Puppies are naturally wired to chase cars and other moving objects, and when they don’t have appropriate outlets, they chase bicycles or even 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. Domesticated dogs are but one step away from their wild cousins and have retained this instinct to run.
The urge to pursue moving objects is hard-wired 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 in 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, greyhounds, 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.
Ramifications of Chasing
Maybe you aren’t concerned about the puppy chasing your friendly cat because the bigger feline likes dogs and can take care of itself. 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 if the dog hurts someone or damages property. The chasing dog is also at risk from being injured or killed if it 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 the sit/stay command.
- Next, have a friend slowly ride a bicycle, drive a 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 it for not chasing. As soon as it begins to agitate about running after (whining, growling), 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 it 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 setups over and over until the dog looks at you after he sees the car/bike/jogger rather than wanting to approach and chase.
- Mail carriers are frequent targets of chasing puppies. 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 it thinks drove the “scary” person away.
It's impossible to totally eliminate the chasing behavior, but it can be redirected.
Reduce Opportunities for Chasing
Enforce appropriate boundaries for your dog: a fenced yard, or leash confinement when off your property, teaches it the rules and prevents it from chasing livestock on your neighbor's property. Obedience training is necessary if you are to control your pup's bad habits.
Provide Safe Outlets for Chasing
Give your puppy alternatives to satisfy this normal urge. Interactive games such as fetch alleviate the urge to chase and 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.