QUESTION: How can I stop my dog chasing cars tractors, motorcycles, cyclists, lawnmowers and anything that moves?
ANSWER: Chasing cars and other vehicles is a big problem for some dog owners. It can be extremely dangerous, both for the dog, and any humans involved. The drivers amongst us know they shouldn’t swerve to avoid small animals which suddenly appear on the road, but it’s a natural reflex. It could be fatal though.
Stopping a dog from chasing cars is very similar to stopping them chasing sheep, cattle, or other livestock.
It can’t be done quickly, except by physically restraining the dog or shutting it away.
If you’re a subscriber to our online sheepdog training tutorials, hopefully, you’ll understand that it’s an ancient hunting instinct which makes the dog want to chase livestock, and that same instinct makes some dogs see a car or wheeled vehicle – or basically anything which moves – as “prey”.
If you want your dog to retrieve a ball, you wave the ball tantalisingly close to the dog to excite it, then when the dog shows interest, you throw the ball. The dog sees the speeding ball as ‘escaping’ and chases after it to bring it back.
If we wanted the dog to ignore balls, we’d avoid making them interesting to the dog. We’d keep the ball still, and not temptingly close to the dog, until we were sure it would be ignored.
Likewise, we must encourage the dog to find moving vehicles boring. It works not only with vehicles and moving objects, but with sheep, cattle and other livestock too. I know this because in the years when we used to run sheepdog training courses here, we’d occasionally get well-meaning people who had walked their dog around a field of sheep every day since it was a puppy.
It quickly became apparent that when this had happened, the chances of the dog taking an interest in working sheep were very slim. By walking the dog around the sheep on a lead (and therefore restraining it) even without saying anything to the pup, they were sending a message to it that they didn’t want it to go after the sheep.
NOTE: It’s not difficult to discourage the dog from chasing cars, while maintaining its interest in sheep, simply by occasionally giving the dog a little training with sheep in between car-chasing lessons.
Being creatures of habit, as dogs age, those habits become more difficult to break. Dissuading a puppy from chasing vehicles is simple. At eight to twelve months it will be a little more difficult, but if the dog’s five or six years old, and it’s been chasing cars for all that time, it’s going to test your patience! It can be done if you’re prepared to put the time in, but it won’t be quick.
So if you have a puppy which is beginning to show signs of wanting to chase cars, there’s no time to lose!
Whatever its age, you need to be really well bonded with the dog. By bonded, I don’t mean the dog sits there while you give it treats or pat its head, I mean the dog accepts you as its leader and will come to you immediately. Even when it doesn’t want to.
I don’t mean when it’s chasing a vehicle. By the time it gets to that stage, the “red mist” has descended and the dog’s not listening to anything. I mean if the dog’s playing with a toy or doing something it finds interesting and you call it to you, it should come immediately.
Don’t use “tit-bits”. If you use treats, the dog will be bonded with them, and not you. We NEVER use tit-bits to help train our working dogs – either on sheep, or away from them.
A good test of the bond between you and your dog, is walking on a lead. If the dog walks with the lead slack for about 90% of the time (away from livestock or cars) it’s probably pretty well bonded with you. If it’s pulling on the lead, it’s trying to control you, and therefore hasn’t fully accepted you as its leader.
The easiest way to properly lead-train a dog is to start off somewhere boring (for the dog). If possible, eliminate any distractions. Walk about with the dog on the lead, this way and that. If it pulls on the lead, correct it with a gruff voice, and pull-back on the lead. Take care not to harm the dog, of course.
Take great care not to get cross with the dog, and make sure you behave like a good leader. Good leaders don’t get excited when things are going wrong, they don’t shout and scream, they remain calm and give praise when things are going well, but will also give stern correction when things are going wrong. Once they’ve given a stern correction though, it’s forgotten. Good leaders don’t bear grudges, they move on in a calm but firm manner.
That’s exactly how you should behave with your dog.
Once you have the dog properly bonded with you, I suggest you very carefully expose it to moving vehicles, by making those moving vehicles as boring as possible to the dog.
All dog training basically entails making it as simple as possible for the dog to grasp the idea at first, and then very gradually move on to a more realistic scenario.
To help achieve this, the vehicle should be small, slow and QUIET at first. You should also do it initially, in a garden, a field, or at least somewhere away from public roads if possible.
The more control you have, the better, and you cannot control traffic on public roads, so it makes sense to start off somewhere safe.
An ideal start might be with a lawn mower in your garden! A ride-on mower would be perfect, but almost any mower will do provided it gets a response from the dog when it moves. Of course its blades shouldn’t be working when you’re training your dog. It should be driven or operated by someone who’s willing to help you, and prepared to stop immediately if the dog should get away from you, or pull you over, for instance.
Not everyone has a garden large enough to do this in, but it’s the principle that I want to describe – make vehicles BORING!
The safety aspect is your responsibility and you must take it very seriously.
Basically, you take the dog up to a stationary vehicle – and probably get no reaction from the dog.
Next, the driver starts the engine. The dog should ignore it. If the dog reacts badly, the driver turns off the engine and you take the dog further away.
The engine starts again, and let’s say the dog remains calm. You walk it quietly up to the vehicle (while the engine is still running).
As before (and in the following stages) if the dog remains calm, you can carefully move on to the next stage. If the dog becomes excited or difficult to control in any way, you go back however many stages it requires to get the dog calm again. (We’re talking BORING here).
Once the dog will stand close to the stationary vehicle with its engine running, we take the dog away to a safe distance and ask the driver to move the vehicle forward by a couple of metres.
Assuming the dog’s fine with this, we ask the driver to drive a little further this time – and so on. Eventually, the dog will be fine with the moving vehicle, so we can move on to a more realistic situation – but remember to go back however stages it requires to get the dog calm again.
Our training is intended mainly for farm situations. If your situation is different, you must adapt the training to suit your conditions, but safety must come first.
We know of one new owner who took on a particularly bad car chaser, and he literally sat by a road with the dog securely restrained, and gave it tit-bits or played with the dog whenever a car approached. It worked eventually, but the safety aspect makes me shudder. Try to train the dog away from public places if you possibly can, at least until you are sure you can control the dog at all times – especially where traffic is involved.
The safety of yourself, your dog, and of other people is YOUR responsibility.
This post is one of our Sheepdog Training FAQs
Click here for the full list of frequently asked questions.
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