How do I stop my dog chasing?

4 October 2009 184 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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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184 Comments »

  • 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,
    David

  • 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 http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Regards,
    David

  • Yvonne Linlow said:

    Hi

    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 http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Regards,
    David

  • 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 http://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/ and you can find out how to deal with predatory chasing in my book “Stop!” How to Control Predatory Chasing in Dogs, available at http://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/
    If you need help with either you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Regards,
    David

  • 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 http://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/
    Regards,
    David

  • Sharon said:

    Hi
    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 http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Regards,
    David

  • 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,
    David

  • Dee said:

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

  • 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,
    Ian

  • 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!
    Regards,
    David

  • 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
    Ruth

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

  • karrie stone said:

    Hi
    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.
    Regards,
    David

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

  • Bekki Wilkins said:

    Hi,
    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
    Bekki

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

  • 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 http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html

    Good luck and best wishes,
    David

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

  • 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.
    Regards,
    David

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