Many breeds of dogs have an instinct built right into their DNA regarding herding (this would be your Border Collies, Australian Shepards, Corgis, or Shelties) or prey drive (this would be your working dogs like Rottweiler, German Shepard, Boxer, or Doberman Pincher). Both of these instincts can get a dog into trouble in the human world because this translates into chasing cars, bicycles, horses, or cats. So, how do teach a dog to stop chasing? I get this question posed to me by my clients quite often. My answer is that this is something that takes some time and patience… and possibly the help of a professional trainer.
One of my most challenging cases was a Border Collie mix by the name of “Sunshine.” This 45 pound dynamo lived on a working farm where she chased everything from cats to the combines to pickup trucks. She had lost a couple of teeth trying to bite the tires of a four-wheeler and almost killed a cat that resulted in a large vet bill! Her owners had tried an electronic collar on her and it had worked for a time. Due to the fact that they were inconsistent with this tool and that the level of correction was too strong for her, it failed to correct the problem long term. I do not recommend electronic or shock collars as they can be very harsh and make the dog worse – afraid of the collar and even worse YOU! It can make a dog fearful and mistrusting. Because harvesting season had begun and the family got busy, they decided to put Sunshine on a chain. No one was happy with this solution, least of all Miss Sunshine!
The first thing I did for this little girl with all kinds of energy, was to bring her down to the Animal Psychology Center where I have my pack of emotionally healthy, happy dogs. She needed some time to play, have fun, and just be a dog again. After a few days of playing with the pack, she was smiling again! I then gave her a job, which herding dogs are in need of, and that was to run on the treadmill. Most dogs can learn the treadmill in a day or so. Once they get the hang of it, most dogs love it. My high energy pitbull, Harvey, will whine to get on our treadmill because he knows that it helps him to get rid of all that pent up energy. To show you how much more energy dogs have than humans, most dogs go for 90 minutes at a jog before they feel satisfied!
When I took Sunshine back to her family, I recommended that they run her on their treadmill before working with her on the “chasing” issue. I showed them how to make the treadmill a positive experience with her favorite treats. Many of my clients put their dog on the treadmill before they go to work to drain their dog’s energy. It is also a good tool if bad weather prohibits you from exercising outside with your dog.
I use a Dogtra E collar to deter a dog from an object that I want them to stay away from. This collar emits a vibration at the lower levels much like a pager and at the higher levels like a static charge from walking on a carpet. I had the family gather all the things that Sunshine chased so we could begin our “tests.” When they drove away from us in the truck (and Sunshine made one step forward to chase the truck), I gave her a correction at a high level to turn her away from the chase. She made a wide circle and came back to me, just the result I was looking for! As we went through all the targets that she chased I gradually lowered the correction level to a vibrate. Everyone was amazed by how little time it took for her to get it!
Dogs are great at learning a task that feels good and makes their owners happy. Taking her obsessive energy – which doesn’t feel good- and giving her a job- not chasing – and replacing the chase with an activity – the treadmill, which feels good because it lets her drain her energy- allowed her to let go of her obsession.
I left them with instructions on how to gradually stop using the E collar.
We want to replace the E collar and treadmill with Sunshine running around during daily chores and following the family vehicles at a safe distance… and not in the energy of obsession but in the energy of doing a job and helping her family.