Dogs That Chase

Managing chase behaviour and training products to help

Training your dog in basic obedience is not only socially responsible but also strengthens the human-pet bond. The task that owners seem to find most difficult to train is recall and poor recall can predispose dogs to chase behaviour.

Chase behaviour or ‘prey drive’ is considered normal by some behaviourists, but it is inappropriate in pet dogs, and if left unchecked, can have serious consequences. Chase behaviour is self rewarding which means as the dog chases the target it moves away, perpetuating the chase, and further rewarding the dog. As the dog improves its coordination and speed, it becomes more successful at reaching the target, which pleases and empowers the dog. If the chase is successful and the target is caught the dog feels elated with its success and its confidence increases. Chase behaviour can bring dogs into conflict with human sensibilities and also place the dog in mortal danger. Dogs may chase people, animals, or vehicles – in fact anything that moves. What the dogs do if they catch their target varies:  if it’s small prey like squirrels they may be killed, livestock and people may be bitten, and cars may do more damage to the dogs. Farmers who shoot dogs that are worrying livestock are provided with a defence under the Animal Act 1971.

Chase behaviour can be managed using three strategies:

Restraint - Life-time restraint on a lead. This can have serious consequences for a dog’s quality of life.

Reward based training - Training a ‘leave it’ command in lead initially and gradually increasing levels of distraction. Or using systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning protocol which teaches the dog an alternative behaviour to chasing, such as sit-stay, and focuses the dog’s attention on the trainer. Again increasing levels of distraction are gradually introduced. Food treats and pairing food treats with clickers are often used as rewards.  Managing chase behaviour using reward base training can be challenging because the reward that the dog experiences as a result of a chase is highly valued by the dog, and continues during the chase and into the post chase elation and confidence boost. The reward offered by the trainer has to counter the potential reward of a chase. It is challenging to make a treat, a ball, or clicker training more appealing than a chase, so the prognosis for managing chase behaviour using these techniques is only fair.

Remote training collars – Owners most commonly purchase remote training collars to teach reliable recall and to manage chase behaviour. Whatever the nature of the stimulation delivered, its timing and intensity are critical to the success of the procedure.

Types of training collars

The two types of stimulation which are commonly used to manage chase behaviour are spray or electronic.

Experienced dog trainers who manage chase behaviour using remote training collars tend to recommend electronic stimulation. Owners who want to use a remote training system to manage chase behaviour must follow a sequence of instructions. Below is a synopsis of training instructions to manage chase behaviour using a remote training collar that delivers electronic stimulation.

Synopsis of instructions to manage chase behaviour:

  • Get the dog accustomed to wearing the receiver collar without switching it on he owner must become familiar with the operation of the remote transmitter
  • The owner determines their dog’s minimum recognition level
  • The owner begins ‘attention training’ with no commands where there are no distractions. Attention training teaches the dog to pay attention to and follow the owner. When the dog does this the annoying stimulation is switched off. For safety the dog should have a line attached to a flat collar or a harness
  • Attention training is repeated in many different locations, where there are no distractions
  • Mild distractions at various locations are introduced to thoroughly generalise the training so that the dog reliably returns to the owner when it feels stimulation. No distractions that may tempt the dog to chase are introduced at this point.
  • The line is removed for safety so that it is not ‘snagged’ during a chase. The stimulation intensity is increase two levels higher than the minimum recognition level. A chase is set up or a natural situation is sought out
  • When the dog gives chase the owner rapidly and repeatedly press and release the continuous stimulation button on the remote transmitter until the dog stops the chase and turns to return to the owner
  • If the dog does not respond immediately, the owner increases the stimulation intensity until they do
  • The chase sequence is repeated in several locations with differing conditions
  • The owner puts the receiver collar on without using it at random times, so that the dog does not associate it with stimulation. The collar is attached an hour or two before going out and leave it on for 30 minutes after returning
  • The owner can now introduce a command for recall if desired
  • The collar is left on for one month after the last time the owner had to use it, before the dog is finally weaned off the collar
  • Owners are advised to re-use the remote training system occasionally, especially at the first indication that chase behaviour is returning. Training may not carry over from one group or chase targets to another so it may be necessary to train the dog for each situation: people, game, livestock, and other dogs.

More complete instructions and advice on dog training can be found in the operating guides for remote training collars and online here.

Chase behaviour is a natural behaviour for many dogs and if owners do not teach their dog to reliably recall early in their training, then chase behaviour can become a serious problem. Remote training collars are particularly effective at teaching a dog to reliably recall using very subtle attention training.

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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