I have a harness with double safety lead to keep her restrained for times when it is unavoidable.
    But are these short car rides causing her stress do you think? She’s not scared, to me it looks like she is having a great time…ears up, tail going etc! It is stressful for me though lol

    I totally get that this is in her nature and as she is not a working dog I am denying her the sheep she desires….what method/game would you suggest for the cars?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Kirsty,
    Yes, you are right, in-car chasing is a different matter. The only thing I have come across that works without tight control and focus on the owner, which you say you have tried, is to black out the windows so she can’t see out (or some variation of that).
    However I’d also be looking at teaching her some other aspects such as impulse control to calm her more generally (to make her less ‘hyper and highly strung’) so she doesn’t see the need to react to everything. I don’t think the short car rides distress her – she’s probably enjoying the chase.
    The purpose of the ball or toy is not to be thrown every time, but to provide a high-value alternative with which you can shape more desirable behaviour ie, ‘you may get the toy if you watch me instead of watching this car’. The intermittent nature of the reward strengthens the alternative behaviour without the need to use it every time. Train the alternative below the tipping point for the behaviour (ie start with a car a mile away) and work closer as the new behaviour becomes established. The promise (expectation) of a reward can be more rewarding than the thing itself and it may therefore also be worth introducing clicker training for such a sharp dog.
    Good luck,

  • Kirsty said:

    Thank you…I will look into impulse control.

    I’ve just been looking at your book Stop on Amazon, will this book cover the above too or should I buy a different book?

    …and I had looked at clicker training when she was a pup but dismissed it as being un-necessary as she was so sharp and picked stuff up in a flash! But if you think it will help I will re-inforce everything she currently does with a clicker for a while, she likes new things anyway.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    The book extends the explanation on here but only contains some aspects of impulse control, so you may need to look elsewhere as well. There’s much on the internet these days.

  • Kirsty said:


    Other readers of this thread may be interested to know that I had a certain amount of success with the mountain bike chasing on our woodland walk last night!

    I took her beloved frizbee to the woods with us; she is not as focused on this toy as she is with her ball but we encountered a bike heading towards us as we returned to the car…she saw it and there was a moment when I thought she was going to run but the frizbee held her attention long enough to divert her and she assumed her stalk position.
    I threw the frizbee in the opposite direction as a reward once I had her full attention – and success, she chased that instead!

    Certainly a work in progress, all I need to do now is find a more suitable type of toy “for wood walks”, one that is not so easily lost in the undergrowth and I will work with her some more on this.

    I’m obviously lucky my collie is already and quite naturally a focused and toy obsessive dog, so the leap to the technique described in the article with two toys shouldn’t be a huge leap for her.

    Many thanks for the advice…re the in-car problem, I shall just purchase some ear plugs 🙂

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Thanks for the feedback Kirsty. Good luck for the future.

  • Joanne said:

    Hi David
    We have a 5month old Whippet who we have since 9weeks. His training is coming along well but his chase is just as you say above and we cannot seem to make ourselves more interesting to him. We have tried toys and treats etc but once he goes i cant get him to stop. He chases bikes, joggers and birds mainly but if we are in an open area and someone is on the other side of the field he will just go to them before i can stop him..

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Joanne,
    No quick fixes I’m afraid, but the book explains how to control him in greater detail. The running-up-to-people will improve as he gets older and people become less attractive to him, but the desire to chase probably won’t reduce. I’d also be looking at teaching him some self-control exercises. If you need help with it you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at and trainers/behaviourists at

  • Joan said:

    Hi David,
    Thanks so much for all the great information. I adopted a 4 1/2 year old pitbull 5 months ago. She’s had a lot of training and is doing well. The last few weeks (when baby wild bunnies were born around the neighborhood), she sits by my back sliding door and watches for wild bunnies in my backyard. When she sees one, she starts whining and wants to go out. If I let her out (she never catches one), she runs all over looking for it and smelling the scent for about 10 minutes. My daughter thinks I should get a curtain for the sliding door so she can’t see the yard. She’s fine on leash, but she’s obsessed with the back yard wild bunnies. I may be totally wrong, but I hate to block her view of the outside-that’s one of two doors she can look out. The other door that she looks out of-there are no bunnies. Help, please! Joan

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Joan,
    This is a bit more complicated than I can reasonably answer here, because it begs more questions than answers. Firstly you must ask what your dog is getting from the activity. The answer to that would appear to be the excitement of chasing/sniffing around after the rabbits. The second question is, ‘does she need this activity to balance her emotional wellbeing’, or is it an ‘extra’ ie something she can do without and still maintain her emotional balance. If the answer to that is ‘yes, she is a happy dog even without the bunny-game’ then you can dispense with it by blocking her view (although that might cause her some frustration). If she is using the bunny-game as a form of stimulation because she is under-stimulated in other ways, then preventing her from access to it will certainly cause her frustration and to look for other occupations. I can’t tell which it might be without observing her over time.
    One thing you might consider is temporarily blocking her view and at the same time providing her with other forms of mental stimulation, for example chew-toys or other activities. Games with you where she is searching and/or chasing might also help compensate. She also needs not to be stimulated sometimes so she can relax, so constant bunny-access is probably not a good idea, even if she enjoys it and you want her to continue.
    Finally, if you do want her to continue, place it under your control. Block off her view so she can’t self-reward, but occasionally allow her ‘bunny-time’ on your command when you tell her she can go out and run around, before coming back when you ask. Don’t let bunnies become more important than you are.
    I know this sounds a bit complicated but the Stop! book explains it in more detail.
    Good luck,

  • Crystal said:

    Thinking of my 17 mo. old cane corso’s chasing as an addiction helps tremendously. This is the first thing I’ve read that actually makes sense!

  • Jana said:

    Hi David,

    we got a 5yo rescue Husky x German Shepard. He is the most gorgeous creature and since I had a Husky cross growing up, I understand the breed quite well, including their need to chase (as your article has pointed out). Even though it always left me scared for him, an occasional deer/rabbit/cat-chasing adventure was fine for my previous dog, because we lived in a small town near a forest and he was smart enough to find his way home.
    Even though we were told never to let our new dog off the lead because of his prey drive, I knew it’s manageable and it has been for about 6 months, when he took in all the training we’ve done with him and became a completely different dog (as we were told by the rescue when they saw him recently). But then spring came and all the neighborhood cats have started wandering around more, and he’s started running off – mostly on the morning walks…and since now we live in a busy city, any time he wanders beyond the edges of the park, he ends up on a street (residential, when we’re lucky, but still…). We also got another husky that we are fostering until he finds a home, so training has become a bit more challenging, trying to manage them both. I’ve ordered your book on chasing and am eager to try your approach, but I guess my question is, what are the chances of me being successful with an older dog?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jana,
    The short answer is yes, it can work with an older dog, but from what you describe your guy is currently getting far too much opportunity to control his own chasing. I would be following the rescue’s advice and not letting him off the lead until you have his chasing under control – at the very least keep him on a long line. The more he does it, the more he’ll want to do it.
    Trying to train two will make each one much more difficult too, so make sure you separate them to get the best effect.
    Good luck,

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