Puppies are always full of cute behaviors. Chasing shadows, running around after their tails, and rolling over make them adorable to watch. The adolescent dog can also amuse us with playful antics. They may be attracted to shadows and moving lights. However, these playful actions can easily become obsessions. Anxiety can manifest itself in obsessive behavior and turn your dog into an unhappy canine companion. Shadow chasing is very frustrating. No matter how hard dogs try to succeed they cannot catch the shadow. Finding ways to combat this behavior are important for the well-being of your dog.
The Root of the Behavior
Shadow chasing can be the result of anxiety or frustration. Dogs that are confined to small spaces and not exercised are prone to this behavior. The dog that chases shadows often lacks physical and mental stimulation. He sees the shadow as a play item and tries to catch it but because it is only a shadow the dog can never succeed. Frustration and further anxiety is the result. Dogs are sensitive creatures and your dog may be anxious about being moved to a new home, receiving a new member into the family, or feeling that there is not enough attention focused on himself. What starts out as a playful interaction can become obsessive if the behavior is not corrected in time. Look for early signs of this obsessive behavior, and modify the environment if necessary. Curtains blowing in the wind, reflective lights, and shiny objects catching light and shadow can all contribute to the anxious state of the dog. Shadow chasing is exhausting for your pet if he becomes obsessed with this behavior. It may even lead to lack of sleep. Depending on the severity of the behavior, you may need professional intervention. Some dogs respond to some time away at a ‘doggie boot camp’ with intensive therapy to correct the behavior. Breeds of dogs with herding instincts may feel compelled to try and round up those shadows and bring them under control. In this situation, finding ways to stimulate your herding breed would be a good idea. There are clubs and training centers that will offer herding experiences for the herding breeds. Many active dogs need agility exercises to stimulate their active personalities. Walking and exercising these dogs is imperative to their enjoyment of life and participating with them can be great fun for their owners too. This is not a normal behavior trait for a dog although it may stem from herding instincts. Chasing shadows, if noticed sooner rather than later, can probably be eradicated with some consistent exercise and outdoor attention. Showing your dog positive attention is very important if you want to end shadow chasing. Dogs in this state of behavior will feel more anxious if they are punished or disciplined harshly. Patient intervention is the best way to resolve an anxious behavior like shadow chasing.
Encouraging the Behavior
Shadows are attractive to dogs that need mental stimulation like Border Collies and Australian Cattle Dogs. A fixation on a shadow sets the dog’s mind into a closed state of only wanting to focus on that object. Other forms of mental stimulation and activity are necessary to divert the dog's attention from the shadow. It is important to correct the behavior before it becomes obsessive. The cone collar could be used to keep the dog's attention away from the shadow distraction, but seek professional advice before resorting to specialized collars and other physical interventions. Understanding the root of the problem and deciding if it is caused by anxiety, boredom, or is breed related will help to find the solution. Taking on an active breed that is a working or herding dog will mean there will be exercise and mental challenges involved. Dogs of this nature need to be given mental fitness and physical stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. Look out for doggie events in your area and have fun playing with your dog. Combine family outings with dog walks and support fundraising ‘Dog-athons’ and Flea Markets! If you have friends who are interested in socializing their dogs, you can arrange for your dog to join in and have doggie play-dates, always under supervision and with compatible dogs.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Chasing shadows is not a normal dog behavior pattern. It is an anxious, nervous response to stress and frustration. The underlying reason for this behavior needs to be addressed so that your dog can resume a normal life. If you know your dog is bred to be a herder or working dog, then look for the training and agility opportunities that may be available to you. Your vet or the breeder should have information to assist with training programs. ‘Distraction through action’ is a good slogan to adopt. Stress can also be relieved through dog massage and calming exercises which get attention focused on your dog and off the obsession. This abnormal behavior is something you will want to address sooner rather than later so seek advice from a behaviorist if necessary for your dog’s sake and your peace of mind.
Shadow has been one of the most popular dog names over the years. Enid Blyton wrote a very well-loved children’s book called Shadow the Sheepdog. Associations with dogs and shadows evoke happy memories until the day your dog becomes obsessed with chasing them. Harmless in principle a shadow comes and goes, but the poor dog that is obsessed with chasing them gets stressed by the movement of shadows. The need to chase shadows takes over their thought processes and suddenly shadows are not such fun after all.