Chase This, Not That!

A dog’s love of a good chase is both a blessing and a curse. It makes playing with them extra fun; what a joy it is to play fetch and chase with some dogs! And it’s got a dark side too–chasers love to chase cats, cars, joggers and bicyclists, and that doesn’t tend to work out so well for all involved.

In an earlier post I talked about teaching my new pup Hope not to chase Sushi the cat, and several readers asked how I am doing that. Here’s a summary of both a generic plan and how it looks in detail in one home, with one dog, and one cat. Obviously, the details vary tremendously, but the basic plan is relatively universal.

1. MANAGE AND PREVENT: What could be more fun than chasing something if a dog is so inclined? Dogs are, after all, cursorial predators (meaning they run things down for a living), and that tendency is still very strong in many of them, 12,000 + years later. (And admittedly, not so much in others.) There is little more reinforcing than a great chase to some dogs, so once you know it’s an issue, job #1 is to prevent it from happening unless you can use the situation as a training session. That means leashes, gates, etc.. whatever you need to do to keep your dog from getting reinforced by a super fun chase game.

At the farm: Once I knew Hope loved to chase Sushi (happened once outside and once inside), I used leashes, gates and management to prevent it from happening again. If Hope was outside loose, then Sushi was inside.  If Hope was inside, Sushi was in her kitty suite if I couldn’t be on “cat duty.”

2. MASTER at least one incompatible behavior. While you are managing the situation, work on teaching at least one (more is better) behavior that inherently prevents chasing and gives you a chance to give your dog a whoppingly wonderful reinforcement. You could use “Watch” (turn away and look at me), sit down, lie down, turn away and chase you, go get a toy, etc etc. Your choice should be based on finding something that replaces chasing (or even focusing on the chasee) and is something that is easy and fun for your dog to do and for you to reinforce. Don’t choose “Sit” if it’s hard for your large breed dog to sit down, or “Lie Down” if your dog is nervous outside and he likes to chase cars. Fighting fire with fire is often a good idea, so if you have a dedicated chaser, you could teach him to look at you when you say “Watch” and then let him chase you as a reinforcement.

When I say “master,” I mean to teach the behavior (again, more than one is better, gives you more flexibility) so that your dog will do it even when she is distracted. Start, as you would with all cues, with no distractions, and then work your way up to mild distractions, and then strong ones.

At the farm: We were already working on turning to me when I said his name, and sitting on cue, so I used both of those. When we started this, I had only had him for 1 week, so I didn’t want to get too elaborate. I probably said his name + reinforcement 25 times a day, and asked him to sit about the same number of times. For reinforcement he got great treats (kibble for easy responses, cooked pieces of  steak for ones when he was distracted), cooing and belly rubs (he appears to adore them) and chasing me when I ran. Well, I can’t run much, which is truly cramping my style. I hobble along like Chester dragging his bad leg while calling after Mr. Dylan (any one else remember Gunsmoke?!) But I speed up as best I can, and have  friends and Jim use running as much as they can, because herding dogs like Will seem to love little more than a good run after a friend.

3. ASK FOR A BEHAVIOR in the presence of the chasee. Use the behavior(s) you’ve been working on and give your dog a chance to be right or to be wrong. Only do this when you have some control. Don’t start with the dog and cat loose outside, or a loose dog who can see cars passing by right in front of him. Do what you need to do to create a ‘win’ and avoid a ‘loss’… if you need to use a leash, then start there. Perhaps you ask your dog to look at you when he sees the cat behind a gate (no leash necessary there) or when you let them both into the same room together (leash might help here!). If your dog chases cars, be thoughtful about how difficult it will be for your dog to respond to your cue, the one you’ve been working on so hard in other contexts.  Perhaps you start just on your front porch, not walking any closer to the street, and jackpot your dog for any positive response before going any further.

If your dog doesn’t respond to your cue, show them some great food and lure them away from the object of interest. At first I’d give the food (assuming that’s what your using at that point) even if you had to put the food beside their nose and use it to lure them toward you, but after a while you might want to use “negative punishment” and show them the food (right to their nose), lure them away from the car or cat, and then say “Oh Dear. Too bad… you would  have gotten this if you’d been good, but you missed your chance. I’m so sorry.” (It’s really fun here to eat the food yourself .. not sure it affects the dog, but boy it feels great! Unless the only food you have is Liver/Fish Chunky Yunkies or something, Yuck.) If this happens several times in a row (no response), then you need to go back to Step #2, or set up the situation so that the chasee is farther away.

When your dog does respond to your cue, Whooooo Hooo! Jackpot (10 treats in a row, one at a time, while you wax eloquently about how brilliant she is, or run like crazy, laughing and clapping, throwing yourself down on the ground and letting happy dog lick your face.. etc etc…). Give reinforcements based on the difficulty of the exercise. Once you’ve gotten several good responses in a row, start asking for a bit more from your dog (cat closer for example).

Continue this at least 3 times a day if you can, more is better. Don’t exhaust your dog (or cat!) by asking for a Watch, for example, over and over and over again in a row. Ask for one or two good responses, then move on to something else.

At the farm: I began letting Hope and Sushi together in the house and asking for him to either look at me or sit on cue as soon as he saw the cat. (Once Sushi learned she wasn’t going to get chased she stopped running away, which made things a lot easier.) This went very well, partly because I’d worked on it so hard, and partly because Hope is a relatively responsive little pup.  Once I was at 95-99% inside, I started letting my guard down outside and not worrying so much if they were both outside together (after about a week). Then, every time he saw the cat I’d say “Hope” or “Sit” and give him my best and most wonderous reinforcement.

4. USE MILD Positive Punishment when necessary if it’s relevant and suitable. This would only be applicable in some situations, not in others. Try body blocking between a dog and a cat for example (see my farm example below). Perhaps if you had a car chaser you could get between the dog (on leash of course) and the car, and back him up in space a few paces (I love “space corrections” — you’re not mad,  not raising your voice, just ‘taking the space’ back away from your dog.) I am always very cautious about positive punishment, but as I said in an earlier post, I do not think it inhumane in the least if it is done thoughtfully and carefully. After all, as defined, it is adding something (the ‘positive’ part) to decrease a behavior (which is what makes it ‘punishment’ as defined by Skinner et al). The trick is knowing your dog, what you can ‘add’ to decrease a behavior, and doing it with the right timing.

At the farm: A few times Hope ignored my cue, and was about to start another chase. Because chasing Sushi is SO reinforcing, I just couldn’t let him get away with doing it. (In many other contexts I would just let it go and go back to reinforcements… but you just can’t do that when the problem behavior is inherently as reinforcing as anything you can provide.)

Before he could start chasing, I got between them,  facing Hope, and backed him up in space a few feet. While I was backing into him (to back him up), I spoke very softly, but with a low voice, disappointed voice saying something like: “What are you doing Mr. Hope? We don’t bother cats in this house.” Okay, full disclosure, sometimes I used other words, and sometimes they weren’t quite so sweet, but I always try to use a quiet, disappointed, but still benevolent voice.

However, two times I was behind Hope, he was about to chase Sushi and I had no way of getting between them. I said his name and got nothing, and I knew darn well the chase was about to start, so I tossed my bait bag (handily in hand) such that it landed right in front of Hope. I said “no” right before it landed, and glory of glories, the timing worked out perfectly. Hope is a relatively soft dog, and it had a big effect on him. Ever since then he’s responded to my requests to look at me or sit down around the cat, but I don’t think it all would fit together if we hadn’t worked on a solid foundation of what TO DO (versus what NOT TO DO). (In other words, just saying “no” rarely works unless you teach the dog what you DO want him to do first.)

5. BE PATIENT AND HAVE STAMINA. Everything else is the easy part, this is the hard part! What can I say? This is going to take time. How much depends on your dog, you and how much he has chased something he shouldn’t in the past. If he’s been doing this for years it’s going to take a lot more time and stamina than if you can get it turned around early on. Do keep one thing in mind: Research shows that it takes 21 to 28 days of consistent practice to turn around an old habit and learn a new behavior. It turns out that most people are really good at trying something new (exercise for example) for 10 to 14 days. Do the math. Whoops. So think about your behavior around this issue, and remember that you’ll need the most support and help around day 11 to 28!

Hope is doing well, but it’s only been two weeks. I’d estimate we need at least 6 months of work, but overall things should continue to improve, with the predictable set back occurring every once in a while. Right now he still goes over to Sushi, tries to interact, and I have to ask him to sit or look at me. He’ll do that right away, but Sushi is still irritated by his very existence, and Hope still thinks it is fun to get close enough for her to swat at him. Cross your paws for poor Sushi: we finally got stalking out of the picture and now she has a dog who wants to play with her. Maybe she’ll read the blog about all the cats who like to play with dogs?

If you have a chaser that you’ve worked with, I know readers would appreciate any other ideas and tips you have for them.  I’d love to hear too how you are handling it.

Meanwhile, back on the farm: True confessions: between my smashed knee, Jim’s exhausting brace, a puppy who has to urinate ridiculously often (checking on ‘puppy vaginitis,’ will have chinese med appt soon) and now Will having oral surgery as I write… things have been a tad challenging at the farm. Will broke his root canal tooth last weekend, so he is having it extracted. (More on that soon, including some serious grousing, but I have to go check on him now.)

The best thing that has happened all week (besides a delightful visit from my nephew and his wife) is that the toys we ordered came in. We’ve been testing toys for months, and have put the winners on the website. (Along with the coolest tiny Kong keychain you can imagine. We are all stupidly entranced by it. Check it out.) We did have a bit of a surprise: we ordered a tough, stuffed sheep that we pictured as being, oh I don’t know, toy chihuahua size, and it came more corgi size. We have an entire flock in the back room. Luckily, Hope and Will think it’s too cool for words . . .


  1. Denise says

    MUST – HAVE – MINIKONG – KEYCHAIN!!! How adorable! OK, I’m going home tonight and ordering…

    My pup is not a natural chaser of anything – I even had to shape him to chase the squirrels that were destroying my flower beds. He’s not the most effective varmint chaser but the squirrels have gotten the idea, which is all that matters. Thanks for the reminder that it takes 21 to 28 days to un-learn a habit. I tend to forget it which leads to much frustration for everyone involved.

  2. Beth says

    My situation is compounded by the fact that my cat is a six-month-old kitten who LOVES to instigate chase games. I don’t mind them playing, but one of my dog’s playing bordered on obsession (as mentioned in a prior post).

    What is difficult is getting across the concept that it’s ok to play with the cat IF and only IF the cat is the one who instigates it, but dogs are incredibly adaptive and we are finally reaching that point now. Bless their furry little hearts.

  3. says

    Sure do, but I think it was Dillon. Matt Dillon.

    I’m passing on your advice to my friend whose Aussie will chase every runner on the beach, & wishing her luck.

  4. Liz F. says

    May Willie do well with the oral surgery. Best wishes.

    Thank you for the comprehensive post on chasing, and the delightful pictures that always add so much to the collective happiness.

  5. em says

    Chasing has been a big issue for Otis, my great dane. Fortunately, he’s always been very tolerant of the cats, kids and joggers, but unfortunately deer are a different story. Small game falls in between- he likes squirrels and we did have a few “check the rotator cuff” moments while we worked on leash training. Generally though, when he chases a squirrel or a bunny, he does it for fun (i.e. big loopy galloping, not fully locked-on), so it isn’t difficult to prevent a chase or to break one if necessary. When he catches squirrels or chipmunks, he doesn’t try to bite, he just tumbles them over like it’s all a big game.
    Deer he chased like it was his mission in life. On the two occasions on which he’s flushed and chased deer, he’s run for over forty-five minutes before giving up. He’s also a competent tracker. He’s never gotten lost (the second time he actually drove the deer back to within a few feet of me. Twice.),or hurt, but this behavior is beyond undesirable, it’s potentially life or death. If he drove a deer into the road, he could kill someone. He could kill himself. A farmer who caught him running deer could legally shoot him.
    Complicating matters:

    1) Otis is not food-responsive
    2) Deer are wild, secretive, fast-moving animals, I couldn’t predict or provide their presence to create desentization.
    3) No reward or distraction that I could find or think of compared, even slightly, to the SIGHT of a deer, much less the experience of chasing it.
    4) Deer are so prevalent in the area, even in city parks (the scene of his second chase), that if the habit could not be broken, he could never be allowed off the leash again.
    5) He LIVES for off-leash time. Even if he didn’t, and believe me, he does, with a dog of his size and strength, being on a leash is not necessarily a guarantee of physical control. Even if I decided never to let him off the leash again, it would take only one moment, one lunge, in which he pulled the leash out of my hands or snapped his collar (both of which he’s done, in other circumstances) and he’d be long gone after his quarry. Even if I held him, I could be dragged or hurt.
    6) All of these behaviors (lunging, chasing, tracking) are done at the highest level of focus- true adrenaline-pumping obsession. He does not hear or see anything besides his quarry, he pushes himself long past the point of fatigue, he seems to feel no pain. Without deer he would do NONE of these things-he had a solid recall, excellent leash manners, and a good grasp of basic obedience commands. But around deer, it was like I was a grown-up in Charlie Brown-background noise.

    7) Positive reinforcement did not work at all. Mild to moderate positive punishments did not work at all. He wouldn’t even flicker an eyelid at food bait, he would calmly just snake that long neck around me if I tried body blocking, he’d shrug off any attempt to pull or push him in another direction. Leash jerks, object throwing (typically a tennis ball), firm pokes in the ribs-nothing shook his focus for more than an instant. Even if I got him to glance away, or the deer moved out of sight, he did not calm down or lose focus (this is a continuing issue-he has a really, really good sense of object permanence-it can be a challenge to deal with.)

    OK, now that I’ve laid the foundation-the horrible truth…we used a shock collar. Only for chase breaking, not for any other training. Otis learned only one command that was associated with punishment-STOP! Even more horrible, to many people, I don’t regret it at all. Not even the shock collar, by the way, was enough to fully break his focus right away-the next time he started after deer, he didn’t even flinch at the maximum setting, (he was sensitive to the collar at the same level I was, almost the minimum-of course I tried it before putting it on him-it ranged from a barely perceptible buzz to a very intense electric vibration, not a snap, like a static shock- it was surprising and unpleasant, but not actually painful) and it took nearly two full minutes before he broke off the first chase. After that, though, his response time improved dramatically. Even though it didn’t work instantly, the collar did work, and was not dependent on the collar itself. He stopped tracking and seeking deer and can now be trusted to stop when he’s told even if he’s not wearing the collar. (though he does wear it, if he’s off leash, just in case). I had many doubts, and I know that many people will disagree with my ultimate decision, but at the cost of perhaps a dozen instances of momentary discomfort, Otis has had a vastly enriched and expanded life. After trying and failing to teach him using other methods, it was something that I felt I needed to do for his safety and that of others.

  6. Alexandra says

    This is going to sound crazy, but with my first dog, Izzy, we actually had more of a problem with the cat stalking the dog! Izzy was mostly interested in trying to play with the cat, but unfortunately Kitty is annoyed by the mere existence of dogs and maintains a strict “no touching” policy with the canines. Kitty quickly learned that Izzy is kind of a nervous dog, and was easily intimidated by staring. After rebuffing a few initial attempts by Izzy to play, Kitty started entertaining herself by hiding behind doors and under beds and stalking the dog. Izzy would get really freaked out by this and run out of the room. Sometimes 9 lb Kitty would dart from under a bed and chase 60 lb Izzy completely out of the room. However, Kitty’s absolute favorite game is what we called “Denial of Area” where she’s sit in the middle of a doorway or hallway and Izzy would end up trapped until she whined and we’d come remove the Kitty roadblock. I also caught Kitty sitting on top of Izzy’s crate a few times, staring down at the dog and generally freaking her out. Sigh.

    Once I realized what was going on, I kept Kitty and Izzy apart while I wasn’t home. Whenever Kitty started getting nasty, I’d just remove her from the room. That always seemed to take the wind out of her sails. After about a year I’d guess the two of them started to play together now and then, usually chasing games that both of them actually seemed to enjoy instead of appearing stressed.

    My second dog, Copper, turned out to be the cat chaser. He’s much braver than Izzy, also wanted desperately to play with Kitty, and was not at all intimidated by her stalking or denial-of-area games. It was actually kind of funny to see Kitty’s reaction the first time she hid behind a door and Copper just waltzed right over and licked her. She was horribly offended. Once again, I kept him separate from Kitty while I wasn’t around, and over time worked on attention to name when he looked like he was going to chase the cat. He’s almost three now and he almost never chases her. It helps a lot that the cat has learned that she doesn’t have to panic and run; I’ve also given her a lot of vertical escape routes so she can get up onto a table or kitty tower quickly if she feels uncomfortable. Izzy and Kitty still chase each other every now and then (Izzy respects the cat’s no touching policy), but Copper tries to get too rough and scares Kitty so I call him over to do tricks for me when the two girls start that game.

  7. Kat says

    Ranger doesn’t have an intense focus on chasing (except sheep and even then he’ll get distracted) but it isn’t completely absent. When we first adopted him from the Humane Society he wanted to chase white vans–no other kind of car just white vans; he’d been surrendered to the Humane Society due to a death in his previous family and I’ve often wondered if that family had a white van. As soon as I realized what he wanted to chase I became an expert at spotting white vans and offering distractions and rewards the instant I spotted them. Sometimes he’ll still turn and look after one (three years later) but never any effort to chase. Bicyclists and Joggers then attracted his attention as potential chasees but the same vigilance, distract and reward worked for those. Cats, squirrels, crows, etc. were more of a challenge as he can usually spot those before I do. I decided he’d just have to learn the hard way and watched him intently, the first sign of him getting ready to lunge I’d plant myself and let him jerk himself to a stop at the end of the leash doing my best to time my shout of STOP to the instant before he’d hit. The funny thing is that he hasn’t entirely stopped wanting to lunge at critters but he now stops just short of the leash jerk. Lately we’ve been doing a bit of hiking with him on his long line and just before he reaches the end of the line I’ve been signaling it with a mouth noise click/chirrup and he’s been a delight as he slows to a comfortable pace for me.

    In the yard, he’s free to chase anything that he sees. My neighbor is pretty annoyed because it means all the crows are in her trees rather than mine but that’s her problem; she has catfood out all day so she had more than I did anyway. I’ve seen Ranger playing relaxed games of peek-a-boo with squirrels and casual games of chase just for fun. Given how he reacts to his cats (who are indoors only) I’m not worried he’d do more than chase any cat that came in the yard. Indoors, he won’t chase either cat if it doesn’t run. The trick has been trying to teach the younger cat, Meowzart, to walk away rather than running. The compromise has been teaching Ranger not to enter the basement and warning Meowzart that Ranger is entering the house. Now the family calls out “Ranger Dog arriving” as they open the door to let him in and Meowzart vanishes into the basement. The older cat, Katzenjammer, has established that he outranks Ranger and the two will often be found curled up on the couch–not exactly together but quite amicably. I’m hoping soon to be able to get a picture of Katzenjammer with his Ranger tail blanket, it’s pretty cute.

  8. says

    When I started reading your post, I thought “why not try an e-collar?” And then I got to the part where you did try it, successfully. My young pittie had a similar issue with chasing the neighbor’s cows (we live on a farm, and twice he managed to get through a double layer of fencing and into the neighbor’s pasture). We finally turned to an e-collar, and while I still think they’re often badly misused, they can be lifesavers for dogs who chase livestock or deer. I have no doubt whatsoever that, for my dog (and probably for yours) the e-collar is far less punishing than the alternative: years on leash while we continued to work with “look at that” and other protocols.

  9. says

    Oh my gosh….what a summer you’re having! You’ll need a vacation from all this summer vacation! I wish all speedy recoveries!

    I have two Beagles and an Aussie. I’m so very familiar about chase, prey, herding drives and lucky me my guys have tested my creative limits on how to turn their drive into something not only manageable but in the end, it’s been a blast to be part of the action.

    Happy to say we’ve accomplished our objectives thru games and proofing the cues by use of a long line.

    No jerking or hitting the end of it to make a point…if anything I run with them saying “cha ching! You’ve just won the lottery…come and collect your reward” and we end up running w/ line in hand so they veer off course and run back to me, not somersault because I’ve gone in the opposite direction.

    I first used D & C methods thanks to “Feisty Fido”.

    I brought their kongs, treats, toys, every trick in our “what they consider a reward tickle trunk..including shredding toilet paper roll… to work with to cover all the usual bases like:

    1-To proof for animals that drive my guys crazy; I actually had a rabbit who ruled the household so that was covered, and for cats, friends help with all that stuff.

    2-Visiting bike parks and skateboard parks, sitting on my porch waiting for things to race by…

    3-Birds, Squirrels, ducks, geese, bears, coyotes proof and training took place first on a long line as puppies, then repeat at adolescence.

    Plus I’ve taken recall classes as well and happy to report my beagles chose me recalling through a landmine field of hotdogs and food in dishes, the instructor still tells people that story :)

    My guys are off leash in areas I know it’s safe and on leash on trails where I can’t see very much ahead of me.

    Do I think for a second that there’s not a chance I haven’t covered something … I know as much as we’ve worked together, there’s always that chance they won’t recall back for whatever reason…but 8 1/2 years with Daisy, 6 yrs with George and 2yrs with Keegan…and they’re still alive and I don’t think they feel deprived :)

    BUT…none of their “training” is ever over, because LIFE happens…out of NO where!

    Just the other week, while I was doing “go home” proofing which is so CUTE to watch them race to the front door and down. I just put my video on so I could film this as George is so cute to watch….when… a cat jumped down from our tree that we were standing under!

    The leash got away from me, George went to chase the cat…he did stop at the bush the cat raced under, BUT STILL!!! We ended up having the opportunity to do some D & C work with the cat, I video’d the whole thing I think out of shock, I just had it in my hand, and never took my eyes off of George and trying to turn the situation into a learning experience.

    As much as I’ve done with George…I haven’t ever had THAT opportunity where a CAT drops from the sky :)

    What HAS worked for me is D & C and the Premack principle, and MOST OF ALL teaching them fun ways TO interact with whatever is moving that they’ve targeted.

    I’ve put touch, sniff, target (lay on top of…which is great for dead stuff when you don’t want them chowing down, or the sniff cue), get it, stop, of course their name, whiplash head turn & recall ” zoom”.

    Today have added “around” for clockwise and “way to me” for counter clockwise whatever it is they’re in hot pursuit for.

    With Premack principle, I practice with everything I can, to generalize the cue, then when I’m out in nature I’ll do the same. When I know it’s safe, and I know whatever it is will out run them…I’ll say “get it” and then recall them and so far it’s worked!

    A tricky subject! Playing Russian Roulette it feels like sometimes.



  10. Tamasin says

    Trisha, I should be thanking you for the many, many ways you’ve helped my dogs and me … or I should be sending along the responses I’ve written only in my mind to previous of your always-compelling posts … but maybe it would be useful to Hope if I mention that I once rescued a backyard-bred puppy who peed every few minutes. At only a few weeks of age she had surgery to remove seven large stones from her tiny bladder. Because such a thing was hardly possible at her age, the vet kept them as proof. “They’re huuuge!” he marvelled incredulously, holding them up to the light in his vial and giving them a satisfactory little jiggle. I always wondered if he happily passed them around at seminars.

  11. E says

    I agree with your point that eating the treat yourself if the dog makes an error seems to really work!

    For my dog reactive girl I carry around a bag of sausage/hotdogs wherever I go only bringing them when dogs are near. At first she got the treats whenever any dog was near to create a positive association but now we are at the point where she seeks out dogs to look at them then look back at me for treats.

    Several times when she has reacted/lunged I’ve said “Too bad!” and eaten a few bites myself…I don’t like to engage in anthromorphism but the only way I can describe her face is DEVASTATED. For the rest of the walk she tried extra hard and walked nicely by my side..not even reacting to the snarliest dog.

    Why do you think this works so well?

  12. AnneJ says

    I have retrained a dog, Hank, who would have liked to chase cars using pretty much all the techniques you outlined. He has never been loose with speeding cars, but our fence along the road gave him a chance to get in the habit. I stopped leaving him out when I wasn’t there, and when we walked along the road together I’d have him sit or down and watch me as a car approached. I also taught him not to chase the cat, but I used a bit more punishment than you had to, especially as he was intent on grabbing Tigger by the tail.

    The other day his knowledge of what to ignore really showed up- he was fetching some sheep out of tall grass and I flushed up a rabbit, which ran straight to Hank and nearly into him. He gave it a passing glance to see what it was but stuck with the job of sheep herding.

  13. says

    One of the things I most enjoy about your posts is that you are so very specific! For instance, the fact that at 1 week you were doing name recognition 25 times/day. That is good solid information on which to base our own repetitions.
    Which brings me to a question about repetitions. You mentioned that establishing a new habit takes 21-28 days. How many repetitions per day? And how do the number of repetitions affect the number of days it takes to create new habits? To take the extreme, once a day won’t cut it, but would 500 times/day be better than 5?
    Thanks for another great and thought provoking post!

  14. Debbi says

    I think I’ve been very lucky to have a Border/Aussie mix who has such a great combo of drive yet handler responsiveness! I do Search & Rescue w/ him & consequently he is expected to range out away from me in the woods while we’re searching. We often let the dogs out as a group after our trainings & he has returned to me upon recall, while in full flight-chase mode when one of the group takes off after a deer! The other day on a search we were bordering someone’s property & encountered a group of fenced-in chickens! Got to see how well the “leave it” command worked – he physically turned his whole body away from those chickens! (But was sure interested in finding out what those things were first!) I attribute our success to starting the training at a very young age…obviously not always an option if working w an older or rescue dog. But he started learning “come” before 9 weeks old, and “Leave it” when he was about 14 weeks old. ALWAYS rewarding those good responses w/ toys, tug, treats, butt scratches – whatever is available seems to have kept the responses strong! The hardest thing to break? Chasing the garbage can (when I’m taking it out to the street) and the vacuum! I’ve used treats & thrown them out away from me, out in front of me/garbage can – so he still gets to chase something (the food) and yet he’s moving away from the chasee. Throwing the Kong away from the chasee has worked too, so now he brings me his kong while I’m vacuuming.

  15. says

    My BC has been a big time dog chaser since he was very young. We spent almost his entire first 7-week agility foundations class focusing not on class elements but on not chasing the dogs in the more advanced class in the next ring. I primarily used a combination of mat work and Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at That” game. It’s still there, and it’s something I still have to manage to some extent (I have to work *really hard* the entire time he’s in the ring to keep his attention where it’s supposed to be- we can’t just hang out yet), but he’s improved in leaps and bounds. While he still finds running dogs extremely stimulating, he’s pretty quick to turn to me now in response, which is what I wanted.

    Interestingly (and thankfully), he’s not really a chaser of other things (cats, cars, skateboards, etc). And I also think it’s really interesting that he didn’t have trouble learning to run flyball next to another dog running. My only explanation is that flyball is all about targeting – target the ball in the box on the way out, target the tug toy in the way back.

  16. Kim says

    Catching up on the last two postings, you mentioned you were able to cure Will from barking/lunging at other dogs. Looking back at archived postings, I could not find previous references to the techniques you used that cured Will.
    We have an awesome GSD who we adopted from a shelter at around the age of 2 (we thought he may have been a bit younger). We have had him for three years now. He (Henry) seemed very friendly with other dogs and was quite appropriate with our aging “not so dog friendly” female. We soon found out he didn’t quite care for meeting other dogs while on leash. We worked with several APDT trainers in the area (one who worked at the shelter where we adopted Henry. While at the shelter Henry was used as the dog to test other dogs for dog-aggression). Other trainers have told us we are “doing everything right”. But it is still a major problem. We cannot get past dangling chicken in front of his nose when walking anywhere near dogs. Heaven forbid we run out!

    Henry attends positive training classes, obedience classes and agility. He does great but the biggest stressor/obstacle is getting through the door. He also attends doggie daycare and has been at an off leash dog park and was fine once we made it through the gates. Off leash he is fine and responds very appropriately to other dogs (even when they are not so appropriate). However, in the life he is living with us, a leash is required.

    Would you be willing to share your techniques for curing Will of lunging/barking at other dogs as you have with chasing/stalking the cat?

    I appreciate all you’ve written (can’t wait for you next book), your recommended reading and all you share on your posts. I hope Will is doing well.

  17. Melissa says

    It’s interesting what works for different chasers. My Erik is pretty drivey, and does love a chase, but he doesn’t really care what he chases. I say “ready??” whenever I’m about to play tug with him. I carry a little sheepy tug and whenever he sees something to chase I say “ready??” and he dives into a down facing me waiting for me to tell him to tug.

    My other dog is not so easy. Nowhere near as drivey, but his head is in the clouds most of the time. He sees something to chase and his eyes instantly glaze over and I’ll be lucky if he ever notices me. The best I have managed is Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That game and Really Reliable Recalls. I can interrupt him and he will recall from chasing something, but if he was much drivier I think I would be having a lot more trouble. I like to think of it the way Steven Lindsay describes, with creating a choice point. If I can interrupt the fixation I can jolt the dog off the “chase” track and get them onto another more useful track, like the “training” track. I’ve been thinking for a while that maybe for Erik chasing an animal and chasing a ball is the same thing, but for Kivi they are two different things…

    I have a wild hare that lives with me and the dogs just love to watch him run, even if they can’t ever catch him. I fence off his cage so there is a buffer zone between him and the dogs. That way if they come and stare at him he doesn’t feel pressured enough to break and run and they don’t get their fix. I have only had to do this for a few weeks early on to get them out of the habit, but it’s something that could come back any time.

  18. Beckmann says

    My dog is the continental bulldog, which is a new healthy bulldog, not recognized by FCI yet. Very athletic but does not have so much stamina. Being the bulldog line, I was not expecting my dog to have so strong ‘chase’ drive. However, it turned out that he LOVEs to chase animals (not so much interest in cars, joggers, etc…).
    We (me and my husband) had the similar situation as em

  19. Beth says

    I used body blocking very successfully as part of my arsenal in getting my female Corgi to stop stalking (and then chasing) the cat, but I combined it with positive punishment.

    What I would do is body block her, and she would run backwards, trying to peer around me to see the cat. The very second she would relent and turn her head in the opposite direction in an effort to just leave, I would heap her with praise and we would then run to the treat jar (why is it that my dogs seem to find running to the treat jar infinitely more rewarding than being handed a treat on the spot? This only works because they have learned the marker word “Good!” of course, and then when I start doing a run-on “Good boy/girl! Gooooodddd girlll!” they know we’re off to the treat jar, but nevertheless they get overjoyed at the prospect. Maybe it’s the same way that going for ice cream is more fun than pulling it out of your own freezer?).

    Anyway, the body-blocking (positive punishment) corrected the bad behavior, and I was then able to reward the desired behavior (turning away) shortly thereafter. A very effective one-two punch.

  20. Mary Beth says

    I was told that its much easier to channel the prey drive sequence in dogs under 9 months of age before the behavior chain gets hard wired in.
    I tried to bring a whole slew of coonhounds in to the house with no luck, but then I brought home a 4 month old puppy. He was still very focused on the cat, but I was successful in eliminating the chase. They get along just fine now.
    I used body blocks and most important, refocusing him when he did the “lock and load” stare at the cat. And lots of treats for both when they could be calm around each other. Now, he’s bored with her and mostly ignores the cat.

  21. Bonnie Hensley says

    Love your stories and tips for training/behavior.

    Have one question; if Hope is a boy, why are you checking into vaginitis for frequent urination? Granted, I’m a people nurse and not a doggy nurse, but…..

  22. trisha says

    To Bonnie: Where is a male puppy’s vagina anyway? Your question is understandable, given that he’s a guy. Hey, with my luck, maybe Hope does have one. But here’s the explanation for my use of the term: Puppy “vaginitis” usually appears in female puppies from 6 weeks to 8 months of age, but a knowledgeable veterinarian from UW Vet School told me that something similar can occur in male pups in which the lining of the ureter becomes irritated. She still called it “vaginitis” for lack of a better term (and because it is so rare in males.) I’ve learned, however, that besides frequent urination it often presents with a discharge, and frequent licking of the area by the pup. No such thing is going on with Mr. Hope right now. Hope is going in tomorrow for urine sample check, checking for bacteria, WBCs and whether he is concentrating his urine. After that we’ll check for bladder stones (thanks for the tip Tamasin), and heaven only knows what else. But there is clearly something abnormal here. Hope is basically a sieve: water in, water out.

    To Mary Beth: Your comment about ‘nipping it in the bud’ is important. I’ve never seen any research, but it makes such strong intuitive sense that once a genetically mediated trait becomes practiced it is extremely difficult to turn around. I suspect that might have happened with Willie. I hesitated to get after him for stalking Sushi when he first started because he hadn’t worked sheep yet, and I was concerned he might inadvertently learn: don’t ever herd anything. I wonder what would have happened if I had nipped it in the bud when he was young. Hope’s behavior is very different: it’s play chasing, not serious predator behavior, so even though I am glad I could get a handle on it right away, I don’t think it’s equivalent. But overall, oh yes yes yes, so much better to prevent than re-wire!

    To Kim: I’ll write a post in the next few weeks about Willie and his treatment for Dog-Dog Aggression, but I basically followed what I wrote in Feisty Fido.

    And finally, to em and Nancy regarding e-collars. I am strongly of the opinion that e-collars are often horrifically misused and am saddened that they are so easily available to anyone who wants to buy one. That said, I also think they can be life savers in certain situations. I equate them with scalpels: things you don’t want anyone waving around, but life savers in the right hands. I have used them very rarely, but in all cases it has been in situations in which a dog was going to either die without it, or be confined to a life that could not possibly make them happy. Almost always this was about predatory behavior, or a dog born and bred to run beyond the boundaries of the property. One dog was a mushy sweet black Lab who had killed 3 of 4 pet chickens at the neighbors. These were dearly loved animals, and there was no way the dog, who had always been allowed outside off leash, was going to either not do it again or be happy tied up the rest of his life. One session with the collar saved the surviving chicken, and allowed the dog to go back his happy life for many years to come. I know that many feel that e-collars should never be used under any circumstances, but my personal opinion is that flexibility in techniques is critical if you want to be able to help as many people and dogs as you can, that life and dog training are rarely black and white, and that all the costs and benefits must be weighed every time a decision is made to choose a training tool. em’s thoughtful comment about what she went through is a good example of a thoughtful and balanced analysis of the problem and the solution, and I am so glad it has worked out for her (and credit her courage for speaking out.)

  23. JJ says

    I want to thank you for this nice, detailed post. In particular, I’m appreciative that you set expectations on time lines. In reading the top part of the post and in knowing how short a time you have had Hope, I started to get unreasonable expectations on how quickly this kind of behavior can be changed. The ending part about it being months more, even for a professional trainer and a young, intelligent puppy just getting started (all three of which I would think would make the training go faster), helps to set expectations very well.

  24. JJ says

    I thought I would share my dog’s chase (and fix) story. When I first got 3-year-old, pound-dog Duke, I would take him to work and leave him in the covered parking garage (where I would then take 2.5 hour lunches making incredibly long days so that I could take Duke to the Dog Park every day–the car became his crate).

    The parking garage is basically a big spiral sloping down/up. It is also apparently a teenage boy’s skateboarding dream. I found out a few months into this setup that a handful of boys on skateboards would start at the top and skate to the bottom, building up incredible speed, even going around blind corners and continuing down. (I’m amazed no one go killed.) I remember getting into the car one day and feeling a vibration, quickly followed by a noise that go louder and louder, and then followed by a good eight or so boys on boards zooming past so fast you wouldn’t believe it.

    Duke went insane. He was so focused, throwing his body back and forth, practically tipping the car (I have a Great Dane).

    Not too much later, I found that my dog who previously ignored people on skateboards was not determined to chase down every one. Imagine how scary it is to be on wheels and a Great Dane is bounding toward you. Duke was just having fun. After he knocked someone off, he then just leaned against them or tried to lick their faces. Still, not the ideal situation…

    Then it got worse. Duke generalized it scooters and bicycles. Then motorcycles. I got very worried.

    Solutions: I complained bitterly and often to the garage people until they got the skateboarders to stop. I did the whole positive reinforcement thing (first at a distance) on bicycles first which were less of an issue than skateboarding (and easier to find). Then worked my way up to the dredded skateboarders. Time also seemed to play into it. As time went by, Duke just seemed less excitable about everything. (Every leaf blowing in the street no longer had to be chased down. Every tiny bird or butterfly in the next yard does not have to be played with. …)

    I believe that the relative ease with which I was able to fix the problem (over many months) is because Duke does not have that hard-wired chase thing that others have mentioned – at least not for skateboards. I think that was more of an artificial drive that was created. But the positive reinforcement definitely played a role and I’m grateful for the training method.

    Cats though. That’s another story.

  25. em says

    Thanks, Trisha (and all!) for such a supportive and understanding response-using the e-collar was a difficult decision for me, and though I’m confident I made the right choice, not everyone always sees it that way. The scalpel metaphor is a good one. When people who see Otis’ collar ask me about it, usually seeking a ‘quick fix’ for their own training problems, I often refer to the shock collar as the dog-training equivalent of holding a child’s hand to a hot stove. Though there are few more effective ways to quickly end dangerous behavior, overuse/misuse could very easily cause serious emotional and psychological damage, and I’d hesitate to use it except in cases of true necessity.

  26. Beth says

    E-collars have a place. My father used to field-trial pointers, and he said he’s seen many a promising young dog ruined by an e-collar in the wrong hands; an incorrectly timed punishment that severe can cause irreversible damage to the dog’s relationship with its handler, and can teach your dog exactly the opposite of what you want it to learn (zap the dog as he turns in toward you, out of sight, on a recall for example and your dog may never have a recall again).

    That said, e-collars are used frequently by bird-dog people, and while I don’t really love that idea, I have also yet to come up with an alternative solution for a dog who, from two football fields away, discovers that it’s just as easy to run off with the bird as bring it back to you. I can’t really think of anything that would out-reward the behavior itself (a nice warm feathered bird to rip to bits is more appealing than much that we can offer). Some dogs will learn a lesson if you abandon them (for a brief period) in the field for not coming back; my father has gone so far as to get in his truck and drive off for a minute or too if the dog was in a safe area. But a stubborn, independent dog will probably not be upset enough by that to stop running off with your birds.

    Life-and-death situations are another place where an e-collar can be a godsend.

  27. says

    I watched first hand a teenager with the remote, zapping a puppy boxer while at the petstore. It was heart breaking to watch. You could see the confusion and conflict in the puppy’s eyes, when it tried to move out of the sit.

    Time stood still and I didn’t know what to say or do. I just said quietly “do whatever it takes to stay safe please” under my breath and tried to convey it to the dog in my facial expression and told the boy his puppy was doing a great job on his own without the remote. What do you do?

    That was the first time I witnessed someone using a remote. I agree that it definitely is something that one should be certified to use.

  28. Laurie says

    A few thoughts. First, on water in water out…. If nothing obvious comes up, check for diabetes insipidus. It is rare but that is the primary symptom. My dog had it and it turned put to be easily managed after some research.

    Second, thanks so much for this post. My dogs chase one of my three cats. They annoy the other two, but obsess on Shen. Mostly it is Amos that does this, even if Beau starts it Amos whines and barks and chases obsessively. They are Aussies and it seems herding behavior, especially since Shen is very active Nd sometimes seems to set out to stir them up. The whining, pacing and barking are quite disruptive to the rest of the two and four legged beings in the household.

    Counterconditioning, crating, tethering, reactivity work all help for brief moments, then we start up again. If I just manage Amos, Beau brings it down to a manageable level on his own. We tried, with guilt, the spray bottle method. But it only works if I chase the dogs around with it. We also do body blocking and that is just a battle. And even then, neither causes a pause. I had diligently refused to consider a more aversive application of positive punishment until I read this article on a particularly frustrating day.

    Decision… What would be aversive and not harmful, but not be around after the experiment. Solution… Plastic grocery bags with a few corks in it. Tossed in front of Amos in the heat of the tracking proved more aversive than I hoped. He ran to the other room and sat in the corner. Would not engage for positive reinforcement, but did not chase immediately again. I felt awful, but chose to continue. On throw two, same thing. Throw three, he put himself outside in the kennel. Throw four I got no further than touching the bag and he went and sat quietly and accepted praise.

    This morning the chase began, I went to get the bag and when I returned he was laying with the cat watching out the door. Fingers crossed! If this works, life will be better for all creatures living here!


  29. Margaret says

    Hi Patricia –

    It also really helps to have a cat that has a degree in behavior. My trainer has one! Check out this perfect example of a cat ignoring unwanted behavior and it goes away!

    Hopefully this works –

    If not – let me know and I’ll try to send another way.

    Thanks for all you do for people and their pets!


  30. Julie says

    I have a 2 year old spayed, female Shih Tzu and I recently moved in with my sister who has 3 male Golden retrievers and 1 female Bernese. They are getting along great, and they are having a great time together, but on at least 3 occassions throughout the day, my Shih Tzu instigates high energy play, and encourages the Bernese and the youngest Golden (both under 2 years of age), to chase her. It instantly creates chaos in the house and my sister and I would like this type of play discouraged. How do you suggest we discourage this behavior without discouraging play altogether?

  31. Marion says

    I am interested (and potentially hopeful) to read the post from Em. Our Hound/Pitt mix Wishbone has the chase/prey drive instinct in spades, for squirrels, turkey, chicken, cats, deer, and whatever else is out there. Two deer-chasing events lasted ~1 hour each and he tangled with something out there in the woods during… an old fence, maybe? We put a fence around our city backyard and he jumped the 5.5 foot fence after squirrel. He has chased squirrels up trees, managing to climb about 10 feet up. Without fuzzy animal sightings on our walks he heels and walks nicely on a leash. The moment small fuzzy animals are sighted he goes into what we call “squirrel brain,” a state of mind where he knows nothing except to chase. He is absolutely hard-wired prey-drive. So, now I am learning about shock collars. I appreciate the stories you shared, and the experience.

  32. Jennifer says

    To em and Trish’s reply–
    I have a dog with a strong chase drive (rabbits, squirrels, GEESE, etc) and I live in an urban area. He’s a spaniel x with a great sense of smell and he is persistently tracking. The “natural dog training” methods were not going to work because he does not care much about toys except in tiny bursts and won’t retrieve them (I’ve tried scents and the whole lot). He is not happy being leashed all the time. I have done tons of long line training and in fact he has v. good recall now, but he will not listen if tracking a great scent or already chasing. I’ve even allowed chasing in some contexts but he gets carried away. He has just point blank bolted a number of times and not come back for 10-20 minutes.
    Treats work but only when he is not already chasing or on a v strong scent.
    It became clear to me that allowing the chase would probably work to get him over the intensity of his excitement , but in this kind of area it is really not possible. Geese next to roads are a major problem here.
    I bought an ecollar last year out of desperation. I initially tried this to reinforce known commands but I don’t like that, because it tuned down his working enthusiasm while training. He would obey but without any enthusiasm.
    I’m now using it to critter him and that’s all I intend to use it for. I want him to stop chasing geese and I want him to stop tracking geese too.
    I wish more good , R+ trainers would be open to this method , because I would like help in doing this properly and i have not been able to find it. There are the collar trainers who are “traditional” & the R+ people who are dogmatic. This is _very real_ issue for people who live in non-rural areas who want the dogs to have a little freedom and can’t risk them running about all the time after whatever catches their fancy. WHen you compare it to getting hit by a car, it is nothing–and yes, I have used it on myself. I also bought a variable rheostat collar which cost $200 (and by the way, I’ve now spent nearly $2000 dollars on trainers and equipment for this dog, for this issue; my latest acquisition is a GPS collar so that I can find him if he becomes lost).
    Thank you for coming out and being open-minded about this. It is a last resort and must be used with some caution, but it does seem to be the only way to reliably teach some dogs with these very self-reinforcing instincts how to live safely and offer them a life that is not entirely frustrated on leash (and just to back up what EM said, my dog has run off on at least 4 occasions dragging his long line, which terrifies me. It is only a miracle he was not stuck somewhere on it, and if a dog with that on ran across a road, he could easily be dragged under the wheels of a car even if he was not hit by it. )

  33. gene says

    I am a ferm believer of positive reenforcement. Clicker training is a very good way to teach a dog distractions.The dog should always be supervised. Proper clicker conditioning will help with obedience commands to get the dog to respond to your commands. Go to CLICKER TRAINING on line. Better yet find a good training club that offers clicker training. This will benefit you with your problem. Commands solve the problem not E collars and etc. Remember to start to clicker train. Clicker training teaches your dog to think.

  34. Clara says

    What about dogs who bark and freak out at passing cars while they are in a car? Anyone have ideas for this?

  35. CC says

    My dog herds ME (and any other runner, squirrel, scooter, skateboard zipping around). He’s v. reactive to loud skateboards on leash too but the rest, including bikes seem to not be much of a problem. I’m not overly concerned about on-leash, but I’d like to be able to take him places with runners (joggers are OK since they’re slower moving).

    Double trouble issue #2, not only is he half border collie, he’s half Cattle Dog so there’s nipping involved too! He has very good bite inhibition and will not draw blood but it leaves a lovely purple bruise….

    Any ways to go about fixing this or am I working an uphill battle? He’s already 2 (rescue) and seems to be from working lines – Sheep herding trainer said his drive was off the charts, had to be corrected on his first go around.

  36. Theresa says

    Thank-you sooooooooo much – to both you, and Em who commented on your post (in 2010). I read the post and both your and Em’s comments at the end of last year (2014) as I searched for a solution to my (very well-trained and biddable, sic) labbie bitch’s cat / fox / squirrel chasing habit. She learnt cat-chasing from my last labbie boy, and I inadvertently further developed her prey drive by allowing her to chase rabbits when on holiday. The situation steadily got worse until last autumn/winter there were several occasions when she bolted across a road, often chasing a cat / squirrel / fox that I hadn’t even seen, into someone’s garden. She was on a leash, but she NEVER pulls so the leash is normally held very loosely in my hand. I was in despair as not only were people upset by this dog rampaging through their garden, under fences, damaging plants etc, but bolting across roads meant she was likely to be hit by a car. I read your post, and Em’s, and it made me look at what I considered to be the worst scenario – using a shock collar to interrupt this behaviour in my beloved dog. I followed Em’s logic pathway and it actually made me realise that I hadn’t been fully honest with myself – there was much more I could do without resorting to an e-collar. Following your guidance above: re Manage & Prevent – I walked her earlier – as the cats seemed to come out at dusk. I also noted where they lived, and took an alternative route if it was late. I also started walking down the middle of the road near cat territory as they normally hang about in gardens or under cars (which my bitch knew, and would look for them there), and made sure I was more alert, ready to respond/interrupt. We improved ‘Look-at-Me’, using really yummy treats (anchovies worked well), and when she reacted to a cat, after the first ‘look-at-me’ commands moved on to her receiving treats scattered on the ground in front of her, and in the opposite direction to the cat. At home, I have closed the doors to keep her out of the conservatory from where she would rage at cats wandering through the garden, or along the boundary wall. I also quickly change channels if she tries to ‘chase’ an animal that appears on the TV screen. We don’t see cats every day, so opportunities to practice are intermittent and unpredictable but over the last couple of weeks I thought she was improving and today – well she saw a cat brazenly sitting fully exposed in a driveway across the road, and she CURSED, but didn’t even try to bolt!! You cannot believe how happy that made me – certainly the cat didn’t move, and movement is also trigger, but I now know for sure that I am making progress. I am now looking for programs to record on TV as she reacts strongly (as dogs seem to do) to animals on the flat-screen TVs and will try to use that to improve her de-sensitization as there is no scent and I can control the sound and movement with the mute and pause buttons. So thank-you both again, it was only through reading your comments that I was able to step back from my feelings of despair and think through again about how to resolve this.

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