Cars, squirrels, cyclists, skateboarders, cats, and joggers — they’re all would-be targets, any one of whom could lure a chase-obsessive dog into a potentially dangerous situation. The behavior can also trigger understandably hostile reactions from people who see it as aggression when a strange dog comes bounding after them.
Until you can keep your dog from chasing, keep her on leash when in public. At home, make sure your yard is securely fenced with no opportunity for digging under or jumping over.
All canines are hardwired to chase prey. Without that vital impulse, dogs in the wild would never have had a chance at survival. Domestic dogs, of course, don’t need to hunt for food, but the instinct remains intact and manifests in some unlikely urges. (What would a dog do with a ’97 Chevy if he caught one anyway?)
How to treat the problem
Teaching a dog not to chase takes time and effort — getting help from a reputable trainer is strongly recommended. There are, however, steps you can take on your own:
- As with any behavior issue, providing plenty of mental and physical exercise reduces the need for your dog to find her own outlet.
- Present alternative means of release. Agility classes are both a fun and effective way to harness your dog’s intense desire to chase. Play fetch with her or toss a Frisbee, and reward her only when she chases appropriate targets. In other words, train her to recognize that the only acceptable prey is the one you throw.
- Teach her “come.” This improves impulse control.
- Continually add to her repertoire of tricks. The ability to respond to numerous commands helps improve impulse control, and it provides needed mental stimulation.
- Establish a no-fail cue word. That is, create a cue that signals to your dog that her very favorite treat is coming her way. Be prepared to deliver should the occasion demand it. For example, if stinky cheese sends her to the moon, cue the word “cheese,” using it only when the most high-value reward is necessary (i.e., she’s about to bolt and has ignored your request to “come”). Of course, in order for the cue to retain its holding power, you must deliver the reward any time she successfully responds.
How to prevent the problem
Establishing a strong foundation of obedience training is critical. Training not only creates a respectful pet, it hones impulse control and reinforces her tendency to look to you for guidance. Teach her “come” and “off” from the beginning, and make sure she’s well mannered both on and off leash.
Also take care to not inadvertently encourage chasing. For example, if your dog runs off with your slippers, don’t chase her — participating in her game actually rewards the behavior.
Bottom line: The prey drive is an instinctual part of canine behavior; most dogs love the thrill of the chase. But because the behavior can lead them directly into harm’s way, it’s important to treat it, if not prevent it altogether. Early, comprehensive training and plenty of exercise are the two most effective tactics.