The issue of chasing behaviors in dogs can be one of the most dangerous of the natural behaviors that we deal with in a dog’s life. Some dog breeds are more prone to this behavior, such as breeds belonging to the hound dog group. But nevertheless, any dog of any breed (or mixed breed) can display a strong instinctive pattern for the chase.
The background of this dog behavior lies deep inside the core of the dog. Most dog trainers call it the prey-drive, the instinct that is part of most predator animals and it is a form of hunting instinct that you can find in wild members of the Canidae family (this is the biological family of animals made up of wolves, foxes, wild dogs, etc.).
The difference in the prey drive patterns between dogs and wolves for example, is that this is the drive that enables hunting in wolves; their instinctive pattern contains a few different levels like: spotting the prey, stalking, chasing, hunting down and then, finally, killing the prey. In dogs, we have a similar prey drive pattern, without the end result (in most cases). This final step is not a natural part of the prey drive pattern for most domestic dogs.
Even if you are planning to have a dog solely for hunting purposes, you would need to train the final element in this pattern, as it doesn’t come completely naturally to them. However, keep in mind that with this type of training there is always the chance of something going wrong.
There is another version of prey drive that is known in dog training circles as “toy-drive” it is very similar, however the end result is a playful interaction with the object (or whatever else triggered this action). Nevertheless the beginning of the pattern is the same and comes from the same source.
When things go wrong (prey drive aggression)
There are a few situations where things can go badly wrong and animals or even humans can get badly injured or even killed. Prey drive is a highly emotional state for a dog. One of the first things that you will notice with your dog when getting into his prey drive is that when he “locks” onto something, in most cases, he is gone; no amount of yelling, calling, etc., will help. The dog simply appears to have tuned out the rest of the world like it doesn’t exist.
This is the work of instincts; chemicals like adrenalin and others hit the dog’s brain and this powerful cocktail overtakes the brain creating an effect that we can maybe compare to the effect of a horse’s blinders. It is important to remember that in many cases instincts and instinctual actions overpower dog training capabilities. It often happens that even the most trained dogs simply “disobey” when instincts come into play.
There are dogs out there whose temperaments are unstable (nervous, fearful dogs) that have a high prey drive. When these factors all combine, you can end up with a dog that will chase moving objects, and during that chase the dog will get highly excited and aroused, once he reaches the object, he is unable to control the emotional state which is now also combined with the fear of a sudden reaction created by the object of the chase, and the situation can get out of control and can end up in a dog attack.
This is especially dangerous when you have a situation where there is more than one dog. Having a pack of dogs running into prey drive, or simply following the ones that are, is a hectic, high adrenalin chase that ends up with dogs surrounding the object. At those times, the level of drive, combined by fear, barking, and lots of energy, acts like a trigger for some dogs and when it is when that happens that an attack is, in most cases, inevitable.
The commotion that happens during a dog attack (the panic reaction of the victim) is like spilling oil on a fire. Things only get worse. Luckily, these situations don’t happen often. How to deal with a dog that tends to overreact in highly stressful situations, that may be a result of prey drive, will be described below.
Chasing dog behavior hazards
The first and most important thing to address, are always the dog owners themselves. Many dog owners don’t fully understand how difficult it is to live with a dog that tends to display strong chasing behavior patterns. At any given moment things can go wrong and the dog can end up in a situation where his life or the lives of others can be endangered.
A dog doesn’t understand what the road is and how dangerous it can be. Even dogs that have higher levels of training, in some situations, can launch into a wild chase at which point it doesn’t matter if there is a busy road in their path or not, they are going through, full speed ahead. Dog owners who don’t understand or who underestimate this powerful dog instinctual drive often tend to rely on dog training or other factors to save the day.
Every situation is different, different environments, different triggers, and different distances from the triggers. It also plays a factor if the dog is tired or has plenty of energy to burn at that particular moment. Or even which family member is with the dog at the time, etc.
Keep in mind that if you are dealing with a dog with higher chasing behavior drives, there is always a possibility that things can go wrong. Precaution and awareness can save the day.
Dog equipment has changed since years ago and today we have a vast choice of different equipment that we use daily with our dogs, especially when taking them for a walk. Although in today’s world, more focus is put towards how the equipment looks on the dog, and on creating matching colors and sets, etc. than it is on the reliability and function of the equipment. But it is important to understand that even today, just like centuries ago, the purpose of this equipment is to have control over our dogs.
You can find thousands of different dog collars that look great and fit perfectly, however they have a plastic buckle. No matter how strong it is, with bending, scratching, exposure to water, sun, temperature and other elements, plastic tends to lose its original properties and at some point, it breaks. The same things apply to leashes that are made of cheap materials, connecters and joints, or even with metal buckles that can rust, etc.
It is like Murphy’s Law, if the equipment failure is to happen, it will happen at a time when it is not supposed to. This is decidedly so because it is always in a situation when your dog puts extra pressure on the equipment that the equipment fails, in other words, when you need it most.
Some dog collars like a prong collar for example, because of the way it is constructed, can potentially open out of blue and suddenly you have a loose dog. This is also the case with a clip-style fastener, with enough strength, it can give way.
It is important to keep all of this in mind, as the quality of the equipment can play a crucial role in preventing a hazardous disaster. You can find out more about dog equipment on the Dog collars and dog leashes part of the website.
How to deal with chasing behaviors in dogs
First of all, the chasing behavior is something that a dog will never grow out of. It is an instinctively-driven action; therefore the dog doesn’t need a lot of repetitions in order for this behavior to become a normal part of his repertoire. The action itself (chasing) is an extremely motivating, self-rewarding and self-driven action that dogs are simply crazy about.
To begin (especially with young puppies) it is important to not encourage this behavior if you’re not planning to use it, and to manage the environment so that it does not provide enough stimulants to result in a greater development of this drive.
Many people underestimate the power of the recall command. This is the most important command for you and your dog and has to be trained as early as possible.
Don’t ever encourage your dog to chase other animals in order to get him running (as a form of exercise, for example). Your dog will like it, and it will become a habitual behavior, after all, there is no difference to the dog to get into a chasing behavior in your back yard when he sees a moving object, or if he spots the moving object at the side of the road.
To actually deal with the ongoing issue of the chasing behavior, you will need to train your dog a few things separately before dealing with the chasing issue itself.
Building muscle memory exercises
It is important to create alternative responses, as your first step. Remember that when dealing with any dog behavior, what we need to do first is to train some other alternative that the dog can replace the behavior with.
There are a few exercises that you will need to train with your dog, in order to have a repertoire of alternative behavior responses, these include;
All of these commands can be found at the links above. The level of training and response for these commands, have to be as high as possible, meaning that once you say your command, (for example, you dog’s name) he needs to gun back to you with speed and enthusiasm.
The level of response and the number of repetitions is crucial; exercise this in various different environments in order to establish good muscle memory patterns. Keep in mind to avoid environments where your dog can be triggered. The goal is not to compete with distractions yet.
Once this level is done, your next goal will be to introduce trigger situations at the sub-threshold level so that your dog doesn’t get too excited (you are still able to manage your dog) and you will use redirecting (the alternative behaviors) and reward your dog when he completes them.
For example, your dog spots a cat at a distance, you ask him to sit and watch you. Your dog does this and you reward him. Essentially, as things progress you will move closer to the trigger, but keep in mind to always stay at the sub-threshold distance as you move closer. I would recommend that you read the desensitizing and counter conditioning part of the website, to help better understand this. There you can find more details that can help you create this whole exercise and process.
TIP: This may take a long time and some dogs may show more or less progress. Chasing is a part of the dog’s instinctual patterns and it is highly motivating and rewarding for a dog. If you advance too fast in getting closer to the trigger, your dog will react and this will set you back in the training process.
It is advisable to use food as rewards, do not use tugs or other toys. The reason for that is because dogs get excited in the presence of toys, and that excitement can easily spill over in a chasing behavior. As well, there is no need to classically condition your dog to go into a high play-mode every time he sees the trigger.
A word about corrections
Most people and dog trainers use some type of corrections when dealing with chasing behavior issues. And for some reason, the E-collar is the number one tool that people tend to use. This is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make. People buy the E-collar, they put it on their dog and voila! They hit the “magic button” and expect that that should fix all of their problems.
First of all, the E-collar is a completely new sensation for a dog and a dog’s reaction to this new sensation may produce completely different responses than you expected. Your dog can eventually get collar wise, and there is a whole pallet of things that can go wrong as well, for example:
- the dog can become afraid of that environment thinking that the environment “corrected” him
- he may get scared of people walking on a nearby trail, or a car on the road in the background
- he may get scared of the objects in front of him (trees, bushes, bench, etc.)
- he may react aggressively to the object and from that point you will have to deal with aggression, as well as chasing.
This is not just for the use of the E-collar, you may run into these same problems when using a traditional method as well, like leash corrections, etc.
Always remember that when you are trying to fix issues by applying corrections, you always have a 50% chance that your dog will connect the correction with something completely different than your goal or intention was. The more complex the environment is, in which you are using the correction, the less chance that you have for your dog to connect the right action/behavior with the correction.
If the E-collar is your tool of choice when dealing with your dog, please visit the page of this website about the E-collar, where you can find details and information about this tool.
Chasing Behavior Issues
Always remember that chasing is a natural and instinctual behavior for dogs. It can take a long time and a lot of patience and successful repetitions to reach a point when the behavior becomes manageable, but there will always be the chance that the chasing behavior will kick in, so it is important to have a solid base of training and alternative behaviors ready and on command.
If your dog has a chasing behavior issue that is out of control, or that you want to address before it becomes an issue, please be sure to contact a professional for help in addressing the matter.
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