Why Do Dogs Chase Joggers, Bicycles and other moving things? By Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Ever have a dog who chases after bicyclists on your favorite walking path? How about a pooch who is constantly in pursuit of joggers at the park? Or perhaps a canine who chases and nips at the legs of other dogs during play? Curious how to curb this unwanted and potentially dangerous chase behavior?
Descended from their wild hunters, the wolf, our domesticated dogs can still retain that natural instinct to chase. It is a predatory behavior that we humans found helpful, and selected for in our breeding. This behavior helped us keep our sheep in the flock and our livestock in order, so we selected for the trait in our herding breeds, like the Cattle Dog. When we had vermin problems, we selectively bred the Terriers to chase, kill, and dissect them to aid in reducing and/or controlling pest populations.
So now that we have "pet" dogs, we are suddenly appalled by this chase behavior that we inadvertently encouraged. When untrained, some dogs can be easily overstimulated by the movement, and ultimately bite or attack once they've reached the moving object. This may have been okay for that Terrier hunting pesky rodents, or that Border Collie that muzzle punches livestock to keep them in line... but now it's not so helpful anymore when it may be an ankle of a jogger or the wheel of a bike!
Some dogs will generalize this chase instinct, and exhibit it during play with other dogs, or even people. In the picture here, Caeden the Fox Terrier is in training for a play deficit disorder -- he wants to play with other dogs, but he has never been taught how to do so appropriately. When Drummer the Great Dane takes off into a running game, Caeden quickly becomes overstimulated by the movement, and his natural instinct to chase kicks in. In an uncontrolled environment, this could easily turn into a bite situation, making it exceptionally important to train your dog!
So what do you do if your dog exhibits this chase instinct, but you don't want the neighborhood thinking your dog is a vicious stalker?
Step 1: Break the habit! Unfortunately, almost every time your dog tries to chase a bicyclist, the biker continues on it's way, without ever stopping to challenge the dog. This only reinforces the chase behavior, allowing the dog to think "I've won! It worked!", encouraging your pooch to do the same exact behavior next time they are confronted with a moving bike. So we must first STOP the chase behavior, and not allow the dog to get away with it. Keep your dog well monitored, and use a leash if necessary. If your dog has a history of chasing bikers and joggers, do not allow your dog to be off-leash around these distractions, until better trained. Supervise closely when your dog is playing with other dogs, and initiate breaks frequently (in a positive manner) to discourage predatory chase behaviors with other running dogs.
Step 2: Teach your dog what to do instead! Teach your dog an alternative behavior that you prefer, and make that behavior much more rewarding than chasing. I teach my clients how to get their dog to sit and look at them, instead of the moving distraction. When the dog succeeds, it gets positively reinforced (delicious treat, toss of the toy, pets and praise, etc.) for the alternative behavior of "checking in" with it's human. Through repetition, the dog learns it's more advantageous to look up at it's human, than it is to try and chase the moving stimulus.
Step 3: Give your dog an appropriate chase outlet! As we learned above, chasing is a natural instinct for many of our pet pooches. Try some interactive games that stimulate the chase response, but in a controlled and constructive way. Teach your dog to fetch it's toys. Perhaps your dog will love to go after a laser light to get that drive out of their system. Consider enrolling your dog in a lure course or sheep herding class. I had a client who got creative with her late husband's fishing rods, attaching a squirrel tail toy to the end of the line, casting and reeling it in repeatedly for her Cairn Terrier in the back yard. The possibilities are endless!
Happy trails to you!
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