How do I stop my dog chasing?

4 October 2009 60 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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60 Comments »

  • Sherry bueckman said:

    Very interesting, using what nature gave the dog to get desired behavior.

  • GSD owner said:

    Brilliant article.
    Pulling my hair out with my GSD but am going to try this, will let you know how it goes

  • Jo said:

    My year old JRT X has chased rabbits but recently caught a couple and has been obsessively searching for them on walks ever since. She even jumped a fence to get at one which she has never tried before. At that point I had totally lost control over her so naturally I am concerned.
    What I have read here makes perfect sense and I will be practising the technique on every walk from now on. It seems like a very workable strategy.
    Many thanks for publishing this advice.

  • Nikki said:

    This is very interesting. I got my dog from a rescue centre about 5 months ago, just before his 3rd birthday. He’s probably Lab x B.Collie x Greyhound. He chases everything, Wild Boar (we live in France), Deer, Goats, Sheep, cars. He very quickly runs across a field, over the fence, across the next field & on & on into the distance. He loves it & nothing will distract him. I was advised by the rescue centre to try an electric shock collar. It doesn’t work!!! Having read the article I now know why. I bought a Halti which gives me far better control over him & I no longer get pulled over (or have to let go so I don’t get pulled over). So I keep him on the lead when we are near Sheep. That wasn’t good enough today, he saw the Sheep in the distance & shot off, totally ignored all my yelling & zapping. Fortunately he wears a muzzle so can’t harm anything. I’m going to have to do a lot more playing to stop his chasing or just keep him on the lead as there is always a scent for him to pick up & flush out a victim to chase.

  • alyth said:

    Inspiring post. I used to play ball almost non-stop with my collie rescue pup. Many folk said I was mad and shouldn’t “give in to her all the time”, so I eventually eased off a couple of months ago. Her chase drive increased as did her targets. Having read your book “Stop” and this article I’m now going back to my old routines but incorporating your guidelines. I’ve also gone back to avoiding river walks again. The temptation to chase rowers and water birds is like locking an alcoholic in a distillery!

  • Tom said:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I’m going to try this out with my 8 month old male border collie pup who thinks his sole purpose in life is to be a deerstalker – nightmare. The problem is that there are so many deer around here (Scotland) that he has had the taste for chase half a dozen times now despite my attempts to avoid deer……so it’s very hard to correct it.

  • Lisa said:

    Brilliant article, really useful tips which I will start today with my cat obsessed JRT. Even this morning he chased one and flew through the neighbours cat flap (which at 7am they didnt appreciate). I was begining to loose hope, but now hopefully there will be a solution.

  • Lori said:

    Thank goodness I have found this advice, I have a 15month old very large dog (Dane, mastiff, Ridgeback x) which was bred for Pig Hunting.
    I don’t want him as a hunting dog but it is obviously imbedded in him and I can not stop him chasing Kangaroo’s! The only good thing is that he has not caught one, but I have some people that think they are being kind by throwing parts of Roo they have hunted into the back yard for him to eat which i think is adding to my problem…the things he loves chasing are wonderful to eat! I will give this training method a go….although it is hard to seperate him from them as they come into the front yard all the time and there is no where to walk him where he wont see any! I have started by making him drop when ever we see a roo,which he will do but starts to shake and whine, so he obviously needs another distraction…..I will give it my best ! :-)

  • Gillian kyriakou said:

    This sounds like a great idea. I have a dog who chases sheep and goats which roam free on this island where we live. My problem is that he is not interested in games or toys!!! Any suggestions anyone?

  • cathy said:

    My 2 year old staffie rescued bitch who i love despite only having for 5 weeks has just chased her first sheep……..she has improved in all other areas of her training this `recall in flight` has proved impossible to change, as David says in the article she shuts out everything except the thrill of the chase. 2 days ago I was going to have her put down, firmly believing that you cant stop a dog that chases in this way. Fingers crossed. I`ll be starting this training immediately, its her only chance.

  • audrey said:

    My one year old working cocker spaniel hunts pheasants all the time and is driving me crazy as we live in the country and thats where we walk.
    I was considering an e-collar as a last resort, but now that I have read your article I am desperate to give it a try.
    My dog is ball obsessed so I am really hoping this will work as I am at my wits end.

  • Clare said:

    This really works. Now I just shout ‘ball’ and my dog comes back for a game.

  • Margaret said:

    Wow! this article totally explains why my newly acquired Border Collie cross Koolie dog doesn’t hear me when he is chasing my sheep, piglets, cat and chooks. I recently got him from a shelter and I think he wasn’t able to express his chase instict very much. It has only been a week today that I got him and I’m desperately tryingto get him to focus on me. There were some suggestions about an e-collar but I much prefer a humane method of training. I need to keep my other pets safe. My dog is only 12 months old so I’m hoping he will take to this method. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. will post a result.

  • Sarah said:

    This is a very interesting article and well written. Although my dogs chase the rabbits, foxes and squirrels in our garden so we cannot avoid going there. It happens mainly at night. I will try the toy method though.

  • eye said:

    I cant believe this article for nearly a year i had been pulling my hair out with my collie,she wouldnt stop chasing cars and cats,not been able to allow freedom of the lead at all as her chase instinct is so strong,so over the last week i have taken a completely different approach to her and this ball playing is what ive done,and after a year of searching for sufficiant ways to enjoy her and her enjoy her life,I cannot believe the difference in her when we our outside,its very early days and i wouldnt risk her anywhere near traffic but this is working,i had the best recall from her today and we both enjoyed our 3 little playing spurts,,,,thankyou..this works,hopefully over time we will be able to walk on the beach and fields without anxiety.thanks from me and evie.

  • Katherine said:

    We have a 20-month-old German Shepherd, whom we rescued from the shelter with paperwork that said he’d been through four owners in one year because of his wild behavior. He was found running in the country, chasing his own prey and surviving quite well. We trained him and were able to control ALMOST all of his habits (he destroyed a bathroom during his first two weeks in the house, tearing the drywall off every wall and even prying off the door frames; he tore up the carpet in another room, opens pantries and jumps on top of washers and dryers, etc). We were feeling very confident. His chasing was the last and most difficult habit. No luck. So, we finally installed an invisible fence that was working brilliantly until this early summer when the neighbor’s yard behind us became infested with rabbits. Now, no matter what we do, he chooses the thrill of the chase over all other options. He’s so fast he catches them, then wanders around looking for others. We live in an upscale neighborhood; everyone has toy dogs, gorgeous landscaping, etc. They certainly don’t appreciate my giant and very intimidating Shepherd causing chaos. I have three kids under the age of 5 and am exhausted using every spare moment for the dog. Nearing the end of my patience. I’ll try this and keep my fingers crossed!

  • jenny said:

    wow!!! thank god somthing that works and u dont have to punish them!!! guna try this now!!

  • wendy and Neva pearson said:

    This was a great education for us! Pointer mix Neva tore her CCL last year and since surgery I’ve been reluctant to really let her play ball like she loves to do. Perhaps as a result, I’ve noticed her recently getting more eager to chase little dogs on their walks as they pass by our front yard. We tie her up bur sometimes if i just let her out the door she will do it and its quite embarassing and frightning for the neighbors too! I think we’ll put down this computer right now and start some of your exercises!

  • Jean said:

    A very interesting article, I have a rescue Patterdale terrier spayed bitch 14 months,who is entirely focused when chasing prey usually cat’s,Foxes,squirrel’s and any other small furries. I have introduced 2 balls for playing but have not got it quite right. However I have been advised by her Cardiac Specialist not to let her chase anything including
    balls as she has a PDA untill after the corrective surgery in a few days. After she has fully recovered I intend to use these techniques and look forward to gaining control over her chase drive.Perhaps then we will both enjoy our daily outings!

  • Vanilla said:

    Superb! And very generous to put this up on the web freely available to anyone who needs it. Thank you David Ryan, you are a star.

  • gladys said:

    I am very excited to try this method with my dogs. My problems is more complicated because i have 4 dogs and the moment one of them sees a running target (runners, bikers, squirrels, etc), they take off and not only are they motivated by the thrill of the chase, but also by the pack’s mentality to see which dog will get to the running target first. I live in Berlin, Germany and there are tons of parks where I see many dogs off leash and even though there are many bikers and runners, the off leash dogs do not chase them. It is impressive and I wonder how these dogs are trained. Thank you so much for this article. It is refreshingly intelligent and thought provoking.

  • Eleanor said:

    My pit bull used to be impossible to control around other dogs. All she wanted to do was chase. Then I found the stick! She enjoys playing with me so much and is so focused on the game that another dog can come running up and try to engage in a chase game and my dog will focus on nothing but me and the stick. This really works!

  • Jennifer said:

    Thank you for such a well written article. My 8 month old Border Collie has become impossible to stop chasing after our small flock of sheep and as they’re now in lamb this is worrying. So… sheep are now stabled safely away and tomorrow we start with our training aid, Ellie the Effulump (or ‘toy’ as she’ll be known as from now on!)

  • Tyke said:

    Glad I found this. My 2 year old Border Collie is good apart from he chases everything that moves-birds, cats, sheep- worst of all cars. I don’t let him off the lead near traffic but he lunges all the time I’ve spent a fortune on dog trainers-no use most of then. I’m going to try this as he will chase a ball in our garden Can anyone give me a realistic time scale.When can I expect to see results? . I really don’t mind how long it takes as long as I know from the start

  • Meredith said:

    Great article, very well written and interesting. Thanks!

  • Kevin said:

    Very pleased I found your article,I have a 11 month working cocker which loves chasing cattle I can get her to leave the chase using an emergency recall whistle,but never close enough to put her back on lead.I have already started just taking her to beach and have her chase a ball which she loves even to the point of inoring other dogs so feel I am half way there and going to try next step teaching recall using the “toy” command or may call “ball” instead.I have tried various recall methods using treats,which work great in house,garden,on training line ect but as soon as she off lead she is not interested in food just hunting and chasing.So really looking forward to trying this. Thanks for posting it David

  • John said:

    Brilliant thank you.

  • Anne said:

    This article is very interesting my GSD chases cars bikes cats anything that moves I really must try this hope it works, Ive been told by a dog trainer to keep her on the leash untill her recall is much better, she loves playing with balls so hopefully it wont take long,now I understand why she chases things, thanks for the tips

  • Holly - South Africa said:

    Thank goodness I found this. My GSD has a beautiful nature but at the park, off leash, and in our garden, she chases birds and is so fast that she often catches them. To date, she has done no damage to the big birds as they seem to recover and fly off but the smaller ones sadly are sometimes not as lucky. She grabs the leash from my hand when we arrive and runs off, then goads me into a tug o’ war with it, so I will now take a ‘toy’ similar to her leash and give that a go. Thank you!

  • Jenny Broome said:

    Thanks so very much for this wonderful advice, David. I have a 2 yr old male GSD who we recently reformed Just before Christmas last year. He is wonderful with us and our other dogs, but when he is on his walks, he’s a bit of a nightmare! He comes back to me at first, but then takes off all of a sudden when he gets the scent of a rabbit, and there is just no getting him back until he feels like it. Part of his problem is that his two previous owners weren’t good with him and we think he was beaten when he finally came back to them, so we have an extra problem trying to make him understand we’re not going to hit him.

    He ran off 4 hours are we picked him up from his previous owners before Christmas 2011, and was missing for 4 days – he was hit bya car and broke his leg. Since then, he’s had an operation and it’s mended beautifully (thanks to the skill of the veterinary surgeons xxx), and now there’s no holding him back. I will give this technique a try and check back on this website to let you know of his progress with the toy technique. Many thanks once more xxx

  • carol said:

    brilliant artical, i have a 18 month old weimeraner he has done this a few times we live in country surrounded by live stock he has ran along the fence at cows and yes he does appear to get a buzz, after reading your article i now have a greater understanding of my hunting dogs high drive to hunt i will certainly be looking at getting some form of toy to redirect this as u suggest thanku. carol

  • Bonnie said:

    We recently rescued an 8 month old American Stratfordshire Terrier, Treeing Walker Coonhound mix. Maggie is a wonderful dog, however she is a rabbit chaser. She has gotten free from the harness when walking with my husband and was in flight mode for over an hour before she was able to be contained and brought home. This article clears so much up for me. I realized early on once her breeding was identified that she would have strong hunt instincts, however we live in a suburban area and do not hunt ourselves so she has no outlet for this. We were considering an invisible fence but I was skeptical. I think that this method of training will do the trick and am anxious to get going with it. Thank you for posting this valuable information, Maggie will be a happier dog and we will be too. I am in constant fear that she will be hit by a car when she is in this flight mode.

  • Mark said:

    About 8 months ago I took a 2 year old American Staffie from my son who can’t look after him anymore. My son rescued him from someone who was a bit of a druggy and the dog had been abused to some extent. Anyhow he is a wonderful dog, and I luv him lots. He has been a perfect dog, absolutely obsesssed about retreiving a ball and showed little interest in anything else. just recently though, (we are in NZ) these birds called Flovers started attacking him whilst we were out and he has started chasing them in return. Unfortunately, during one of his sessions he managed to catch a duck a couple of weeks ago. Since then he is spending less time chasing the ball and more time chasing birds especially water birds. This article seems to make perfect sense and I guess I am now going to be confined to the the garden whilst I work my way through the program! Hopefully this will so the trick, as it is not a good look him running around the golf course seemingly out of control. Thanks.

  • Judy said:

    Thank you so much for explaining all this so clearly. I have just come back from a walk with my 7 month old male GSD, exhausted! We live in a shooting area, and they have just put the pheasants out in the woodlands – flocks of them everywhere, and of course they run. He was on a flexi-leash, and you are right – absolutely nothing I said or did would get his attention. His eyes were glued to them as they ran away and his nose went down to track them as soon as we moved off. I have avoided taking a ball with me so far as I have two friends (one has a border terrier and the other a retriever) who cannot go for a proper walk without their dogs begging for the ball to be thrown all the time. We do play ball in the house in the evenings after dark when he is getting bored, and he does love it so I think you have given me the answer. So glad I found your site before I went down the wrong path with this. He’s a lovely boy, well socialized, loves everyone and all dogs, I would just hate to spoil him now. Thank you.

  • ab sateri said:

    I have GSD 7 month male chases chicken and lately has garbed twice and injured , brought them home but , didn’t have time to eat them. I’ll try your suggestion, hope it works, thanks

  • Rhiannon Hucker said:

    I live in a rural area with lots of livestock within the close vicinity to our house .We also have horses,Chickens and rabbits there are also sheep in a field ajoined to our back garden (not ours).We have a 9 month ols Goldendoodle(Dude) who has for about 2 months been chasing livestock. It is quite plain to see that he dose not chase to hunt but instead to play.I have atributed this to the fact that as we live in a rural area most of the dogs are sheep dogs and seem to find him to confusing (looks abit like a sheep but is a dog)to befriend. So he is quite lonly. My main concern is that he will chase sheep and become out of control and a farmer hearing the comosion will shoot him. This worry has become more hightend recently with the pregnat ewes and the lambing season on the horizon.So we have tried a number of methods to improve his behaviour to no avail.However I look forward to trying this technique on our morning walk.

  • Kim said:

    This is a very intresting article, our yellow lab bitch is nearly one (and only 19″ high to her shoulder! I know, she must have a midget gene) she is very good at walking to heal but when she sees/hears/smells her favorite chase – pheasants she starts shaking, I can keep her to heal (off the lead) for a few more steps then it just takes over her!! Shes off !!Its impossible, now her convidence is so strong she just goes. We have to wait for her to return (maybe 15/20 minutes. Fortunatly we are a good distance from major roads but i dont think the game keeper will be very understanding.This has happened three times now and we cant walk her by the house now without her being on a lead. I considered an electric collar but am now going to try your two toy technique it sounds great, thanks so much for sharing.

  • Vanessa Churchward said:

    Thank you for this great advice! Previously I had read a different article which basically blamed the dog owners which made me feel quite terrible . I have 2, 8 month old border collies, Merlin always comes back and is quite obedient, however, Willow tries to jump at cars and recently has started chasing deer and not coming back, on one occasion she chased it across a road and this could have been fatal. Your article makes so much sense, when Willow spots a deer it is like she is in a trance and nothing will stop her!! I will avoid these areas now and find a toy for her to play with!!

  • ChamRider said:

    Very good article thanks. I’ve been trying not to play ball with my Dog because her Mum was so obsessed with balls. I’m now thinking the ball obsession is far better than chasing!

  • Jenny said:

    Great if you dog likes toys! chows have a very strong chase instinct, but not that bothered about toys!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jenny, you misunderstand the word ‘toy’. If your chow likes to chase, then he likes ‘toys’, because that’s basically what prey is. ‘Prey’ and ‘toy’ are interchangeable. What you mean is that the toys you are providing aren’t stimulating enough. The answer is to make them more prey-like and when you find one that your dog will get in to, reduce the prey-properties to more toy-like properties over time. You can make toys more prey-like by varying their properties, their actions and their location. Don’t give up so easily with a “chows don’t do toys” – with some lateral thinking and effort there is no reason why your chow won’t chase a toy as a game.
    Regards, David

  • jojo said:

    Thanks for the advice. My Austrailian Cattle Dog is nine and raised out of the city, and now we are around traffic and she is relentlessly chasing cars. Very accurate review of her behaviour.

  • Liam said:

    Excellent article, David. I already had a bit of knowledge into why my dog does this but now I have a much better understanding of it. I have two dogs, an English springer spaniel and a mongrel (lab,collie, possibly lurcher)they are both older dogs now but still have a lot of energy. I don’t have any problem with the spaniel chasing anything or with other dogs, I have complete trust in him on/off leash so walking him is a breeze. It’s my wee mongrel I have an issue with, he has a high prey drive especially with rabbits and other dogs. he was recently neutered so the issues with other dogs has dampened a bit. I love in a semi-rural area in Scotland, nearby woodlands, a river and farms/stables, so they’re lots of distractions for him (especially rabbits and cats, also the occasional deer). One incident I had a couple of years ago was when I was walking both dogs on a well used footpath on the edge of the farmers field, I always make sure it is quiet before I let him off leash. But this time I did not see a woman with her two border terriers walking in our direction, they were quite a bit away, and before I knew it, he was off and sprinting full speed towards this woman, luckily she saw my dog coming and picked her dogs up but I was so embarrassed. I learned an important lesson that day. Other times he has chased a rabbit or seen another dog off leash, he always comes back, but always after the chases. He loves tennis balls and I used a similar technique with it. But I am going to use your technique on all walks from now on and with both dogs (The old springer can be a bit stubborn with recalls). Thanks for the advice!

  • Lois said:

    Great article and just in time for us. Our 17-month old Black Lab Emma has just started chasing woodchucks and nearly caught one yesterday. (They live on our fenced-in property, so we can’t avoid them). Her mother is a tennis-ball fanatic and it turns out her grandfather was a field-trial champion. We have had many Labrador Retrievers and never had this prey behavior problem before, so we were at a loss. We didn’t know their chase behavior could be this extreme. Recently, she started trying to catch flying birds and has become interested in bicycles.

    Fortunately, we already had been exercising her chase-and-retrieve instinct with both a large ball and a Frisbee, so I’m hoping it won’t be a big stretch to implement your recommendations. She is reasonably obedient and likes to work. We’ve been trying to figure out ways to make her playtime more complex, since she obviously needs a “job.”

    Thanks so much — this really helps.

  • Leanne said:

    This article is very interesting and very clearly explained. I have a siberian husky who loves the thrill of the chase. She very often catches her prey. When there’s no animals around her recall is excellent ( ive trained her with a whistle). She’s a rescue dog, ive had her just under 18 months. Everybody said I wouldn’t be able to let her off lead but with hard work, training and patience we’ve proved otherwise! But…her prey drive is so strong. I can relate to alot of things mentioned in this article especially to her switching off all other senses like hearing! Im very intrigued by this technique. Fingers crossed! A fab read, thankyou!

  • Shone said:

    My dogs chase is footballs ! Does the same reinforced behaviour patterns work with this behaviour ?? At my wits end with him!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Shone, yes, the same process will work for any chase behaviour. Building up his interest in a toy that you control is the key. Take your time with it and prevent unwanted reinforcement of the previous inappropriate behaviour, then gradually bring the two together again as he concentrates on you. Best wishes, David

  • terri said:

    Hi, I read this with interest, I have 3 lurchers who chase but I can’t train them using a toy because they have to be muzzled. If I take a toy with me to recall thay just get frustrated because they can’t play with it. They now go absolutely mental when they see a cat and I need to know how to control it on a lead.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Terri, there are limits as to what can be done in your situation. You can’t start from the perspective of three muzzled dogs. If you read the piece, toy-play is started out of context, ie not on walks, and on a one-to-one basis. Only when each dog’s focus is on you (via the toy) can you start to use it in context. Once you have that focus the need to muzzle diminishes. Only when you have control of each individual un-muzzled could you expect to bring them together again, first each two then all three.
    All you are doing by muzzling and exposing to ‘prey’ is frustrating them, which increases their desire to chase the prey, making them more difficult to control. In your place I would totally re-evaluate what I was doing and go back to basic principles if I wanted to make any progress. You can’t progress from muzzled frustration because you don’t have anything that they want more than the prey.
    It will take a great deal of time and effort, but the alternative is continuing as you are.
    Regards,
    David

  • Mar said:

    This is a really interesting article, thank you for writing this! We have a young German Shorthaired Pointer, who is really into stalking and chasing. He won’t run away, he’ll always stay close to us, but he won’t answer to recall either to come close enough so that we can touch him (or put him on leash). Walking on leash, he’s recently gotten into the same stalking, and I can see him shake and shiver in excitement as he stares at bushes with birds. Your article gives me a different perspective on the issue, a better understanding of what might be going on in my dog’s head, and a promising avenue for working on the behavior. A question I have though: would different sports work as equal substitutes (or alternatives) to building up a special toy? We’ve played find-it games since our dog was a small puppy, and recently started also training for the first level of nosework trial and a tracking trial. Our dog seems to be really into it, particularly nosework. This obviously won’t work as an enticement off leash like a special toy would, but perhaps it will help him redirect some of his prey drive to sports?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Maris, Yes, the opportunity to engage in another activity that is equally or more rewarding would be the same as a toy. In your case I would probably consider integrating a toy into the nosework – it doesn’t have to be a retrieve toy, it could be a ‘find-toy’. In order to keep your value you must control access to the opportunity to engage in the rewarding activity for him, otherwise he doesn’t need you and has no need to pay you any attention at all.
    Regards,
    David

  • Cora said:

    My dog doesn’t chase balls or toys though :(

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Cora, At the moment your dog may not chase balls or toys, so the challenge is to make balls/toys sufficiently exciting for them to want to do that. There are some ideas for that in the book and there are lots of toys marketed that could stimulate your dog’s interest in focusing on them. If you want to change your dog’s behaviour you have to be prepared to instigating that change from the basics upwards. If you don’t yet have the basics, you will need to work on those first. Any change in behaviour rarely starts from the status quo; groundwork and preparation must take place first. Investment in basics is never wasted.
    Regards,
    David

  • Ruth said:

    I have a 16 month old GSD who loves to chase other dogs, trainers I’ve consulted say he is fearful, so chases them away. He does love a tennis ball, he will totally focus on it until a dog is spotted, I am now avoiding dogs at all costs, which obviously isn’t helping the situation. Having just read the above, it’s like a light bulb. He stalks and chases my other dogs in the garden. I need a new “TOY” Can’t wait to start putting this into practice. I know it will take time but, understanding him more, I just feel a whole lot happier. Thank you so very much…

  • Alex said:

    What about dogs that hunt by scent? All of my beagles will deliberately run into copses or similar areas where they know there might be deer in order to look for something to track. Toys are of no use as they are a) not interested in them and b) not visually stimulated anyway. They generally don’t chase rabbits as they get high on the distance tracking rather than a quick visual chase. I do track with some of them but this makes no difference to the need to hunt. I want them off lead but it is always a risk. They drag hunt but will prefer to leave an aniseed trail for real game. Any ideas?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Alex,
    It is a good question, but relates to predatory TRACKING/TRAILING rather than CHASING, hence methods to control chasing are less appropriate in your case. You are right that toys have less effect on a dog that is scent orientated, although it is still possible to work using them, just more difficult and time-consuming.
    You seem to want the Beagles to track and drag hunt, but not to direct the same behaviour towards game when allowed their freedom. The behaviour is innately rewarding, especially in a breed like Beagles, and wildlife probably has innate properties that make its scent more attractive than an aniseed trail. You are probably asking too much of dogs to make a distinction between what they are allowed/encouraged to do, and what you would prefer they did not do, when they are genetically driven to perform the “forbidden” behaviour more than your preferred behaviour.
    You do not have physical or verbal control, neither can you offer them anything more rewarding than the behaviour you would like to prevent.
    You have no enticement for them to abandon the behaviour, therefore there will always be the risk of performing it as it is under their own control.
    Running more than one dog together will also socially facilitate it and make it even more resistant. Basic obedience training may help, but only to a certain extent.
    There is a partial answer, but it involves training the dogs extensively one-to-one and heavily differentially reinforcing the preferred behaviour – but even then I’m not sure it would be reliable.

    Regards,
    David

  • Judy said:

    I really enjoyed this article thank you – it has given me a clearer understanding of my dog’s behaviour. I have a 4 year old rescue street dog from Spain – sort of spaniel type cross. I have had him for 2 years. He is a gentle, loving dog however he is excitable and I have to be very careful where I take him because his desire to hunt is so strong. On a walk he invariably disappears for around 20 minutes, ignoring me completely – even running past me a few feet away, ignoring me as I wave an open pouch of cat food at him. There are nesting birds (pheasants and skylarks) where I often walk and he is currently obsessed with trying to locate and flush them out. He disappears into woodland or long grass and I have no idea where he is until he decides to come back to me, all happy and fulfilled. I am keen to try the toy technique. At the moment he knows when it is playtime with my collie and (if it suits him) he runs in, grabs her ball and runs off with it, dumping it some distance away in favour of rushing off into the woods. Perhaps the fact that he wants to ball initially is a good sign.

  • Jessica said:

    I have 2 y/o Sheepdog, of course, bred to herd. We rescued her 3 months ago. We live in a rural area with many deer, armadillos, etc. Our property is not fenced. She has bolted out the door several times in pursuit of deer. I can’t control the deer population, it is what it is here. She does love her toys so I will work on this. My concern, when she is in pursuit, she is fast and hears nothing I have to say. The other problem I have is her barking. She gets walks 3-4 times a day and whenever she sees deer she barks uncontrollably. I tried the rocks in a can, creating a noise and that worked for about 3 weeks then she became immune to that. Will a dog whistle help? I am desperate! Thank you!
    Jessica

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jessica,
    You have a square peg that you are trying to smash into a round hole. Not sure what she’s done for the first 21 months of her life, but guessing it wasn’t optimum upbringing. No fenced area and walked on lead is also far from ideal. Many deer that you cannot avoid makes it worse. The rocks in a can is a weak punisher that stopped her behaviour through fear, but her desire to chase the deer means more to her than the fear does, so she’s worked through it. The punishment probably also made you less attractive to her, which is another negative.
    Barking at the deer is frustration. This can turn to anger and aggression in some cases if you keep repeating it (but if you are lucky it may not).
    A whistle will not work.
    It is difficult for me to emphasise just how wrong your environment is for this dog.
    If I HAD to keep her using your environment (and my preference would be to re-home her to a more appropriate one, because it is not benefiting either of you) I would forget about walking her and spend the time with her tied-out on a long line so she can’t run off, whilst playing retrieve games with her. Replace the walks with games-time, and make sure the games focus on you. Forget all punishment and build a good relationship (3 months is a bit early to have achieved that yet) and practice your obedience training recall so she comes back because she wants to.
    After that you need a protracted programme of introducing the stimulus (deer) at a low level whilst keeping her focus on you (toy-reward) and gradually increasing the salience of the deer-stimulus. Working your way through the book will help (DON’T miss any bits out, especially the early parts) http://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/ but it is going to be a long concerted effort for you.
    Good luck,
    David

  • Julia said:

    So interesting to hear that the ears are gone once the dog is chasing… it all starts to make sense! Thank you, will be thinking along these lines now.

    Julia.

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