Don't Chase Your Dog

by Robert Cabral, dog trainer and member of the Wag! Advisory Board

Most of my posts can be divided into two categories, ones that make life better for dogs and those that make our lives easier with dogs. This is one that falls into both categories and can be a lifesaver for all dogs.

Inevitably most people will try to play with their dog in a way that is fun and that's one of the best ways to form a cohesive bond and develop a solid relationship with dogs. This can be done through games like fetch, Frisbee, swimming with our dogs, hiking with our dogs and so much more. However, unknowingly people play a game with their dogs that is life threatening. This game is CHASE, but a specific form of chase. I teach all of my clients that one of the best ways to get your dog to RECALL or COME is to teach your dog to chase you. That is what I call the “Prey Recall.” It is the dog’s natural tendency to chase things. It is wired into their DNA because when they chase something they catch it, then they kill it and get to eat; simple and a perfect design by Mother Nature.

Chasing your dog is one of the most dangerous things you will ever do to your dog. Why? Because you are setting your dog up to learn that when he is running and you run behind him, it's a game. Dogs learn through games. That is, I teach my dog when I say COME, you COME and then I give you a treat and play with you. I throw a ball, you fetch it and bring it back and I throw it again. However, if I teach my dog “You RUN and I run behind you and YOU keep running to get away from me,” I’ve now taught my dog a game /behavior that will ultimately fail. How? One day the gate gets left open or I drop my leash in the park and go to grab you – What Do You Do? Well in all of our games you got to run and I chased you. What is different today? This time I don’t want you to run away, what makes today different?

Since dogs don’t have a deductive sense of reasoning, that is to say they don’t know why one circumstance is different than another, THEY WILL RUN if they have learned this as a game. And that’s where the trouble comes in. If a dog learns that being chased is an exciting game, they will love it, but it puts them in immense danger.

Don’t Do It!

So, we want to play with our dogs, how do we fix that? There are countless games you can play with your dog. For example I teach my dog that when I run away – HE CHASES ME. As I mentioned above, that is how I teach the basic RECALL or COME exercise. This “prey game” incites the dog’s natural prey drive, the drive to chase. When the dog gets to me he gets a treat, praise or we play tug or I throw a ball. All of these rewards instill in the dog’s mind that coming to me is the right thing to do. If my dog runs away from me, I go the other way. In fact, when I first trained one of my dogs at the park, he would run away when he thought we were leaving. He must have read an article somewhere on the Internet that said, “Run away from your human and he’ll chase you!” Well, he was wrong. One time I got into my car and started the car. He looked perplexed in the middle of the field. I started to drive away slowly… You’ve never seen a dog run that fast to get to me. That was the last time he tried that game. Now, every time it’s time to go, he will usually beat me to my car, in fact Goofy and Maya will run toward my car when it’s time to go.

Dogs learn through imprinting behaviors. The stronger the imprint the less likely they are to do something different. If a dog runs into a glass door, he will be very reluctant to do it again. In fact you’ll see him slow down whenever he comes to the doorway to make sure the door is open. Teaching your dog that you are the object that he should focus towardscome to and be with will build your pack drive and develop the behavior that he should look to you.

YOU never chase your dog!

Remember, that the chances of you actually catching your dog are slim to none if he doesn’t want to be caught. Dogs are much more agile and much faster than humans. If you catch him, he'll let you catch him!

Whether you’ve been playing this game for a while or you just did it once, STOP. Stop today and turn the tables. Start running away from your dog and entice him to chase you. When he gets to you, PLAY! TREAT! REWARD! Make that experience FUN! If he runs away, run away the other way. Start out in a fenced in area and use a long line to prevent him from failing. Get him to learn that coming to you is the best thing he’ll ever do! It will take a while for a dog to unlearn the WRONG chase game and settle into the new one, but it’s the best thing that you will teach him. Safe dogs are dogs that have a strong RECALL or COME. Make your dog safe!