by Sassafras Lowrey, CTDI
Does your dog chase cars, bikes, skateboarders, squirrels, or other wildlife? You aren’t alone. Chasing is part of a dog’s natural instinct, but it’s also one of the most frustrating behaviors for dog owners — and it can be dangerous for your dog. The good news is that it’s possible to train your dog to ignore the temptation to chase and even channel that desire into games and sports.
Which Breeds Are Most Likely to Chase?
Chasing is something that comes naturally to most dogs, but Sighthounds of all sizes from Afghan Hounds to Whippets were specifically bred over thousands of years to chase down prey. These dogs have excellent eyesight and awareness of the world around them, so chasing comes naturally to them. Although Sighthounds are practically guaranteed to want to chase small moving animals, they are not alone in being aroused and highly interested in squirrels and other fast animals.
Herding Group breeds are also particularly prone to chasing bicycles, skateboarders, and runners, as it awakens their instinctual desire to gather and herd livestock.
The desire to chase is inherent to many dogs and is a highly self-rewarding behavior, but because some dogs enjoy it so much, it can be extra challenging to train them not to do it.
How to Train Your Dog To Stop Chasing
One key to successfully training dogs not to chase is to teach them to curb their chasing impulse before it starts. But if your dog is already chasing something, don’t chase after them. It will only encourage your pup to think you are playing – and that will likely prolong the chase.
Leashes and treats are your friends when trying to train your dog not to chase. Even if you have a well-fenced backyard, if you have a dog who is prone to taking off after birds or squirrels, it will help to practice being on-leash. Bring a handful of high-value treats with you and treat your dog every time they look at you and then start to add in the verbal “watch” cue. Treat any opportunity you take your dog outside, even for a quick potty break, as an opportunity to train. Keep your dog leashed and have lots of treats, and offer big praise for any attention your dog gives you, even if it’s a quick glance.
If your dog is very toy-motivated, bring a toy into the yard, and you can reward them with the opportunity to play with that. The key is to make yourself more rewarding and exciting than whatever your dog wants to chase.
When your dog begins to focus on you while leashed, even with squirrels present, you can start to let the pup off-leash in your fenced yard. But keep treating anytime your dog looks at you or moves near you, verbally marking with a “yes” or clicking if you are clicker training. And be sure to put them back on-leash if birds or squirrels make an appearance.
Essentially, you’ll be working with your dog to build focus impulse control — teaching them to remain calm when exciting things are happening and to wait until they are released for something they want. Reward your dog for staying near you and ignoring distractions, then practice in gradually more distracting environments as your dog gains more confidence and ability to focus around distractions.
Even though chasing small animals and birds is fun for dogs, it’s important to teach your pup to be respectful. It’s never appropriate to allow dogs to harass wildlife when in parks. Follow leash laws and practice getting, and keeping, your dog’s attention when passing things that are tempting to chase. Not only is it disrespectful to allow dogs to harass wildlife, it can be dangerous to your dog. Animals like squirrels, raccoons, rats, and bats can carry diseases that can make your dog sick.
Games For Dogs Who Like Chasing
Instead of fighting your dog’s natural desire to chase, try channeling it into training and games, including:
Fetch: Rather than chasing squirrels in your yard, your dog can channel their natural drive into chasing balls and other toys.
Tug: A great game for dogs who love to chase or who have excess energy, tug provides mental and physical exercise and is a great way to teach and reinforce your impulse-control training. Make sure that you are the one initiating the tug and practice your “drop” training mid-play. Then, immediately reinforce by either releasing your dog back to tug or with a high-value treat.
Tag: Teaching your dog to chase you in your house or a safely fenced-in area can be a fun active game that many pups enjoy. To start this game, have a treat or toy in your hand, and start to move away from your dog. In an excited, upbeat voice, call your dog without using a formal “come” cue or even your dog’s name. Unlike with a formal recall, where you might want your dog to come right up to your side or sit in front of you, with the game of tag there are no formal criteria, so it’s better to keep things relaxed. When your dog reaches you praise, treat and/or begin playing with the toy.
Hide & Seek: Call your dog’s name from another room in the house. When your dog comes running to find you, reward them with lots of praise and treats. Remember to start by playing this game in safe and low-distraction environments.
Sports For Dogs Who Like Chasing
Whippet running in a coursing test.
If you have a dog who was bred to chase, or who just has a love of the chase, certain dog sports are designed to help channel that natural drive:
Lure Coursing: This is a fast and fun sport that challenges a Sighthound’s natural instinct to chase prey. In Lure Coursing, dogs pursue a mechanical lure (a plastic bag) attached to a line that moves at speed just above the ground, on course to simulate an actual hunt. The sport allows Sighthounds to do what comes most naturally to them, showing off their athleticism and ability to follow and chase the “prey.” Lure Coursing is for select breeds over one year of age, including Greyhounds, Basenji, Whippets, Irish Wolfhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, and more.
Fast CAT: Unlike Lure Coursing, Fast CAT is open to dogs of any breed or size — not just Sighthounds — and mixed-breed dogs are also able to compete. Fast CAT is a timed 100-yard run where dogs chase a lure (again, a plastic bag) and run towards their owner at the other side of the track.
Having a dog who enjoys chasing things can be challenging, but it helps to remember that this behavior is instinctual. When your dog chases, they aren’t trying to scare or annoy you — they’re just responding to a very natural urge. The good thing is that training, games, and sports are a great way to channel your dog’s chase into behaviors that are safe and fun for both of you.
by Sassafras Lowrey, CTDI