How to Train Your Dog to Stop Chasing Shadows

Easy
5-14 Days
Behavior

Introduction

You and your partner settle down with a well-deserved glass of wine and this week's episode of your favorite show. Only your dog has developed a somewhat irritating habit of going berserk at the sight of his own shadows and chasing them around until his energy is spent. It makes for just about the least relaxing atmosphere to watch TV in. It’s the same when you have guests over, he charges around the room causing havoc. It was entertaining to begin with, but now it’s time to stop.

Getting this training right won’t just be good for your sanity, it will also help his too. The shadows may actually scare him and he could be working himself up into a terrified state each evening. A happy dog is a healthy dog!

Defining Tasks

Thankfully, you can train this bizarre behavior out of your dog relatively easily. The main thing you need to do is motivate him to be calm around shadows. You need to show him with food and a variety of other things that he’s safe around shadows and so can relax. If he’s a puppy and this habit is new, then getting a handle on it could take just 5 days or so. If he’s older and been chasing shadows for many years then you may need a couple of weeks to fully break the habit.

Succeeding with this training is essential if you want your evenings back. You also need to do it for his benefit too. If he’s getting worked up and stressed out by these shadows it could have an adverse effect on his health. You don’t want any expensive vet bills to contend with.

Getting Started

Before you can get going with training you need to collect a few bits. You’ll need his favorite food broken into small pieces and some mouth-watering treats. You’ll also need to get a couple of new and enticing chew toys. These will all help to distract him when shadows make an appearance.

You’ll also need some quiet time to practice training. Take him to a quiet room where you won’t be distracted by a noisy household.

The only other things you need are patience and a positive attitude. With all of that, you can get to work!

The Keep Calm Method

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
3 Votes
Step
1
Get him settled
Gently play with him. You need to get him calm and subdued before the shadows arrive. That means be soft and quiet, don’t get him over excited--this will just make the chasing worse.
Step
2
Regular treats
To keep him calm, reward him for good behavior. While he remains lying calmly with you, give him the odd treat to reinforce the behavior. He will quickly associate being calm with getting tasty rewards.
Step
3
Obedience commands
If he does start going crazy and chasing shadows, instruct him to ‘sit’ or ‘wait’. By making him work you are channeling his energy into something productive while also distracting him from the shadows.
Step
4
Don’t punish him
If you shout at him or shut him away you may only add to the problem. He may already be scared of the shadows, so needs your support. If you desert him he may become even more agitated and the problem will be heightened.
Step
5
Tackle the problem every day
You need to follow the steps above consistently until the problem subsides. To fully break the habit,you need to be persistent; any lapse days will simply set the end result back further.
Recommend training method?

The Surroundings Method

ribbon-method-1
Effective
5 Votes
Step
1
Spend time in rooms with less lights
If left to develop, the shadows habit can only get worse, so try and address his surroundings to limit the problem. One of the first things you can do is to spend time in a room in the evenings with less lights.
Step
2
Dark curtains
Hanging dark curtains in the rooms he uses most can make a big difference. With half the shadows to chase, the problem is halved straight away.
Step
3
Store reflective items
Until you’ve got the problem under control, store particularly reflective items out of the way. Again this will reduce the shadows in his environment, which will reduce the stress and the chasing behavior.
Step
4
Distract him
When you can see shadows appearing, keep him distracted with a new toy. Get him excited by playing in an animated voice and playing tug of war. If you tire him out with play he’ll have less energy to spend chasing shadows.
Step
5
Exercise
Up his daily exercise intake. A lot of dogs that chase shadows are particularly energetic, so tackle that through out the day. Give him an extra or longer walk. Alternatively, play fetch on the walk. These short sprints will leave him napping for the rest of the day rather than chasing shadows.
Recommend training method?

The Eyes Up Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Quiet room
Head for a quiet room with a pocketful of treats. You’re going to incentivize him to keep his eyes up. That way the shadows should feature less in his vision and be less of a problem.
Step
2
Hold a treat at just above his head height
Make sure you hold it at a height. That means he has to slightly look up to focus on it properly. Make sure it’s just out of his reach, for now you just want to hold his attention with it.
Step
3
‘Eyes up’
Issue the command at the same time you hold the treat up. He will learn to associate this cue with looking away from the shadows. You don’t have to use that exact phrase, you can use any word or phrase you like.
Step
4
Reward
As soon as he does look up, give him the treat and some verbal praise. Really show him how happy you are that he’s done the right thing. This will make him more likely to repeat the behavior next time. Practice this for 5 minutes each day.
Step
5
Increase the time
Over the next few days, increase the length of time he has to look up before you give him the treat. Keep practicing this until he swiftly looks up for as long as you leave him to. Now you can use this command whenever he starts to get agitated by the shadows. Working for the food will be a productive distraction and he’ll soon stop caring about the shadows.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kylo
Sheltie and border colli
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Kylo
Sheltie and border colli
7 Months

Chasing shadows, lights in day and night, running and barking .

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Peyvand, First, if you have or are using a laser pointer for anything with pup, put the laser away because that can make this obsession far worse. This behavior can happen without the use of a laser too, but just in case you are, you need to know that. Second, work on redirecting to more appropriate outlets and to providing mental stimulation; activities like training with you, puzzle toys, training games, canine sports, and other fun, healthier mentally stimulating things. Because of the severity of a light chasing habit and how obsessive compulsive in nature it is, I would recommend looking for a trainer in your area who specializes in behavior issues has has experience with using a combination of low level e-collar stimulation based training to interrupt the behavior and make it less self-rewarding, and with replacing the compulsion with reward based activities like training with you, puzzle toys, games, and other fun things as soon as pup pauses the chasing. So that the light fixating becomes a No, and the other mental activities a Yes for pup. It could also be beneficial to speak with your vet or an animal behaviorist with medical training about whether a potential chemical imbalance could be related to the behavior and be addressed medically? This behavior can be due to a temperamental tendency toward OCD type traits, and the chasing of lights tends to be a self-rewarding behavior with chemicals like dopamine being released when pup does it, encouraging the cycle to continue, which needs to be addressed from a behavioral stand point most of the time, but it could also be related to a chemical imbalance or something neurological. I am not a vet, so speak with your vet concerning anything medical. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Caine
American Bulldog
9 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Caine
American Bulldog
9 Months

I have.a 9 month old male American Bulldog that is deaf. He is learning commands by hand signals. He was actually doing pretty well then I made the mistake of using a laser pointer to play with him. Since then he CONSTANTLY chases shadows, scratches and bites the walls leaving scratches and holes in the walls. I try to get his attention with food, treats, toys, playing, etc. I have tried to use a water bottle to spray him, that doesn’t get his attention either. Nothing does! I have to physically pull him away from the walls and he stays fixated on staring at the shadows wanting to chase them. He never did this before I used the laser pointer with him and I only did that once and since that day it has been a constant struggle to get him to pay attention to anything other than the shadows. Even when there are no shadows/light reflections, I can’t get his attention because he stares at the walls anxiously and intently waiting to see one. This behavior has been going on for a couple weeks now and it’s getting exhausting and annoying and it’s really sad that he has loss interest in EVERYTHING he used to love. He doesn’t want to play with toys or anything now. He seems addicted and obsessed with chasing the shadows or waiting anxiously to see one. He is tearing up my walls, it’s so bad that I am having to mud and repaint them. I don’t want to discipline him in the wrong way to make the matter worse nor reward him in the wrong way that ends up encouraging this behavior. What can I do to get him to stop this? Remember he is deaf, so it’s already a task to get his attention to begin with but he was learning and coming along nicely but now it seems he has forgotten everything he had learned before the laser pointer incident. Thank you in advance for any advice/tips that may help correct this issue.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello B, First, unfortunately this behavior is related to the laser pointer. Before I became a trainer I made the same mistake myself once and had to spend time also undoing that behavior in my then obsessive compulsive dog. This behavior can happen without the use of a laser too, it's common with laser pointers so I wouldn't ever bring the laser out again. Second, work on redirecting to more appropriate outlets and to providing mental stimulation; activities like training with you, puzzle toys, treat hiding training games, fetching, and other fun, healthier mentally stimulating things. Because of the severity of a shadow chasing habit and how obsessive compulsive in nature it is, I would recommend looking for a trainer in your area who specializes in behavior issues, who has experience with using a combination of low level e-collar stimulation based training to interrupt the behavior, and reward based activities for replacing the compulsion, like training with you, puzzle toys, games, and other fun things as soon as pup pauses the chasing. So that the light fixating becomes a No, and the other mental activities a Yes for pup. You want to make the shadow chasing less self-rewarding without pup associating that interruption with you, but with the behavior itself through the use of a remote training collar. Because of pup's deafness, I would actually also teach pup to look at you when you vibrate the remote training collar. Most high quality collars like e-collar technologies, Dogtra, Sportdog, and Garman will have at least 40 different different stimulation levels, so you and your trainer can find the lowest level pup will respond to to use for interrupting the shadow chasing. They should also have a vibration setting, that you can teach pup to look at you when they feel. To do this, have pup wear the training collar around for a few days with it turned off, then in a calm room without a lot of distractions or shadows (or outside if pup is less distracted by the shadows while there, vibrate the collar once and toss pup a treat. Repeat this a few times, tossing a treat each time. Practice this for short periods of time several sessions a day. Keep sessions short because the newness of the collar will be pretty stimulating for pup at first. As pup improves and starts to look like they anticipate the treat when they feel the collar, hold the treat out to pup. Practice that until pup looks your direction. Next, hold the treat up to your eye after you vibrate the collar, so that pup makes eye contact, then give the treat. Practice until pup will make eye contact with you even with a treat hidden behind your back when they feel the collar, then give the treat that was behind your back. When pup is reliable with that, practice throughout your day at random times, working up to more distracting environments as pup improves in calmer places gradually. Fitting and introducing a remote training collar and finding the low level stimulation "working level" that's best for pup. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM Setting up a remote training collar as a piece of technology - Mini educator from E-collar technologies as the example in this case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI I would work with an experienced trainer for the training itself, but this will explain a bit what you will be doing. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Griffy
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
4 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Griffy
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
4 Years

Griffy is fixated on a chipmunk that lives under our back patio just outside the sliding glass door. He will spend the entire day pacing and jumping at the door trying to get the chipmunk. It’s lived there for years so I have no hope of the chipmunk going away. He didn’t do this when we first got him, it just started a week or two ago and his focus can not be broken. He won’t play with his toys anymore, he won’t sit calmly with us and it’s even got him so pent up and stressed out he showed aggression at the dog park which is very unusual for him. We live in an apartment so we are limited on what we can change about the blinds/curtain situation and it’s the main room of the house so we can’t just keep him out of this room. How do I get my sweet, playful dog back?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Leah, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who has experience with e-collar training and obsessive compulsive behavior. It sounds like pup may be obsessive about the Chipmunk at this point, which is what I am guessing you suspect since you commented on a Shadow chasing article. It is similar to the obsessive compulsive behavior found there. Often the behavior needs to become unpleasant for the dog, interrupting the fixation without over stressing the dog, and ideally without pup associating the correction with you but with their own behavior instead. A low level remote collar correction is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this, but you need to know how to do it properly so you don't make things worse. Once the behavior is interrupted with the low level corrections, then the behavior needs to be replaced with more appropriate outlets through reward based training and teaching things that help stimulate pup mentally and exercise their brains in appropriate ways, to help pup redirect that obsessive energy to better outlets. I would spend intentional time doing things like teaching tricks and commands with reward based training, feeding meals via Kongs and puzzle toys, starting a canine sport with pup, giving pup small jobs, incorporating training into things like fetch or walks, or earning what pup wants throughout the day by obeying commands first, to provide the mental stimulation pup needs right now. You don't need to do all of those things, but I would pick a couple to add into pup's routine. Check out Jeff Gellman's e-collar how to videos, or James Penrith from taketheleaddogtraining on youtube, to learn more about e-collars and their proper use. Only high quality e-collars, with at least 40 levels, such as E-collar technologies, Sportdog, Garman, or Dogtra should be used, to ensure safety and effectiveness. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mayzee
Pit bull mix
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Mayzee
Pit bull mix
3 Years

Mayzee is hearing impaired so verbal commands are not an option. She is very reactive to lights and shadows. I have done as much as I can with the house and we try to minimize the reflections etc however when she is chasing the light from passing cars or any other natural occurring event she goes nuts running through the house and barking or climbing the walls (literally) to try and get the offending light or shadow. How best to get her attention when she is so driven? She responds well to signing and we have developed a pretty good vocabulary however it is difficult to get her attention when she is after a shadow. She is a bully breed so hard headed and still pretty young so while we have made a lot of progress in her behaviors she is obviously stressed by the lights/shadows and I would like
To help her be a bit less anxious.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Candy, I would use a vibration collar and teach pup that the vibration means look at me, using food rewards. If pup will disengage from the lights and shadows using your hand signals, you can then give pup a hand signal to leave it. If pup won't disengage, I would use the vibration to mean look at me, then hand signals for things like leave it, rewarding obedience, then a low level stimulation from the same remote training collar to correct if pup won't obey your hand signal. Doing all of this essentially lets you tell pup to pause, what to do, and what not to do. Only use a high quality remote training collar, such as e-collar technologies, garmin, Dogtra, or sportdog. E-collar technologies has a model that has various vibration options that can be programmed, in case pup needs a lighter vibration setting to get their attention, or a stronger vibration to get their attention, plus is has a separate stimulation button in case you need to correct. Unlike some shock collar, a quality remote training collar should have at least sixty levels, so that you can get the exact level pup will respond to without having to use a higher level, this is called pup's working level. To teach pup to look at you when you vibrate the collar, I would set your collar to the least intense vibration setting, briefly vibrate the collar standing in front of pup, then immediately give pup a treat as soon as you stop - this vibration should be super short. Repeat this several times, giving a treat with each vibration. Keep training sessions frequent but short at first since the vibration sensation is going to feel weird to pup at first. Practice with pup right in front of you often, until you notice pup looks happy whenever you vibrate, in anticipation of a treat. At that point, start adding a little distance between you and pup and tossing or moving to pup to give the treat. When pup starts looking at you from across the room when they feel the collar, hoping for a treat, then start doing the vibrations randomly with a treat ready when pup isn't expecting it, so pup learns to look for you whenever they feel that sensation. Once pup knows what the vibration means, you may find you need to turn the vibration setting up one or two levels for times of high distraction like while shadow chasing, to get a response out of pup. Start with the lowest level and work up only if needed. Once pup knows what the vibration means, if pup needs corrections after learning the vibration and hand signals, then you can check out the video below for how to teach that too. Fitting and finding working level on remote training collar for stimulation corrections also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

I have a 9 month old male American Bulldog who is also deaf. Our situations are very similar. When I can get his attention away from the shadows, lights and reflections he calms down and pays attention to my hand signals. But he seems to have an obsession being fixated on the walls now. He never did this before we used a laser pointer to play with him. But since that day, he has paid attention to nothing but the walls, shadows, etc. Have you found any methods that have shown any progress with your girl yet?

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Question
Luna
English Springer Spaniel
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Luna
English Springer Spaniel
6 Months

Hi
I wonder if you can help! My puppy has really started to chase shadows in the garden and anything we do we cannot distract her abs she will pace for ages untill she see’s the shadow. It is starting to stress me out now as the nice weather is coming and I don’t want to have to put her inside everytime the sun is out. If there is anything I can do or tip I would be really appreciative of your help and advise

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Churie, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who has experience with e-collar training and obsessive compulsive behavior. Shadow chasing is an obsessive compulsive behavior. Often the behavior needs to become unpleasant for the dog, interrupting the fixation without over stressing the dog, and ideally without pup associating the correction with you but with their own behavior instead, then the behavior needs to be replaced with more appropriate outlets through reward based training and teaching things that help stimulate pup mentally and exercise their brains in appropriate ways, to help pup redirect that obsessive energy to better outlets. If anyone has ever used a laser pointer with pup, also stop using that. The use of laser pointers tends to contribute to shadow and light chasing for dogs who are prone to developing such obsessions. Giving pup mental stimulation through small jobs, regular training practice, incorporating training into things like fetch or walks or earning what pup wants throughout the day by obeying commands first, puzzle toys/dog food stuffed kongs/working for food, or canine sports once the behavior is interrupted will be especially important for your dog. Shadow chasing can be related to a medical issue like a chemical imbalance or neurological issue. Often it's just behavioral, but I would also speak with your vet about it and keep them aware of the issue. I am not a vet. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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