How to Train Your Dog to Stop Chasing Shadows

How to Train Your Dog to Stop Chasing Shadows
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon5-14 Days
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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!

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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.

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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!

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The Keep Calm Method

Most Recommended

3 Votes

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Most Recommended

3 Votes

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Surroundings Method

Effective

5 Votes

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Effective

5 Votes

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Eyes Up Method

Least Recommended

1 Vote

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Least Recommended

1 Vote

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By James Barra

Published: 11/02/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Loki

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Australian Shepherd

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6 Months

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Question

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Chases shadows

March 24, 2022

Loki's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chelsea, First, if you have or are using a laser pointer for anything with her, 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 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 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 without pup associating that interruption with you, but with the behavior itself through the use of a remote training collar, and then 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 shadow 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

March 25, 2022

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Lancelot

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Australian Shepherd

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6 Years

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Question

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Light fixation, but only in the car. He will dive over the seat to try to chase a light. It doesn't matter what time of day or night. If there is a reflection of any kind he will try to chase it. We have tried distractions, sit/leave it command. Nothing works!

Jan. 26, 2022

Lancelot's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, I highly recommend having pup ride with a secure car harness in the middle row of the back sit, or tethered to where pup is lying on the floor of the vehicle. Do not allow pup to free roam in your vehicle for training purposes and safety concerns. Second, I recommend working on a leave it command in general with pup. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Next, I would work on generally desensitizing pup to riding in the car so pup isn't so aroused even at the start of a car ride. Start by simply feeding beside the car while its off, then feeding treats along the runner with the door open, then inside the car with it still. For at least a couple of weeks practice the Down Stay command on the middle seats' floorboard or seats (if a row seat). Gradually move to practicing with the car in the driveway but still while on - don't turn on in the garage for gas breathing reasons. When pup is completely relaxed in the car and can do a solid down-stay, recruit a second person to drive or train, so the driver can only focus on driving. Have the person training enforce Down, while the driver simply pulls out of the driveway and back in When pup can stay relaxed during that (which will require a lot of repetition before pup relaxes then too - once pup sees that the driving is boring through repetition), then drive down the block and back. Gradually increase the distance and level of excitement as pup improves, only moving onto further distances or more exciting locations once pup can stay relaxed at the current level of training. Next, while you are working on desensitizing pup to riding calmly in the car, starting next to the car then simply lying down in the stationary car. When pup begins to chase a shadow in the stationary or barely moving car, I would use your leave it command, and correct pup for any continued light chasing with a remote training collar. Reward down so pup can focus on that instead. For this to be safe, you will need an additional person to ride with you to either train or drive once you get to the point in the training where it's time to drive at all. The remote can be held by the person sitting in the front passenger seat while pup is harnessed safely in the back. How to fit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 26, 2022


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