Does your dog disappear in a cloud of dust after a rabbit? Does he leave you standing while he runs off into the distance after a deer? Do you lose him in the woods when its pheasant season?
You are not alone!!
Many owners find themselves in the incredibly frustrating position of screaming their recall commands after a dog that is disappearing from view in hot pursuit of some fast moving object, usually something small and furry! I get a lot of owners when they contact me say ‘My dog’s recall is very good until we see a rabbit, then he ignores me’ The problem is …………. this is not a recall problem!
Taking it down to bare roots basics, I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when I say, chasing is instinctive behaviour. The difficulty we seem to have with solving this very dangerous problem, is we approach it from the wrong direction. We assume we need to teach our dogs a reliable recall, which is an option and will sometimes provide you with the solution you need. What I have found to be a more powerful approach however, is to train for something that is more likely to match the level of value the dog has toward chasing.
Lets look at it from your dog’s point of view. He LOVES to chase things! He doesn’t just enjoy it, it chemically affects his entire physical and psychological well being and he feels great when he’s doing it! He doesn’t think about doing it, it just happens, in a split second, he’s off and he’s having the best time. Now the only analogy I can come up with to compare this to, so that we may understand the very power we are dealing with here, is to ask you to imagine trying to stop an orgasm once it’s started?………. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking if he’s having this internal chemical reaction that is pumping adrenalin round his system and sending him into doggie orgasm, I could have steak, tuna, even a female dog on heat in my pocket and I don’t think he’s going to listen when I give my recall cue ……… it’s just not valuable enough to make him want to stop what he is doing. Chase rabbit = Total Adrenalin Rush OR Return to Mum .. .. .. .. .. mmmmmm No Contest!
This is what makes this behaviour one of the most dangerous there is! If we can’t do something about the chasing behaviour, we place our wonderful dogs at serious risk to themselves. They run blind, they will run straight across a road if that’s where the ‘prey’ leads them, they will keep going until they get lost, they can damage limbs, split paws and cause serious injury to themselves and other people.
So I think we agree, for our dogs, chasing is great, they love it, they can’t help but do it, it is almost the best fun a dog can have! But we have to stop it ……… so what can we do about it!
As with recall training, in order to stop your dog from chasing things, it is important to ‘tell him’ you would like him to do something other than chase them. I know that sounds obvious, but you have to train your dog to respond to you reliably in a certain set of circumstances in order for it to actually be a strong behavioural response when you need it to be. It’s no good waiting for your dog to chase something, then trying to train him not to (reactive training), you have to be proactive and educate him before these events happen, teach him that instead of chasing the rabbit / deer / pheasant you would like him to do something else, and here’s the biggie, that something else has to be as close to being equally valuable to him as you can make it, otherwise he’s going to choose the chase!
5 STEPS TO GET YOU STARTED
- Prevent your dog from being able to chase as much as possible. If there are areas on your walks where you regularly come across small furries, get your dog back before you reach this area and put him back on a lead or training line for a short while. If you do see anything, you can then use the opportunity to practise your training under controlled circumstances.
- Decide which technique / techniques you want to use to train your dog not to chase things and practise them every day when you are out on your walks. (This behaviour is so powerful you have to continually keep the opposing behaviour you would like to happen, very fresh in your dogs mind, if you only practise once a week, chasing will win every time in your dog’s decision making process)
- It is important that you train your dog ‘to do’ something other than chasing, rather than training him to ‘stop’ chasing. It is more powerful and successful (for dogs and humans!) when we teach them to do something in place of whatever it is we want them to stop doing,. The brain responds quicker and stronger to a ‘doing’ message (positive) than a ‘stop doing’ message (negative)
- Set up situations and create distractions that you can use to practise your training.
- As with all training, it will be more successful if you start with low value distractions to embed the behaviour, then build up to the ‘mega’ ones.