The wild ancestors of our pet dogs were predators and hunted other animals for food. This means dogs are genetically wired to chase things that move.
Chasing things that move is a natural and self-rewarding behaviour for dogs.
Dogs need to be prevented from rehearsing repeating this inappropriate chase behaviour and should be taught that most moving things are boring.
Leads, secure harnesses, longlines and barriers (if relevant in a home environment) are all essential.
Dogs need to be given an outlet for their need to chase using toys and games.
Teaching the dog to come back, when called regardless of distractions, is very important for all dog owners.
Why do dogs chase things?
Dogs are predators who in the wild would hunt for their food, so they are designed to chase things that move.
Different dog breeds will have different parts of the Predatory Action Sequence hardwired into their brain. The Predatory Action Sequence looks like this:
Orient -> Eye -> Stalk -> Chase -> Pounce/Grab bite -> Kill bite -> Dissect -> Consume
So, sheepdogs are bred to have a strong “Eye->Stalk” part of the sequence, whereas a greyhound have a strong “chase” part of the sequence hardwired into their behaviour.
This does not mean that only certain breeds will be motivated to chase, however. All dogs are wired to show some or all of these behaviours. It is self-rewarding for the dog to rehearse any of these behaviours.
Fast movement will often trigger a dog to chase. Wildlife, livestock, cats, children, cyclists, joggers and traffic are all common chase victims.
What can I do to stop my dog chasing things?
It is important to prevent dogs from chasing anything apart from toys and other dogs they are playing with.
A lead and secure harness should be used anywhere where a dog might be tempted to chase something.
There are various laws that mean it is illegal for dogs to chase people, livestock and wildlife and it can be very dangerous both to the dog, the public or the animals they are chasing. Remember chasing is its own reward, so anytime your dog practices chasing certain things, they will become more motivated to do so again in future.
Baby gates (high enough to prevent the dog from jumping over) or other barriers might be required in a home environment where chasing cats or children is likely.
How do I train my dog to not chase?
First of all, how does the dog react to moving things when they are on the lead? If they show any interest or escalate to barking or lunging, training needs to begin ON the lead (as well as for safety, to prevent them from being able to chase).
The dog needs to learn to be calm and responsive to the handler even when around the distraction of moving things. Give the dog as much distance as they need to be able to do this, rewarding them with praise or treats for calm behaviour, for turning away from the distraction, and for responding to your cues. Gradually reduce the distance as long as the dog is remaining calm. The dog can be rewarded with their favourite toy or tasty treats.
When the dog is able to walk towards and past moving distractions reliably without taking any notice, progress to using a longline. This is a 10 meter lead that is attached to a harness, allowing the dog more freedom whilst still under control from the handler. These should be used under guidance from a professional trainer. The same principles apply as the training when on the lead.
Make sure you dog has the opportunity to chase when playing games!
Provide an appropriate outlet for the dog using toys to create chase games. In this context, the dog learns they are able to release their inner predator! You can then use these games to incorporate responsiveness to you and calling them away from the game so that the dog learns to respond even when they are in chase mode.
It is vital for all dog owners to teach their dog to return when called, regardless of and exciting distractions going on around them.