How do I stop my dog chasing?

4 October 2009 273 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.



  • Manu said:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for this useful information. I wonder if all of this applies to my chocolate Labrador. We’ve been working on walking nicely on the lead for a few years. He tends to respond well too, but his major problem are cats (sometimes squirrels and crows, but never to the same extent). He can go from being walking happily next to me to trying to get off his harness (he can’t), pull so much in the attempt to escape and chase cats. This is especially true in our neighbourhood, we live at the end of a quiet Close with a green in the middle, he doesn’t exhibit the same behaviour anywhere else (he just knows there’s cats around). I’m usually very perceptive of his body language but sometimes he does a 360 in a split second and has almost dislocated my thumb several times. My solution has always been to drive him somewhere else for his walks or off lead time, sometimes even at the end of the road we live in and go from there. The way I feel is I can keep working on our lead work, but I feel like I’ll never ever be more interesting than going after a cat.

    The rescue I got him from is suggesting a Gencon or any other muzzle harness to being able to control him as there is little hope to desensitise him from cats. Speaking to animal behaviourists, they also think it’s a very difficult thing to do – where do I find a fake cat or a real cat to help him out? I find mouth harnesses hard to accept, in my view they don’t fix the problem of him choosing to stay with me over chasing cats. Any thoughts?


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Yes, Manu. My thoughts are
    “Stop!” How to control predatory chasing in dogs 🙂

  • Manu said:

    Thanks David, I’ll grab a copy!


  • Mrs Oz said:

    Will try the above methods with our 5 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel we inherited last August after her owner died. She has a very strong hunt and chase instinct and loves to chase squirrels and rabbits. She spotted a rabbit one morning before I did and managed to damage my shoulder when she shot off after it with me on the other end of the lead. She comes to the whistle a couple of times but then decides running into the woods at top speed to chase and hunt is much more fun. We have to keep her on an extending lead to keep her out of mischief
    Our rescued English setter working type never chases and has an excellent recall. We’ve tried throwing a ball which our Cavalier loves to play indoors, she growls at it and gets very excited but when out, the ball goes one way and she goes the other! We see other people with this breed and they are nothing like her!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Mrs Oz,
    Yes the methods will work for any dog, but it sounds like you have a bit of an extreme Cavvy KCS! You’ll need to do a lot of background work playing with the ball (or another even better toy) before taking the game outdoors on a long line. If you need more help the book is a more complete explanation

  • Rita said:

    Hello David,

    Thank you for this interesting and extensive information.
    I am interested in your advice in my case. My dog is chasing cyclists and runners when she is without leash. She is barking while running besides them. Recalling does not work in this case. Are there any methods for stopping this bad habit?
    Thank you for your answer in advance!
    Best regards,

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Yes Rita, you will find all the information in the book

  • Alexa said:

    Hello David.

    I have used this method with success before and really like it. I have another dog I’m working with who really shouldn’t be doing much high impact running due to medical and joint issues. Is there any other gentler on the joint methods you can suggest?

    Kind regards

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Alexa, I’m glad it’s worked for you. You could take it down a few pegs to make it more gentle – maybe include a little tug-game or flirt pole to keep it closer to you, or just play fetch over short distances. You can do a lot of the early stage stuff indoors and over short ditances. You can teach a ‘stay’ and throw a toy towards him/her. It’s just about being inventive and fitting the method to the dog really.
    Good luck,

  • Karen said:

    Hi David,
    I have your book and I must say this method has been working quite well for my cycle and jogger chasing collie except yesterday we had a bit of a blip, I was in what I thought was a secluded field doing some impulse control training with my dog (on training line) when he spotted a cyclist behind me and took off , I managed to stand on line which still managed to slip straight under my foot! in my panic recall I usually use went straight out of the window but I managed to get the cyclist to stop, I can normally get him to return to me then ( although he has only managed a proper chase once prior to this ) but this time he just continued barking and circling the bike as I was trying to catch him . Is there anything else you can advice if this situation arises again on how to deal with it in a better way. I was in a little bit of a panic so I think I was just more concerned for the cyclist as I was worried he may get nipped. I was wondering what your thoughts were in maybe getting him trained on sheep and them maybe getting some chickens to fulfil his herding instincts, it’s been something I’ve been toying with for a while but I am worried it may exacerbate the problem .Added to the occasion he chased The bike he has once herded the cows that were in my local
    Park (they come for the summer and I was unaware they were there) and corralled them in a circle much like a working sheepdog works sheep and if you were watching from afar you would have thought he was working on command, except again he wouldn’t return to me when called.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated,


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Karen,
    Blips in the training schedule do happen when life gets in the way. Obviously we should aim to minimise them, but sometimes cyclists do sneak up behind you. Next time you could try tying him out to something solid, and use your usual recall. Dogs can sense the panic and he could well have taken advantage of your unusual behaviour by continuing his fun. Try to stay calm.
    It is not surprising that your collie works cattle like a collie. Training him on sheep and chickens will increase his desire to herd sheep and chickens, but won’t necessarily fulfil his needs/desires. The point of teaching a recall to the toy is that you are in control of the target, a target that becomes preferable to the alternative inappropriate ones. It sounds like you are at a halfway stage with your training. Don’t be disheartened by a setback, keep going with it and you will succeed.
    Good luck,

  • Susy Greaves said:

    Hi David, I have a 7 month old Standard Poodle who is very sure that she is in charge of herself. We are busy working with the normal commands and treats. She will behave beautifully on the lead, and in the house off the lead too. IF we are outside and she is off lead she will only come if she sees I do actually have a treat in my hand, and then does not want the treat if she thinks I am going to hold her to put the lead on, she stands just out of my reach and if I move so does she. I don’t call her unless I have a treat but she always checks first. Similarly if I want her to come in from the garden she will stand at the door, looking at me, taking no notice of the treat unless she wants to come in anyway. If I open the door and stand at the door she will back away about 4 feet, then only come in if I move away in to the room. She has no reason to be frightened of me, she is not exhibiting fear, the body language is “might do, if I want, might not if I don’t!”The other big problem is that we have chickens, ducks and rabbits running loose in the garden. I cannot get her to stop chasing them. She is on the lead in the garden all the time now, but looks longingly. If there is a slip up and she gets loose off she goes, and of course cannot be stopped unless I can intercept her. She doesn’t every catch anything and she certainly knows she is not supposed to do it, but can’t resist. I can see the sense of your article, but am not sure where to start because she won’t even come to me unless it suits her! Help!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Susy,
    She understands and behaves when on the lead but doesn’t when not. In that case you need to go back to basics on a long line. Use thirty feet of line with no loop on the end so it can’t get caught. Call her once only and if she doesn’t come simply gently reel her in. You don’t have to catch her, just the line. When she gets back to you make a great fuss as you would as if she’d come on her own. Not coming is not an option.
    You mention treats, but not using anything else as a lure/reward – I would have thought that a toy/game would have high value for her. Teach her a retrieve and find a special toy you can use with her (as per the article and book). She will also benefit from going back to basics to get your relationship right – check out my booklet Guide and Control
    Willful dogs can be a bit of a challenge, but very rewarding when you work together.
    Good luck,

  • Susy Greaves said:

    Thanks David, that all sounds doable. I’ve ordered the book!

  • georgie said:

    7 yr old rescue jack Russell cross bichon frise, chases goes for hours. Afraid I may have encouraged this by letting him chase another dog which is chasing its ball, he gets the same thrill, barking all the time but gets tired of it quite quickly. he also gets tired/bored of playing wth the most favourite toy which I keep on the fridge. as he gets bored so easily its difficult, also I do not know if anything stresses him he is so laid back in any other situation

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Georgie,
    I’m not sure if this is a question, but if you would like to improve your dog’s behaviour you’re going to need to work at preventing him chasing and redirecting his behaviour onto a toy. It will need time and effort, but could also be a lot of fun. You can counter the fact he gets bored easily by playing in many short sessions rather than extended ones and switching between games (tug, fetch, flirt-pole). There are lots of other aspects to countering chase behaviour in the book

  • Lucy said:


    Great advice- which has worked 90% for me and my rescue crossbreed Irish wolf/lurcher…..until today when a single young buck snuck up on us 10ft away and they were off…..totally lost sight of them with and no recall at all. Luckily she came back after what felt like eternity and She got lots of praise and reward for returning but I fear that was only because the deer out ran her. The difficulty for me is the surprise element of a situation like this, I use distraction and avoidance techniques and she had good recall when they aren’t running but as soon as theres movement its another story. She isn’t in to toys and may chase a ball for 4-5 times but gets bored, other days she will play tug of war for short periods but she has no favourite (and we have tried many different types of toys brought and home made). She loves to chase and play wit other dogs somedays but other days flatly refuses even with her best running mates. Not sure how to get in her head to know what is the best training technique or way to increase her neural links to a positive play/run not a dangerous prey chasing one? Any help or advice please?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lucy,
    A deer popping up ten feet away is likely to prove tempting to all but the most professional of dogs, so I’m not surprised yours lost it at that point. If you are serious about training for the 10% control you say you are lacking, you will need to buckle down and re-educate your dog to enjoy toy play. Chasing a ball for 4-5 retrieves is the start, not the end, so go back to basics and start ramping up the excitement factor for your dog. I can’t be specific as to what might work for her because I haven’t met her, but there are suggestions in the book – as you say, movement might be the key. Experiment and see what works for her, then run with it. If you are having difficulty getting inside her head, a consultation with a local trainer might be helpful, as an independent opinion often is.
    Good luck,

  • Sam said:

    Hi David, I’ve just come across this article and I found it very interesting, but I’m struggling with my dog, as I’m not sure why he is behaving as he is. I have a 20month old dobermann, he is a rescue and I don’t know much about his previous life unfortunately. At home he is the sweetest, loving dog, he likes lots of attention, but not so much that itbecome uncomfortable, he will obey basic commands like sit and stay, you can even make him sit put his dinner on the floor and he will wait until you tell him to go before going to the food. We have a cat and although he will sniff at him and sometimes make that play behaviour when they go down on the floor with their front legs?? at the cat he does not chase him and when given a stern “no” or “leave him” he does just that. When we first had him he had some guarding issues but we seem to have moved passed this now. He is very hyperactive though if you praise him in any way he goes nuts, tail wagging running round the house etc, he can tell when you are annoyed with him because he instantly hunches over head and ears down and he looks up at you sideways. When we play with him tho his go to play is to mouth you and when he’s over excited and licking you in the face sometimes he nips you. he’s also a jumper as in he will jump up on you. I know he has separation anxiety because I cannot leave the room/house without him getting upset and when I get back he goes mental even if I’ve only been gone 2min. When we go for a walk I have to take him places where there are as few people as possible, that’s just people,if those people have dogs that’s fine no problem at all, but if they are just walkers he’s off after them like a shot and won’t come back until he’s had enough or I have managed to catch him, which often is really hard, he will run full pelt and when he reaches them he will jump up at them and bark. He’s the same with joggers, livestock, kite surfers, and cyclists, but it’s not consistently one day he will chase then maybe the next he won’t. When we are out he will range quite far out, usually chasing rabbits, but he will come back when called, unless he’s spotted something really exciting then he returns when he’s ready. Games are difficult to engage in as he will chase a ball, stick or toy but he won’t bring it back or release it even for a treat. I have tried changing our walking environment but I live in cornwall all I’m likely to see those triggers everywhere. We have tried some basic training, sought advice from behaviourist…I’m at my whits end! What am I doing wrong???

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Sam,
    You’re describing a very complex set of behaviours that probably sit around his perceived need for attention. It is not unusual for rescue to dogs to form strong attachments, but yours seems to be demanding attention a bit too much. The nipping/biting is a way of keeping the attention going because it’s impossible to ignore, and he also seems to be playing an attention game with strangers he meets. There are ways of teaching a retrieve in the book and I think that would be a good start point
    Then you are going to have to go back to basics because what you have is a dog that hasn’t grown out of puppy behaviours. He’s an adult dog that is still acting like an uninhabited puppy. You are going to need to treat him like a puppy by providing guidance for him in everything because he hasn’t learned to act like an adult. This booklet will help at
    I’m not sure what advice you have been given, but a properly qualified behaviourist should be able to help with a programme to change him for the better. You can find one at at
    Good luck,

  • UD said:

    Thanks for this excellent article. We have a Cavalier-LowChen X who is OBSESSED with water birds and small prey – rabbits and rats. Yesterday I lost him, he took off on a walk, jumped into a pond, swam for over an hour then disappeared into a field to chase rabbits. One very angry, wet and stressed owner, trying to find him in the dark vs. one oblivious dog. He was eventually found by a kind person who read his collar tag and rang us. We can’t walk him at his favourite spot any more: it has a tidal harbour on one side (lots of wading birds) and bushes on the other: cue rabbits and rats.

    Had never thought of Cavs as predatory dogs, but the article even mentions spaniels, so I feel relieved that it’s not just us.

    Am off to try and find a bird-like toy to start the training. Wish me luck!!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Good luck!!

  • Jo-Ann said:

    Thanks for the useful information. My rescue (Carolina dog?) does not actually chase cars, but tries to get in front of them seemingly because he wants to get into the car. I will try your suggestions; I am fearful he will get run over or actually get into a car and be taken away! He has been a real problem child, but has conquered many negative behaviors.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Well done so far Jo-Ann – keep up the good work!

  • Bonnie said:

    Did somebody ever try that method successfully on a sighthound with high prey drive? I have a whippet with a high chase drive (that‘s what they were breed for unfortunately) and he ignores all toys or treats as soon as we‘re outside. He‘s actively looking for squirrels or rabbits and in case he spots one, I don‘t stand a chance. Unfortunately we don‘t have an area anywhere here where off leash time would be possible without the risk of either squirrels, rabbits, deer or foxes and I somehow can‘t imagine having him on the leash for the rest of his life. He also injured himself plenty of times romping through the bushes at 35mph, he‘s simply mad. If he sees prey on the lead, he doesn‘t pull, if I call him back from other dogs, even bitches in heat: no problem. I just can‘t seem to find anything that interests him more than chasing.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Bonnie,
    Yes it has been successful with many different breeds, including whippets. You need to be a little more inventive about the toys you introduce to make them more lifelike. If you don’t have anywhere you can take him without prey, you simply stand less chance of succeeding. The book explains in more detail.

  • Maggie Guillon said:

    We desperately need something to control our 22 month old Smooth Collie Shadow. Despite being a herding breed we have never had a dog with such a high prey drive. She is obsessed with rabbits and squirrels and becomes uncontrollable if she sees one when we our out walking. We successfully trained her as a puppy to ignore joggers, cyclists etc. But we live rurally and despite being heavily fenced our large garden is a rabbit thoroughfare, so Shadow’s neural connections are being continually reinforced. There is no way we can avoid this. She has even had the thrill of catching baby rabbits in the garden too and inadvertently killed them by jumping on them (although she had no idea what to do with them then). I can’t see how we can completely divert her prey drive while ever the rabbits continue to sneak into the garden or adjacent fields. Any ideas? We are desperate.??

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Maggie,
    On the positive side, you have a 22month old smooth collie so she should be bright and trainable. It shouldn’t be too difficult to train her to enjoy a special toy with you. Without knowing your garden it is difficult to be precise, but are their options for fencing off a ‘training area’ for her or tying her out on a long line for training? Long lines are very useful for allowing her to make some decisions but ultimately providing guidance so she makes the right one.
    I would be investing heavily in obedience and toy training – it will take many hours, but they will be great fun. Basically you are looking to focus her chasing drive onto you as a preferable option for her. Most people aren’t able to totally exclude the unwanted targets, but the key is to out-weigh those with access to the preferred one. Reduce unsupervised access to the garden and increase play-time.

  • William Hernandez said:

    My one-year-old Mini Australian Shepherd is OBSESSED with chasing cars. He can sense them coming from down the street and prepares himself to lunge and bark at them. I was able to control him slightly by offering a treat, but this doesn’t seem to work all the time and if i don’t have a treat on me then I can forget about it.

    Several months ago, we got food delivered and he ran to the front door to greet the delivery man, and at that exact moment a car happened to fly by out in the street, and he lunged after it. He ran across the entire neighborhood and almost got killed in traffic (a car drove over him, but he ducked in time and was not hurt at all. I quickly scooped him up and carried him home). I live with so many people, and it’s hard for them to make my dog the priority in keeping him away from the door when they have to open it, so it’s really made me desperate for a solution because I feel like I’m one unlucky day away from him running out the front door again and this time getting ran over.

    Does this method work on cars? I will try it, but I’m worried that cars may be too tempting for this kind of training. I would really appreciate your input.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi William,
    Yes the method will (and has) work with cars, but you have to be there. You can’t just let him loose and expect to be in control, whether by design or accident. I suggest the first thing you do is fit either a safety chain to prevent the door being opened unless you are there, or fit a full length safety gate as a double barrier. There are other solutions such as training him to sit on his bed for a reward before anyone opens the door, but they will all take time and effort, as does anything worthwhile.
    Good luck,

  • Paul Jack said:

    Hi David, I have 2 sister dobermans 5yrs and they both love to chase, obviously the problem is doubled, how would you suggest dealing with this issue as they react to each other’s response of chasing?


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Paul, Most dog training is best done by separating the dogs and once the training is accomplished bringing them back together again, however there will be some aspects that will benefit training together, such as encouragement to transfer their desire to a new toy.It should be intuitive -see what works together and if it doesn’t, train apart then bring together later. BUT, the first step is to get them listening to you rather than each other…
    Good luck,

  • Jordan said:

    Hi David,

    I have a 12 month old springer spaniel cross viszla. He is already ball obsessed and will retrieve, drop and sit for it to be thrown again as well as sit and stay when asked before being released to fetch with ‘ok’ as release word. He behaves like an absolute dream in a field or open space, perfect recall and would do anything for the ball, it’s hard to Imagine he could be any more obsessed. In wooded areas his recall can be very good or sometimes he will be too involved in the chase as you have described. Sometimes throwing a ball for him in a wooded area is enough but other times he will run off ball in mouth chasing something else? Is it necessary for us to do the second ball training for ‘dead and alive’ as I’m worried this will stop his current fetch rhythm and cause him to leave balls for me to go and retrieve myself? Would it be just as effective if we associated the word ‘toy’ or ‘ball’ when we get the ball out ? And use that as distraction? I feel we are half way there but want to perfect it before he gets too old and gets into it as a habit! He almost got lost today (lost for an hour) after chasing something and then getting lost and not being able to find his way back to us.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jordan,
    If you manage the two-ball game properly there is no reason why he will stop chasing for you to fetch the ball yourself, or if he does it will only be a temporary training blip, over in the next couple of throws.
    The point of the two-ball game is to train your dog to stop chasing something he finds attractive when you ask, as you always have something more attractive. You build it up over time and practice so that he always responds to you because he believes you have something better than whatever he is doing at that time.
    Associating the word with producing the ball from your pocket would be a cheap and cheerful method but if you don’t do it when he is chasing something else he won’t learn to respond then. And if he’s chasing something he probably won’t respond when you produce the ball from your pocket.
    If he believes you always have something better he will always respond.
    Good luck,

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