How do I stop my dog chasing?

4 October 2009 394 Comments
How do I stop my dog chasing?

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

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

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

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

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

Predatory Chase

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


What Do Dogs Get Out Of It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why they won’t stop

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The First Step

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

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

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

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

Control the Opportunities

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

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

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

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

Would you?

No, and neither will your dog.

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

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

Changing the Target

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


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

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

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

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

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

Predictive Command – The Best Recall Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Control

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

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

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


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

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



  • Elsabe said:

    Hi David

    I have a 3yr old Golden Retriever that is developing a chase problem. She chases squirrels and birds, if they move. She’s not interested in stationary targets. Lately she has started chasing birds on water – she will easily swim >50m out after birds and I cannot recall her. She completely shuts down.

    I’ve read your methods above and I am keen on starting to try them out.
    She loves toys, but couldn’t care less for treats. Tennis balls are her absolute favourite, followed by tug toys. I stopped playing fetch (balls) with her 18 months ago, as I was worried about her elbows and the constant impact on them.
    Thinking back, that is also the time she started chasing as much – something I didn’t connect before reading your article.

    My question now is – I am sure I will have some success when using the training methods you described, but I am concerned about the impact on her joints when I throw objects – she goes in very hard and always has a very hard stop, putting strain on the elbows.

    Any ideas how I can counter that?
    Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Elsabe,
    I can see your concern, but her enthusiasm for the ball-game certainly underlines the importance it has for her. The issue of joint impact is really a veterinary one and I’m not qualified to provide veterinary advice, but I would be looking at changing the toy to one she can take at head height, such as a Frisbee. And whilst I’m not sure that swimming is appropriate all the time she clearly enjoys that, and it is low-impact on the joints, so throwing the Frisbee into water could work for you.
    If there is any reason why you think her elbows may suffer you should probably see a vet, but if it is simply general concern, I had a Labrador that did the same whilst he was young – as he got older he slowed down a little but it never seemed to do him any harm.

  • Yvonne said:

    Hello and thank you so much for this fantastic article.
    I have recently rescued a 5 year old sprocker whose prey drive is very high (poss a gun dog prior to going into the rescue centre -background unknown)

    Her love is to flush out birds, so it’s not obvious what she is chasing as she is switched on if there are bushes etc- living in the North of Scotland, that’s pretty much everywhere so avoiding them is difficult!
    She had no interest in chasing balls or toys etc even building up the retrieve at home she has little interest, but I have finally managed to get her interested in tennis balls covered in rabbit fur which I put various scents on (deer, duck or pheasant). She loves it coming out on a walk but as soon as she gets a scent of something (which is almost constantly) she drops the ball and goes for the scent.
    I’m really reluctant to put her on a training line as iv tried that and it hasn’t removed the drive and she definitely doesn’t get the exercise she needs (she gets lots of mental exercises outwith walks) if you could suggest anything I would be sooooo very grateful as I totally get why your method works, and I believe it will work for her as she is pretty switched on.
    Your thoughts/advice would be immensely appreciated.

    Thank you so much.

    Hi David
    Further to my last post I just realised you are the author of the book ‘Stop’ which I am 80% of the way through. I have been unable to use an area which has no scent/bushes for her to flush as where we live in the North of Scotland is pretty much wildlife haven so it’s almost impossible to go somewhere without scent. I have been able to follow all other steps and am at the stage of finding the low value and high value toys for her to fetch but as per my last post she has little to no interest in any toys. The only 1 in the toy Basket I found that she loved (which I went looking for again after reading that chapter again tonight) was one of the cat toys which fell in…….its a small grey furry mouse that squeaks! She went nuts for it but I think it’s because it’s probably like a small bird to her and I understand from your book that I will just be reinforcing the problem if I use that.
    Your help in this would be much appreciated, thank you so much for your time.
    Ps your book is amazing and to anybody reading this I HIGHLY recommend it – it’s written in such an easy to understand way that you totally get why you are doing what is asked of you at each stage in the training and you can see that it will work… cant not work if you follow each step as described.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Dear Yvonne,
    Re this and the last post: a five year old sprocker that has been used as a gundog has a lot of learning behind her, so any change is going to be a massive undertaking and long term project. If you can’t use a long line you relinquish control of her and allow her to make decisions you would rather she didn’t. That will put your training back every time it happens. The line doesn’t remove the drive, it provides you with a means of controlling the dog in the meantime.
    Working your way through the book is a good idea, but it sounds like you are still at an early stage. Whilst the ideal is to use a toy not reminiscent of game, some dogs are just so switched on that you have to use what you have to use. The good thing is that as she switches on to playing with you, the toys should be easier to switch too. If you have to use a toy squeaky bird, then you have to. It’s not the end of the world, you just have another stage to insert when you change over.
    Good luck,

  • Yvonne said:

    Hi David
    Thank you so much for your response – I really appreciate it. I will keep on keeping on and stick with your methods as I can definitely see how they are designed to work.
    Thanks again, take care and stay safe and thank you for all you do to help our animals. Yvonne

  • Emma said:

    Thank you for an in depth insight to how to start distracting and training away from the situation. I just need a little answer if you know… My parents have a two year old male cockapoo who is un neutered. Up until about maybes may last year he was amazingly flawless off the lead, just came naturally, he wouldn’t run off and when he did do a little hunt around he was only gone a couple of mins and came straight back in just one call. I think it must have been his first proper desire for a female when I first lost him and we’ve must have lost him off the lead about six time or maybes even more. He goes after rabbits, sheep, deer. Obviously this is natural. He is so in the mode he is literally covered in saliva when you get to him and when you do you have to snap it out of him. He a lush dog and I’ve always reckoned its because he needs neutered? He’s not going to be using his little things and I think he still has them due to my parents previously owning a border terrier male un neutered who also wasnt a stud, but he was totally different and never had this urge.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Emma,
    Thanks for your interesting question. So far as I am aware there is no correlation between predatory behaviour and neuter status. Genes ‘switch on’ behaviours as dogs mature and it is quite possible that your parents’ dog matured into hunting behaviour at the same time as he matured into sexual behaviour. If he’s two now he’d be about sixteen to eighteen months when you first noticed the change, which could be about the right time for a dog to start displaying some of their adult behaviours. I have never come across a dog that has changed its hunting/chasing behaviour when neutered.

  • Helen said:

    Hello David
    We live in a rural area where Roe deer run free.
    We have 2 spaniels,cocker 2 and springer 6.
    They both love the chase when they come across the deer and if we catch them early enough can use a whistle recall. However, sometimes they are in full flight before we notice they are on the scent.
    They love ball play on the walk but this is forgotten if the deer are on the scene and off they go! A lunge lead is no good as they need so much exercise being working strain.
    Can you help?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Helen,
    There are some basic tenets of dog training and one is that you have to pay attention to what your dog is doing. If you don’t, and your dog runs after a deer there will be a point at which you are not able to break their concentration to call them back. ‘Full flight’ is too late. A lunge line isn’t supposed to be for ever, but used as a training aid to make sure that your dog cannot ignore you when you call. Integrated into a training programme it can be discarded when it has served its purpose. The process is explained more fully in my book ‘Stop!’

  • Lisa said:

    Hi David

    I have a border collie who is 7. He has always been a chaser; he chases birds, squirrels and cats. When he was younger we stupidly thought it was fun to shout ‘pigeon’ and watch him peg it after birds. Fast forward 5 years and we got a kitten during lockdown. We have kept them totally separate because we knew it would be a long process for him to relax around a cat. We put cardboard against the adjoining door of their ‘areas’ so the cat didn’t get stressed and the dog didn’t go mental. We never let them in the same space without supervision, and we use stair gates to keep them apart when we need to. We just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The cat used to run away immediately but now he’s a bit bigger (5 months) he’ll stand his ground before legging it. However his ultimate aim is to get away from the dog ASAP. We have to keep the dog on a lead if the cat is in the room, and even when he’s lying down he never seems totally relaxed. As soon as the cat moves then he’s up with eyes like saucers.

    We really want to try and help the dog in the best way possible. We have done him a disservice by encouraging him to chase; however he has always had a high drive to do so. We don’t want to get rid of the cat, the kids love him and he’s nice to have around. We are worried that when we come to actually let the cat outside then he’ll never come back!

    We have two small children and we both work so we need to find a way of helping the dog to control his urge to chase. We’re not sure we could see the programme through that you’ve mentioned above. We need help!

    Best wishes


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lisa,
    A couple of points for you to ponder. The first is that if you can’t adhere at least minimally to a programme you will not change the behaviour of your dog; a dog which incidentally has been practicing the unwanted behaviour for seven years, which is always going to be a tough one. The second is that this is not a programme to introduce a dog to a new cat. Such a programme would probably contain elements of this, but would need to be tailored to your own specific circumstances. For that you would need a qualified behaviour counsellor to come to your home to design a modification programme that suits you, your home circumstances, your dog and your cat. You can find your nearest counsellor at
    Hope this helps and good luck,

  • Anne said:

    HiCan you advise me please we have adopted a little rescue from Spain and he was a street dog rescue.My issues Are he chases people who are Running or walking fast . I have tried Recall on which he is excellent but he won’t respond to this . He has come such a long way , he is mostly good and this plus being aggressive when on a lead with other dogs even over the road I am having no success with . We have had training sessions but he is not responding to them.He does Watch me really well and I think as I had a16 month old bitch Cavachon he is possibly being over protective .

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Anne,
    There could be several reasons why your little rescue is chasing people, but it is extremely unlikely they are related to predatory behaviour. The most likely are fear, or as you suggest, resource protection. It sounds like you have some fear issues going on with other dogs too. I’m afraid it is just too complicated to both diagnose and suggest a behaviour modification programme via the internet. You need specialist help from a qualified behaviourist, which you can find at

  • Donna said:

    I am thinking of rehousing a 1 year old neutered male beautiful temperament
    But he’s got into a habit of chasing deer and comes back on his terms the owner also concerned what goes on when he out of sight she feels he would chase sheep
    If I give him a home I don’t want to have worries every time I walk if he’s off the lead
    Is he domed for walks on a lead we live in rural Somerset and are surrounded by woods and deer hares
    Have I got a chance

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Donna,
    You don’t give me a lot of information to go on, but at one year old there should be a reasonable prospect of changing a dog’s behaviour. He certainly shouldn’t be allowed to chase animals such as deer and sheep freely, so there will be a training period of keeping him on a lead to start with, but with time and effort it should be possible to exert verbal rather than physical control over him. If you need more details a complete behaviour modification programme is in the book.

  • Keely said:

    Hello, I have a 27 month old whippet lurcher x and a 9 month old lurcher. Both males, both neutered. 9 months ago my oldest boy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had a forelimb amputation. At last scan his lungs were clear, although we have chosen not to pursue further treatment, but rather enhance the quality of his life. We decided to get our younger boy to add to the family and possibly perk up my older boy as he loves other dogs. He had always been so friendly and would not leave my side when out on walks on the field. They both get on well but play quite rough several times a day. Initially, when I took them out, the recall was nowhere near as good as it was with just my older boy. They started running up to other dogs and trying to play too rough. They chase, nip, roll and sometimes growl.. exactly how they play together.. however, other owners understandably see this as aggressive, especially when they bark and chase. Even more so when they are both doing it. I’m aware that they have formed a pack and aren’t listening to me. At home they listen to everything and are very well behaved. I took them to a group trainer when lockdown allowed and worked on recall and we got on great..the on lead socialisation with other dogs helped them both. However, despite me continuing the training, I feel that I’ve lost control. I worry that they need a good off lead run but can’t trust them unless I’m sure the coast is clear. Should I stop letting them ‘hunt’ each other? Do you think your method could work with 2 dogs? They really are lovely, I just don’t want to worry that others will feel threatened by them. Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Keely,
    I’m afraid there’s much more than ‘hunting’ each other here and technically, although there is some crossover, play and predation are not the same. Having said that what you need is to divert your dogs’ attention from each other onto you, and much of the predatory programme involves increasing owner value, so from that perspective it will work.
    Having said, ‘having said that’, because there is so much more going on I wouldn’t like you to rely on the solution for predatory chase to sort it all out for you. It is about the value of the play and access to it in maintaining emotional equilibrium in both dogs, and what you really need is a professional to develop a specific behaviour modification programme to address your requirements. You can find your nearest qualified behaviourist at

  • Tim said:

    Hi David,
    We rescued a Afghan Saluki cross about a year ago from a local dog rescue centre. We know little about his background other than he’s about two years old, has scaring down his back (presumably from being beaten) and took the dog catcher about a month to catch him. When he came to use he wasn’t house trained, didn’t respond to any commands and was extremely nervy with other other people, especially teenage boys. Since then he has slowly responded to house training and responds to sit and lie down commands. It has taken some time to sufficiently trust that he will come back when off the lead. He’s become pretty good at this now when we walk in nearby fields. However, if he sees another dog, he will give chase and want to play. This has become particularly bad on a local dog friendly sandy beach, when as soon as he is off the lead, he will give chase to the nearest dog and his recall become non existent. As you can imagine, this can become quite stressful, especially when other dog owners disapprove of my inability to keep him under control; it often takes our other dog, an intelligent whippet cross, to ‘distract’ him by allowing him ton give chase and, in doing so, ’round him up’ close enough so that I can put a lead on. I was really interested in your thought provoking article and was wondering whether you would consider this predatory behaviour and if your training strategy of using a favourite toy would be the most appropriate method of to follow.
    Kind regards,

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Tim,
    You have an interesting dog (not that they all aren’t interesting in their own way, but some are more interestingly complicated), but the behaviour of chasing off to play with other dogs is unlikely to be predatory in origin. Of note, however, is the solution provided by your other pet, of being more attractive than the distraction.
    First though, some credit where it is due: you’ve persuaded an adult, scarred, hand-shy, nervous, un-house-trained, stray dog to trust you enough to respond to your requests to sit, lie down and come back to you when called (most of the time). Well done for coming so far, you have my admiration.
    Whilst I don’t think your dog-chase game is predatory, it seems to be of high value in itself, and consequently the solution is to raise your own value so that you can compete for his attention. The ‘predatory’ solution does that by investing value in a toy, which you then in turn control – playing with the toy then becomes more important than playing with the other dog, and you control access to the toy, which becomes your ultimate recall tool.
    I’m sure having come this far that you understand that it isn’t a magic wand, and it will take time and effort to train, but it is very possible. If you want to implement it, full details of the programme are contained in the book.
    Good luck,

  • Charles said:

    Hi David,

    I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to all these questions… Naturally I have one of my own.

    I have a 1yo Norfolk Terrier… She’s always loved squirrels and up to now I’ve been happy to see her happy and enjoying the chase. Recently she’s started pond diving, chasing ducks and not coming out and I’m really worried about her getting caught on something and drowning or going after sheep etc. Can you give me any Terrier specific advice/ reassurance that behaviour modification might be possible? Her prey drive is super high and she’s v stubborn!

    Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Charles,
    At one year old your Norfolk terrier will be flexing her independence and probably not responding as well as she did when she was a puppy. She certainly sounds like she’s enjoying herself. In order to compete you have to increase your value too. You can do this by playing obedience-type games with her, for little treat rewards, but treats are unlikely to compete with games when she’s completely absorbed (if you need to know why, ask Mo Salah if he’d rather score a goal or eat a biscuit).
    You can increase games-with-you value by varying the game from straight ‘fetch’ with extended ragging (playing tug with rope-type toys) or with toys such as flirt-poles (whip-like toys with a furry on the end), or even squeaky toys. Make the game exciting enough and she’ll come back for that in preference to over-indulging in her own games.
    Good luck,

  • Rebecca said:

    Good evening

    I’ve been reading your article. We have a 3 year old Labrador who this week has run off 3 times chasing deer. She has always gone off and explored and usually the whistle is enough to bring her back. This week two of the times due went missing she was gone for almost an hour and lucky people found her and called me, she’s had traveled some distance.

    I think we need to go back to the training method you have suggested with a toy. Is this something we would need to bring in every walk in the future? Also as she is 3 is this going to be very difficult to train out of her?

    Thank for your week written article I’ve been feeling quite worried and anxious about taking her out.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Rebecca,

    The method will work for a dog of any age, so her being three isn’t really an issue. Having practiced the behaviour for a long time, however, does fix it in her so it is more difficult to counter. It is not by any mean a quick fix, you will need time and patience to practice in order to make the toy preferable to chasing deer, and yes, you will have to take it with you (or more accurately she must believe it is always on offer) on all walks where you think it may be required. Having said that, it is great fun, playing with her and you should both enjoy it. You don’t need to use it constantly, in fact that would be counter-productive, but it needs to be there for the times where you need her to make the right decision so you can reward her with it.

    Good luck,

  • Vickie said:

    Thank you so much for your insights, this piece is precisely what I’ve been searching for online.

    We have a 6 month old cockapoo who generally has good recall and is treat oriented. When off lead in the park we’ve used a clicker and high value treat and this has been effective with recalling her until recently, when she’s started to chase joggers, cyclists and small children. If she sees them before us, she’s off and the clicker has no effect. If we see them first, we call her and put her on her lead until the ‘target’ is out of sight.

    The joggers and cyclists are bad enough but chasing children is concerning. She chases them and barks which scares them into running and screaming, which I’m sure just encourages her more.

    Other than chasing after her and using the clicker to try and recall, I’m not sure what else we should do. Should we be keeping her on a lead until she’s sufficiently desensitised to any moving ‘objects’ that she wants to chase after? I’m loathe to do this because she has so much energy to burn off during her walks but we want to do what we can while she’s young enough that we can mould her behaviour!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Vickie,
    A six month old cockerpoo should be a joyful experience for you, but I can see how it might be causing you a little concern. Running up to and barking at people could amount to an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK, as could causing a cyclist to fall off, so you are right to take the behaviour very seriously.
    There could be a few things going on but for any of them six months old could be the start of her stroppy teenage years, when she stops listening to you and starts to flex her individuality. That’s just a developmental thing and if you continue to plug away at your training (or even better if you up your game for a bit) she’ll come back round. There’s a tendency to get to a level of general obedience you are happy with and then ease off with the training. Sadly this often coincides with the stroppy-teen-years. Buckle down (considerately) and it will come right.
    Next thing is that I’m not quite sure why your pup is chasing and barking. It could be predatory (but less likely given the targets), it could be fear (bark at them and the problem is removed) or it could be a shear exuberant joyful game.
    However, the solution is first to get your relationship right, so she understands you are worth listening to, and then start to focus her on you, rather than the things she finds in the environment.
    The article and to a greater extent the book will provide you with the ideas you need to implement, but first of all you need to take her under control.
    I agree that confining her to a lead may not help, or even be counter-productive because it will cause frustration. But you do have to stop her from getting you and her into trouble by chasing.
    In the short term, as you work through the longer term training, you can take control by using a long line. This is just a long 20-30ft piece of cord (or a lunge-rein if you are horsey) that you attach to her collar and let drag on the ground. It takes a little bit of mastering the manipulation of it but it helps in two ways. In the first she feels the drag on her collar and it reminds her that you are in control – she doesn’t have freedom to make all decisions. The second is that you are actually in control. If she spies something she would normally chase, take hold of the line and using your recall gently guide her back to you. Reward her massively and let her go again. If she goes back, do it again. If she doesn’t come, you now only need to take hold of the line, not grab hold of a runaway dog.
    This will have to be refined to tie in with your new reward strategy (treats are ok, but often don’t compete with the opportunity to chase because food is not on the same neural reward system), but confining her with a long line is the solution to preventing her from running off in the meantime. Eventually, as your new training kicks in she will be more and more compliant and you can discard the line.

    Good luck and enjoy your pup,


  • Ingrid Allan said:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for this wonderfully informative article, part of me always felt very conflicted about chasing because while I can see how much they enjoy it, my partner and I are nature-lovers with a general dislike of irresponsible dog-owners who refuse to control their dogs when out in the countryside (when I was a kid my cousin’s dog was shot for chasing sheep and ever since I’ve considered proper training the single most important aspect of adjusting to life with a dog). You’ve perfectly captured why the need to chase is both essential and something potentially fatal and destructive which gives us owners a lot of extra stress.

    Unfortunately, a couple of months ago our Samoyed puppy developed an obsession with chasing gulls and crows which now seems to have extended to other birds, even tiny ones. Unlike the cocker spaniel I grew up with – who loved flushing out birds but quickly lost interest once they were in the air – she will try to pursue them until they are almost out of sight and we had a bit of a wake-up-call this week after an incident where she got a bit too close to working farm machinery. Though she’s an intelligent dog there must be an element of basic common sense in realising something with wings that’s moving both higher into the sky and further away isn’t something you’ve got a hope in hell of catching! But as you’ve pointed out, the more she does it, the more determined she becomes and the further she wants to chase. There was a short window in which we were able to recall her quite effectively if a bird had only just caught her attention and if there were other dogs around she was far more interested in them but now whether she’s on-lead, off-lead or on the long-line, the second something flies close enough, she fixates on it.

    ‘Selective hearing’ is a common problem with Samoyeds and though I adore them more than any other dog, their need for constant reinforcement and repetition in training means they can be pretty hard work. Do you have any breed-specific advice that could help us? They were bred more for herding than hunting but I’ve noticed some Samoyeds still have quite a strong prey-drive (ours gets on okay with the cat but if he runs she’ll try and pursue so we want his life to be a little easier too)

    We have a 10ft longline which we use either in unfamiliar (but generally safe) environments or when there are loads of birds on the beach but she walks off-lead in enclosed parks, familiar bits of the countryside and a few other local haunts and until recently her recall has been really good. She’s only 6 months old but a quick learner and already knows ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘lie-down’, ‘shake’, ‘drop’, ‘leave-it’ and ‘speak’ (she’s quite vocal so I wanted to try and channel it into something she could switch on and off). I have a sinking suspicion this is just the teenage phase kicking in as she is pretty stubborn and has only gotten more so lately, but I don’t want to restrict all of the things she enjoys because I’m finding I have less and less control over her recall. She is a high-energy dog and though she’s slept through the night from when she was four months old she seems to need about 2 hours of exercise a day to do so which (even with the long-line) is a lot harder to facilitate without giving her some time off-lead.

    The most difficult aspect of it is that after half an hour of chasing gulls up and down the tide-line and completely ignoring me, she comes back with a big tongue-lolling smile, chilled as anything and is completely biddable for the rest of the walk. I’ve tried using some of the methods you’ve suggested above to get her into fetch or another game but as soon as something stops moving she loses interest. While capable of completely locking her focus onto something she wants (treats, chasing gulls etc.) I guess she’s still a puppy and has a very short attention-span the rest of the time. Lately I’ve even been thinking about buying a drone or some sort of motorised remote-control car to provide her with continuous enrichment while out (I know it sounds unconventional but I saw a video of someone using a ride-on mower to alleviate a beagle’s prey drive and it seemed to work well) is there anything similar you could recommend?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ingrid,

    I think you’ve pretty much got this sussed out – where the behaviour is coming from and where it could possibly lead. You’re right inasmuch there are breed-specific tendencies although there is also wide variation in behaviour within breeds. I can sympathise with the ‘selective deafness’ of Samoyeds as we have a Lhasa Apso. It seems like they’re ignoring us at times, but rather than being a wilful disobedience, try to think of it as being lost in the moment. When they’re doing ‘that thing’ they’re so consumed with it that nothing else matters. As you point out Samoyeds were originally herders, but there’s a lot of potential prey instinct in herding (think of the border collie), so you could have just randomly found one high up the scale. That’s not necessarily a problem (and can be great fun) long as you control it.
    You are also right that at six months she could well be going through those ‘stroppy teenage’ years where paying attention to Mum and Dad becomes less important, and that if you knuckle down and go back a few steps in your training programme things will improve. She is very much a work in progress rather than the finished article.
    There are a couple of possibilities for you to consider. Firstly I like that you’ve had the idea of a drone, but it’s likely to reinforce the chasing-with-no-end – which will reinforce the bird-chasing.
    What you have is a dog that likes to chase airborne targets, but little interest in catching and holding (the next parts of the predatory hunting sequence). You can either give up and accept that, and provide her with a target you control, such as a flirt-pole (a fluffy-onna whippy-stick), or you can stimulate the catch-hold behaviour – after all, she’s only six months and it may not have kicked in yet.
    I would go with the latter, which may be a bit more labour intensive, but will yield more control eventually. Find something she likes (even a toy bird on a string if you have to) and play very short throwing games with her indoors. Get down with her and stimulate her interest until she mouths it, then make it move. Show he that she can make the game happen by first touching, then mouthing, then picking up and finally, bringing it to you. You’re breaking retrieving down into tiny steps over many days. Once she realises that bringing the toy to you makes it fly through the air she will develop the game with you. If she needs two hours a day, spend the time doing that, in small batches.
    In the meantime prevent her chasing birds by using your long line (30ft might be better than 10 to give her more scope to run but remain under your control). As her training progresses you can increase the environmental stimuli by playing the game outdoors and reducing reliance on the line.
    The book explains it a little more fully if you need some more guidance.

    Good luck and enjoy your puppy!


  • JaneE said:

    We have a Springer spaniel who will be 3 in April. Her recall is good BUT once she is in a chase/play mode with other dogs it is impossible to get her back. Even when the other dogs are no longer playing/running she just continues to charge round and round. High value treats etc have no effect on her and we just have to wait until she gets weary and someone can grab her collar!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jane,
    This sounds more like a play issue than a chase problem – she’s enjoying the play and doesn’t want it to stop. The solution is to make yourself more interesting so she enjoys playing with you more than playing with other dogs. Whilst the principles explained in the article are primarily for predatory chasing they will work equally well for play. Treats don’t work because the enjoyment of play isn’t on the same neural reward system as the desire for food. The book explains the whole thing in greater depth if you want more information, and provides the behaviour modification programme you need.

  • Ingrid Allan said:

    Hi David,
    Thank you so much for your response, I’ve been practicing getting her attention with a flirt pole and it seems to be working. I also tried bolting away from her in the opposite direction the other day when she spotted a bird and tried to go after it which switched her focus from one target to another, it worked a treat but we have a lot of joggers in our area and I’m wary of her seeing other runners as exciting things to chase. There’s definitely been an improvement in the past few days though so thanks again,

  • Noreen McCafferty said:

    Hi David,

    We have a collie x he is 16 months old. We have had him now 7 months now and he is a rescue. For the first few months we kept him on the lead apart from in a secured area or dog park. He is absolutely fabulous with other dogs and loves playing with them and chase being his favourite game. After 3 months we started to let him off at the Beach and he was fantastic with other doggies and people even if people were on their own he would run up to them walk beside and say down but over the last month we have had trouble letting him off the beach as he has been chasing people on their own and jumping up on them from the front and behind it can be both walkers and runners. If someone is walking alone with a dog he won’t bother them at all other than socialising with their dog.At the start it was mainly runners but rhen it became walkers too so obviously we have had to put him back on the leash apart from off the leash dog areas. Im wondering is it a herding issue or something else and is it something he will grow out of or what is the best training for him. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Noreen,
    From the description I’m not sure what is going on – I’d need to see his body language at the time. It could be that he’s worried about people and is checking them out, or he could be super-friendly and looking for interaction. Either way it doesn’t sound like herding (which would be circling and maybe some nipping) and it’s unlikely that he will grow out of it on his own. It appears that he’s making decisions you would rather he wasn’t, and to rectify that you need to take control of him. Simply training him to come back would be a start so that you can recall him before he does anything inappropriate. I’m not sure about letting him run up to play with every dog he sees either – many dogs don’t welcome being ‘played at’. Any qualified dog trainer should be able to help you train him in the basic obedience that every owner should have with their dog, but I would recommend increasing your value through games so that he sees you as being more important to him than everyone else. The ‘fetch-toy’ game described in the book will do that for you. Being friendly is good, but he shouldn’t see other dogs and people as being more interesting than you are. He’s a collie and values interaction with people – if you want to have control over him, make sure you are the people he values most.

  • Noreen McCafferty said:

    Hi David,

    Thanks so much for all your helpful advice it is very much appreciated. I was thinking myself recall would be the best place to start and the toy game you suggested is a great piece of advice. He loves playing, so a new game will be brilliant and it will also challenge him at the same time.

    Thanks again for he tips and I’m really enjoying reading the other owners stories and advice.

  • Aaron said:

    Hi David.

    Thanks for the write up. I will try those methods.
    I have a springer staffy cross, for the most part we can control him with a ball, he has had an operation for elbow dysplasia and if we play fetch too much his legs get sore and he begins to limp again. Also sometimes he waits until you give him the ball and then decides to go hunting. I have tried taking out multiple balls to entice him back but it doesn’t seem to help. We have also tried gundog whistle training which didn’t help.

    Any suggestions instead of throwing the ball and any suggestions about when he has the ball and then goes hunting?

    Thank you again for the write up hopefully it helps

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Aaron,

    Springer/Staffy cross is an interesting mix – hunting combined with determination! There are some things you might try. First is to make to game interactive so that the play is with you – that would involve a tug-game with the retrieved toy (might need to change the toy). That would keep him interested in you and also reduce the amount of running he does to take pressure off his elbows. Second would be to revert to the two-ball game, but secrete a squeaky in your hand (you find them inside some toys) and use that to persuade him that the ball you have squeaks. You throw one ball and lure him back with one that squeaks, but in reality the squeak always stays in your hand.
    Final thing would be to play searching games rather than straight retrieving – start off at home and build up to walks – could be useful for him as he gets older and his elbows get worse as it is good mental stimulation that can be done in a small space.

    Good luck,

  • Lauren said:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for this extremely useful article. I have a 12 mknth old border Terrier which we brought home just before the first lockdowns began last year. As you can imagine this is not the ideal scenario for socialising a young dog and as a result he has seen rather less than we would want at his age, and has quite lot of anxieties which we are working through with him. He is VERY high prey drive and unfortunately for us this manifests in a desire to chase and catch our neighbours poultry. As the poultry free range around our house we have very little chance of avoiding them, and his drive is such that he has now managed to seek out, or create ways to escape from our garden to get at them. Obviously one of the answers to this is to reinforce our garden security which now seems to be a constant project as he finds new ways to try and get out, but as he has to live somewhere surrounded by these animals we need to make them less enticing for him. How would you suggest we go about removing contact with the stimulus in this situation? Would it be enough to put up fencing he has no way of seeing through, or is the smell of them outside the boundary going to thwart our efforts?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lauren,
    This is a tough one as you are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. You describe that your pup has anxieties – anxious dogs look for opportunities to raise their emotional balance, and chasing makes them feel good. If you read the book it describes that you have to remove the anxieties to increase the baseline of that emotional balance – so he doesn’t exist in permanent deficit. Then controlling his desire to chase will become easier. So long as he remains in emotional deficit he will look for opportunities to chase, hunt or any other instinctively rewarding behaviour. Once you address that you can start with the actual training. You must have a secure garden to start with, and I wouldn’t let him free in it anyway – too many temptations to transgress. The book also describes using a long line in places of temptation. I would include the garden in that. Yes, it seems extreme but you have an extreme situation. Blocking sight could well help to reduce the trigger of movement, and make him easier to recall, but you can’t get away from the fact that he knows they are there. Whilst I would encourage toy-play with you to give him another opportunity to increase his positive feelings, you are also going to need to apply some good old-fashioned obedience training too. Teach the game and use it as a recall, whilst he is on the long line, but this will take a while – weeks not minutes. Again the book explains you need incremental training by breaking it down into manageable chunks. He should always get it right – and if he doesn’t, we asked too much.
    Make a plan so you know what you are doing and where you are going at each stage. It’s basically devising a scheme of playing the right games with your pup to direct him into the behaviour you like.
    Good luck – and don’t forget that this can be fun!

  • Alyx said:


    I have a 3 year old female cockapoo who has always been excellent off the lead. She never goes more than a few feet away. However lately we have had 3 incidents where we have completely lost her due to her seeing a duck and not stopping chasing them. She’s not an anxious dog as she’s never left alone and has exciting walks every day. I am having no luck with training her to stop the duck chasing ( your article has made sense now I realise you can’t train it out of them with treats etc) she loves her toys at home but no matter what i take with me on a walk she shows no interest. its got to the point i dread taking her for a walk.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Alyx,
    This isn’t a simple fix – there isn’t one. It takes time and patience to train an alternative response, starting with the training out of context. It’s good that she likes her toys at home – you have to slowly progress that to her walks, in small increments. First thing to do is to use a long line to control her whilst you walk – if you don’t have verbal control you need physical control until the training takes over. The book takes you though it step by step.

  • Rachael said:

    Hi David, this article makes so much sense. My 18 month old female cockapoo is ball obsessed and I’m on high alert to anything that moves because she has legged it a couple of times. My husband thought it wasn’t a good thing her being so ball obsessed though. If I have the ball in the thrower she is fixed on it so we can pass people, cyclists and dogs without a second glance. We like her to interact with other dogs though but if she has her ball she doesn’t want to know. We’ve recently stopped taking the ball on the long afternoon walk, partly for this reason and partly because it’s been warm and she’s waiting for her lockdown groom. She is still good and responds to ‘this way’ if she’s wandered a bit far but she has chased deer who already had 2 cockapoos chasing them. Luckily they went down a steep, brambled slope so she just sat and waited for the cockapoos to climb out. She also flushed a pheasant out and ran into woods after it but I whistled and called and she came back after a couple of minutes. Should I bring the ball back into our walks? Long walks will move to the mornings as it gets warmer so more chance of rabbits etc. I must admit that I find not having the ball on walks more stressful. We are having an intro into Cani-cross next week and thought this might be another outlet for her. ??

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Rachel,
    You are so nearly where you want to be. The ‘ball-attention’ doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing, but you need a word that says, ‘your ball is on offer’ that you can use in the right circumstances. In dog training circles this is known as the ‘cue’. Your cue at the moment is the visibility of the ball, which means she thinks the possibility is on offer the whole time. You can change that cue to a verbal one (a word for example) by linking the word to the ball. Set it up as a training exercise. Take the ball with you, concealed in a pocket. When pup is doing nothing in particular (you don’t want the ball to be associated with behaviour you do not like), say your cue word loud and clear and throw the ball towards her. If she becomes a bit obsessed with the ball, put it back in your pocket and walk on; she’ll get bored with nothing happening eventually. After several repetitions she will look at you when you say the cue word because she expects the ball. The ball-in-the-pocket is always there but not always on offer. You can either leave it at that, so she expects the ball when she hears the cue, or you can develop it further with the two-ball game explained in the book (which she would be brilliant at). She sounds like a fun dog, and you are so nearly there…

  • KateC said:

    I have a 9 month rescue from Serbia I have no idea of her breed as mixed!
    I am at the end of my tether and wondering if I have made a terrible mistake in getting her. I have a Flatcoat and I have had Border Terriers in the past so I am very use to dogs with a prey drive. But my rescue is something different she is obsessed with chasing, birds especially. I can manage if in a field away from trees or bushes but as soon as you enter any sort of area with trees she goes into a zone and nothing distracts her, I cannot engage at all. I live in the country and cannot see how this is ever going to be resolved. I have tried toys and the only thing that she is really interested in is a squeaky ball, but again nothing distracts her in woodlands. Do I just not walk her in these sort of areas which is going to be incredibly difficult? And how long do I not walk her in these areas? I have also heard conflicting advice on the long line. I am so confused and at the moment cannot see this ever being resolved. I would so appreciate some advice on this.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Kate,
    The initial problem with a 9month old Serbian rescue is that you don’t know what you have. In almost all cases of this type of rescue you need to treat them as you would a puppy. Assume they know nothing and start to teach them from scratch. Back to basics, establish some house rules and walk on a lead until she is reliable. The book ‘Stop!’ gives a complete breakdown of how to control predatory chasing, but you would have to apply the principles to a puppy in an adult form. Add to that at 9months old she is probably going through the ‘stroppy teenager’ phase as well, and you have your work cut out. The ‘in’ to her mind can only be achieved before she is in the zone, not afterwards, so you have to take her away from anything that stimulates her to ignore you so that you can at least gain her attention, or you can’t work with her – trying to get her to focus on you once she is mentally elsewhere is doomed to fail. There will be something that stimulates her interest that you can use, but you have to find and work with it initially away from distractions.
    Good luck,

  • KateC said:

    Thank you so much for your response and all definitely makes sense. I get her full attention when away from trees so I guess I have to stay away from woodland if I can. do you know at what point I will know that I can go back into that environment? Also what type of lead should I use in this situation to stop the pulling? Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Kate,

    I’m afraid the progress you make depends on too many factors to give you an exact timeframe -worst case I would guess about six months – best would be within days. It all depends on how well you manage the training, as well as her genetic and learned predispositions.
    I would use a long line to make sure you have control, probably with a body harness, when you are training, but pulling on the lead other than in relation to chasing is a separate issue and you would need to factor in training sessions with that alone to address it.

    Good luck,

  • Annmarie said:

    Hi David, your article is absolutely fantastic and so informative.

    I have a 7mth old German Shepherd who is making walking so distressing, because he chases, lunges and barks at cars. Unfortunately this is not something I can avoid as I live on a fairly busy street with cars passing constantly! He does also chase birds etc, but the car chasing is so distressing and I am so worried for safety reasons. Could you offer any advice on this please, the trainers I have had have told me to use a slip collar and prong collar, as they say “positive reinforcement doesn’t work”
    Thank you so much

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Annmarie,

    In my experience chasing cars is quite often a fear-based activity (if you chase them they go away) but nevertheless the principles in the article, which are expanded in the book, will work either way. At the moment he’s making wrong decisions and by taking his focus away from the environment and placing it back on you, you can take the control you need to guide him into making the right ones.

    Good luck,

  • AnnMarie said:

    Hi David, thank you so much for your reply, it’s definitely not fear based, I am going to buy your book and hopefully I will be able to control this better

  • Abigail said:

    Thanks for your thoughtful answers Dave. I have a Greek rescue who is a mix of hunting dogs (looks like a small red setter but working cocker size with some Hellenic hound around the head and ears).

    She’s been with me for 8 months and is around 14 months old. We have a very close bond and have been work/play/training consistently for that whole time. Small bursts, poz reinforcement.

    Every lunch is a mix of high value treats (beef/chicken/salmon jerky) and her dried food which she loves, sometimes small bits of cheese or primula spread. And then we go out on a walk. Min two hrs a day, couple of times a week a long ramble of a few hrs.

    She likes doing complex retrieves in the garden, scent work in garden and around house (clove oil in spice jar in a small canvas bag, well hidden). ‘Look at me’ before door ways and before release to food. Her recall is practiced for food, for tug and retrieve games and between my husband and I at a distance on walks. It’s rock solid until… walking in woodland.

    She’s almost always in a 15 metre long line to cut back self rewarding hunting. But we’ve tried a few times to give her ‘space’ by dropping end of line. Mostly she returns and checks in. But three times now she’s taken off, disappeared and only come back after about two mins, in her own time. She can get quite far away in two mins.

    We have to walk in woodland. I’m in Belgium and only the forests have rights of way. She has no interest in games or scenting with the target in that environment. I have tried training her up to prize a knotted tea towel for tug/out/get it retrieves. But while really into it in garden, it’s no competition at all for tracing/chasing in woodland.

    So, how to keep a healthy fit ‘working cocker’ who has no interest in toys and not much in food, engaged on walks in woodland? All our walks are taken over by the need to try and keep her engaged with us. If I hide and she can’t find me quickly she’ll yip in alarm. So her tolerance for me not being there is low. She’s got a whistle sit at 10 metres line trailing, 15 if end held.

    I’ve had 4 rescues over the years but this is the first whose prey drive makes her recall really unreliable.

    I just called her back by voice then sonic whistle once, the couple of times she scarpered. I don’t want to poison the cue. When she didn’t come back I just kept walking so she could track me, rather than getting ahead of my scent and getting lost. Her range when, not bolting, is about a tennis court before she comes back to heel for a quick treat, without being called.

    I’m really getting depressed about this. I’ve worked consistently thro ‘perfect recall’ & ‘train yr pet gun dog’ and I’ve just found out about your book which I will buy. But the basic take away is always the same: make yrself more interesting than the environment. but nothing I can do makes me more interesting than her surroundings in a wood and I can only walk her in woodland. I’m I going to have to keep her in the longline forever?

    Sorry so long!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Abigail,

    There are clearly several relevant points here. The first is that your dog is Greek Rescue. She may have lived wild or semi-feral and hunting is not just a ‘prey-drive’ but a matter of life and death. She may have had to hunt to survive – and that she has survived means she was successful.
    Secondly, the mix seems to be directing her into the behaviour genetically – tough on you, but there you go.
    Thirdly, and it is about time we hit a ‘positive’, is that you are doing all the right things – well done. A couple of things I would query is that sometimes Positive Reinforcists forget that control is also essential. A variation of Learn to Earn or my own Guide and Control, away from the control of the problem behaviour will increase her general compliance. How tight that needs to be is questionable, but a tight programme can always be relaxed later.
    You say she has no interest in toys in the target environment but have you thought the transition between the garden and woodland is too great? If she plays in the garden she can play in the wood. Maybe take her to the edge of the wood and stake her out (she’s not ready for the line to be dropped yet) to play with you rather than go on a walk? Introduce woodland-play in small increments rather than expecting her to make the leap? If the edge of the wood is too great, use the edge of the edge… you know what I mean… find a place she will play and gradually work towards the wood – in weeks rather than days.
    Finally, you’ve only had her for eight months, and you’ve worked a small miracle with what you’ve achieved up to now. I know it’s demoralising when you aren’t where you want to be, but with the dog you have, you need more time.

  • Sarah said:


    Thank you for this post and your advice. I have a similar situation to the owner above who has a dog that chases birds. We have a long lead and are working through your advice, but the biggest issue is that our dog (a 6 month old collie cross, with a very strong chase/prey drive) gets to practice this behaviour in the garden as birds fly over in the garden and he runs up and down the fence to chase them. Obviously when on a walk, he bolts after them and it is dangerous.

    The puppy can’t be left in our kitchen during the day as he is destructive, and as we work from home, he is left out in the garden alone for periods of time, the alternative is too long in his crate, which we feel is not fair on him.

    I feel I can’t combat this issue when he has so much opportunity to practice it in the garden, but am at a loss as to what to do with him instead. I also can’t stop other family members from allowing him to chase birds in the garden, as their view is that he will grow out of it… will he? Probably not, worried that the collie in him may make him obsessed. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort training him to stay close on walks and to train on the walks so as he is focused on us, but feel this garden chasing undoes this work. Any ideas?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Sarah,
    I’m afraid you are right in what you say – if he’s allowed to chase birds in the garden he will continue to want to do it. The short answer is not to allow him to play by himself in the garden. If that isn’t possible, then he will continue to chase birds when he can. He is extremely unlikely to grow out of it.
    You say, ‘The puppy can’t be left in our kitchen during the day as he is destructive, and as we work from home, he is left out in the garden alone for periods of time, the alternative is too long in his crate, which we feel is not fair on him.’ Realistically this is indicative of a puppy that needs more time spending on him than you are currently able to give. Some puppies just need more time/stimulation/training. I’m sorry, but I have no easy answer for you. Puppies need time spent with them, not to be left on their own for long periods of time. And collies need more than most.
    Probably the best advice I can give you is to contact a behaviour counsellor who can prepare a plan for you to implement to get you to where you would like to be with your puppy. You can find one at
    Good luck,

  • Lynn Thompson said:

    We have an 8 month old sprocker who does well with recall etc with no distractions. However when he sees a bird in flight or on ground he is off and the usual whistle which he responds to is redundant. Hd has now managed to get to our neighbours rabbits which has been harrowing as they are pets. Unfortunately someone left the gate open. He is not bothered by balls or adjacent found a toy yet that he loves. We have him on long lead all the time now where as upto 6 months he was great off lead. We would love to get back to off lead and him not going for the rabbits but with no toy /ball preference it is tricky.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lynn,
    A couple of points: firstly he is eight months old which can be a tricky age where previous training seems to go out of the window as they flex their independence as they head for maturity. Secondly, if he chases animals he’ll chase a toy, you just need to make some effort to switch him on to one. The long line is a good stop-gap as you redouble your training efforts, but using a toy-reward will also benefit you in the future. There are three types of reward you can apply: attention (praise), food treats and toy-play. Using all three maximises your control of him. Frisbees are good for bird-chasers, but try a few types. Start playing indoors before introducing the game into a place with no distractions and gradually build up.
    Good luck,

  • Ben Coyle said:

    Hi David,

    We have a mixed breed rescue who is about 2 years old. In general, his recall is good – as long as there are no animal scents / visible deer nearby. When he does get the scent of a deer, particularly in a forest – his chase drive overwhelms him and he will chase the deer for kilometres through the forest. My problems are two fold – it is extremely hard for us to predict when he will “go”, the vast majority of time he is a good dog and just loves running around on walks. Two – if I keep him on a long lead then he just doesnt get the exercise he requires. What do you suggest?


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Dear Ben,
    You seem to be looking for a quick fix. There isn’t one. It’s either physical control (the lead or long line), verbal control (the protracted training programme in the book) or not enough control, as you have now. Sorry not to be more help, but that’s the reality of it.

  • Vicky said:

    Hi David,
    Thank you so much for this great resource. And for your book which is excellent and we are currently working through.
    We have a 9 month old German Shorthaired Pointer – hunting dog but also a lovely family pet. When he was 7 months old we think he chased deer twice, definitely once when he went missing for 30 minutes – he got lost and a lady found him heading back to the car park. Since then we have been managing this by going back to basics with training, improving obedience in the house and not taking him to where we know there are deer (very difficult where we live – our neighbour said she saw some in her front garden a few nights ago)- we do a lot of work in secure fields which are invaluable. We are also trying to get him to sit calmly when he sees birds, squirrel etc. He does flush and chase birds too which we are also working to prevent but that doesn’t result in him ranging too far. We are focusing on getting him excited about the ball which he does enjoy. He is always on the 10m longline and has been since he was 4 months old but was too far away from me to step on it when he chased.
    Last week we had a setback when he chased deer during a session with a dog trainer. He was on a 30m longline but it just slipped under my partner’s boot. As a result of this the dog trainer said he needs to be kept on a lead forever or we need to use an ecollar (he said at a low setting). He said nothing but the ecollar would ever work. Clearly we aren’t going to use one and we are continuing to work through your book but we came away feeling very upset and worried for our lovely dog.
    He also ranges too far which we are working on – we know they range as a breed. We don’t feel we’re being very successful at the moment but it’s a work in progress. The long line is quite a difficult tool to use with a fast strong dog but we know we have to persevere.
    My question is how hardwired would you say this chasing behaviour is at 9 months old and do you feel we have a chance of fixing this assuming we follow the programme?
    Many thanks,

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Vicky,
    Glad to be of some help for you and that you realise you have a work in progress. I’m not sure I’d take advice from a trainer that, however inadvertently, allowed your dog to chase deer whilst under their supervision.
    Yes, the chasing of game will be extremely enticing for your pup, but I know of older GSPs that have been controlled using the methods in the book. You are far from at the ‘lost cause’ stage yet.
    Realistically, you should be able to make improvements to the stage where he isn’t looking for opportunities to chase away from you, but you will always need to keep your wits about you to control his urge if something pops up in front of him – the temptation will always be there, but should be controllable. The more focussed on you the better his behaviour will be, and that’s what I would concentrate on for now. The dropped long line seems to be causing you some problems. Perhaps it might be an idea to double the length and tie the end to something solid so that he physically cannot leave? Just for a while until he becomes more dependable, then go back to dropping it. Think of the session as a training bout rather than a walk. Keep going and don’t be disheartened by the odd setback – you’ve heading in the right direction.

  • Chris said:

    Our 17month mixed breed (German shepherd, Gordon setter, and a few others ) dog Bonnie loves running fast and she is obsessed with chasing the birds up in the sky. She isn’t interested in catching anything on the ground. But when she chases she ignores our recall.
    How do we get her to come back when we call her please .

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Chris,
    You’ve got some work to do, but it should be fun. You can find a description here but if you want more in depth information you could try the book.

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