Puppies are naturally wired to chase cars and other moving objects, and when they don’t have appropriate outlets, puppies target chasing bicycles or even chasing cats or kids. Chasing some things, though, can get puppies into trouble with owners, the neighbors, or even get themselves hurt or killed.
Why Dogs Chase
Dogs evolved as endurance specialists. Wild canines, like wolves and coyotes, use speed to run down prey, and our puppies are but one paw-step away from wild cousins and have retained this instinct.
The urge to pursue moving objects is hardwired into the canine brain. This is a natural hunting behavior that is demonstrated whenever your pup chases a ball, Frisbee or squirrel. Through selective breeding people have redirected these hunting instincts so that the Labrador stops short of a killing bite and instead retrieves the prey with a soft mouth, for example. Herding breeds continue to feel compelled to chase after and “push” moving objects like sheep into a specific direction.
When the dog doesn’t have a natural outlet to retrieve ducks or herd sheep, all that instinct spills into other areas. However, chasing inappropriate objects like bicycles or cars, or animals like the neighbor's livestock, can become a problem that may have unfortunate or even deadly consequences.
Breed Specific Instincts
All dogs enjoy the chase, but particular breeds developed for specific kinds of work are typically more obsessive than others. For instance, sighthounds like Greyhounds and Whippets, and most terriers are attracted to pursuing and even attacking small animals. These breeds can pose a danger to cats, smaller dogs, or farm animals like chickens or rabbits. Shepherd breeds are more likely to chase larger livestock, as well as cars, bicycles, and jogging people in a misguided effort to herd them.
Why It Matters
Maybe you aren’t concerned about the puppy chasing your friendly cat because the bigger feline likes dogs and can take care of himself. But what if your pup gets out of the yard and chases down the neighbor’s pet chickens?
The owner of a dog that chases inappropriately is liable should property be damaged or a person injured. Joggers chased by dogs often carry sprays or noise makers to deter chasing dogs, but if your pet thinks grabbing and biting an ankle is a fun game and hurts someone, you’re liable and he’s at risk for being euthanized. The chasing dog is also at risk from being injured or killed if he chases a car, or by the other animal or person defending themselves. In some areas, property owners are within their rights to shoot dogs that harass livestock.
How to Stop Puppy Chasing
To teach what not to chase, your pup must first be trained to leash walk nicely, and to understand the "sit" and "stay" commands. Then expose your dog to staged situations that prompt chasing behavior, such as livestock or cars.
- Place your pup on a long six-foot leash (as a safety precaution, should he bolt), and give him the sit/stay command.
- Next, have a friend slowly ride the bicycle, drive the car or jog by the pup, while you continue to enforce your puppy's sit/stay position.
- Distract your dog with a food reward, praising him for not chasing. As soon as he begins to agitate about running after, make an about-face and walk the other direction while praising and offering treats. You want the pup to associate the car/bike/jogger presence with treats as he WALKS AWAY from the enticement.
- Gradually increase the speed of the vehicle, and continue to intermittently reward your pup for sitting still as it approaches, and then turning away to get treats once it’s near. Drill with these set ups over and over until the looks at YOU after he sees the car/bike/jogger rather than wanting to approach and chase.
- Mail deliveries are notorious for enticing pups to want to chase. Enlist the aid of your mail carrier, by providing a favorite treat or toy and having the mail delivery person toss this to the pup. That way the pup associates the delivery with good stuff. Otherwise, when the delivery person walks away the pup is rewarded for barking and chasing—which he thinks drove the “scary” person away.
It's impossible to totally eliminate chasing behavior, but it can be redirected. Prevent inappropriate chasing habits from the beginning; remember, what's cute in a ten-pound puppy is dangerous in a fifty-plus pound adult.
Reduce opportunities for mistakes by enforcing boundaries; a fenced yard, or leash confinement when off your property, teaches him the rules and prevents him from chasing livestock on your neighbor's property. Obedience training is necessary if you are to control your pup's bad habits.
Offer your puppy safe outlets to satisfy this normal urge. Interactive games such as fetch not only satisfy your pet, but provide a bonding experience for the two of you. Relieving your puppy’s boredom can help avoid chase behaviors that arise from frustration and loneliness. There are also organized dog sports such as herding trials for shepherd breeds, lure-coursing for sighthound breeds, and go-to-ground for terriers that reward these innate behaviors in controlled settings.