I get asked a lot: How do I stop my dog from chasing my cat or birds .
Chasing is a basic part of most dogs’ normal behavior. Without being ready and able to chase, a dog in the wild would starve to death, because although dogs can eat berries and vegetation, the main bulk of their protein is gained from the meat of animals they hunt and kill. While most domestic dogs have been bred not to try to kill their “prey,” many still retain a high “prey drive” and cannot resist chasing things even if these are not other animals but joggers, cyclists, or cars.
The main culprits for chasing problems usually come from the herding group and the sighthounds. Collies and Shepherds are the most likely to chase, simply because they have been bred for many centuries for their ability to follow a very specialized sequence of behavior: “cycle, stalk, and chase.” This means that the dog “locks on” to an object or animal, stalks it with body low to the ground to avoid being seen, then rushes at the “prey” in an attempt to catch it. Collies, in particular, tend to want to chase people then do one of two things if they manage to catch them: either circle them to keep them still, or keep worrying” them to move them on.
Sighthounds, such as Greyhounds and Afghan Hounds, are nearly always aroused by the sight of a fast-moving animal or person, and can be persistent cat and squirrel chasers. Terriers are also prone to chasing. As vermin hunters their drive to chase after and catch small prey is strong and ankles or children are sometimes chased as a substitute.
Chasing is such a basic, instinctive behavior that it is usually impossible to cure the dog of the habit. Management of the problem is nearly always centred around redirection of the behavior to a more acceptable outlet. For those who don’t have a flock of sheep at their disposal to give the dog a natural outlet, teaching the dog to chase toys and increasing training for control can be effective.
This needs to be done in a very structured way. The dog needs to learn that it can chase toys when you allow it, but must also stop chasing on command. An instant “down,” and a reliable recall are also vital. These exercises are best practiced with an experienced and accredited dog trainer, who will be able to structure a training program for you.
Dogs that attempt to round up people, children, or other animals in the house can also be taught to “herd” in a more appropriate way and often require more mental stimulation generally. Many active, working dogs become “self-employed” if they are not given enough to do!
For some dogs, such as ex-racing Greyhounds and some herding dogs, the temptation to chase livestock, other dogs, small animals, or people is just too great to modify. In these instances, it is sensible to maintain control of the dog, by keeping it on the leash. Although this may seem frustrating, many dogs can lead perfectly happy and contented lives on-leash, if a little thought and imagination goes into their daily outings. Walking is as much about mental stimulation as it is physical exercise. Tracking, finding “lost” articles, and retrieving games can all be played on the leash, as can playing with toys and basic “agility” jumping over and walking along natural obstacles.
If your dog cannot be let off the leash for whatever reason, you need to put extra effort into your relationship with your dog and provide extra interaction when you are out for walks. You will both reap the benefits.