As we all well know, canines are predators. As such they all come hard-wired for chasing after their food.
Even our domesticated pampered dogs come hard-wired for hot pursuit even when a warm dinner awaits them – day in and day out. How close to the surface are these hard-wired behaviors varies from dog to dog.
Here is the sequence of behaviors that make the predatory sequence:
Search (find prey, mainly by sense of smell)
Stalk (sneak up as unnoticed as possible)
Rush (move suddenly towards prey)
Chase (run after the fleeing prey)
Bite/hold/shake/kill the prey
Dissect and eat the prey
From Jean Donaldson, The Culture Clash pg. 21
While at times it is perfectly fine for our dogs to chase, most times its the last thing we want them to do. Chasing wildlife, for example, is one of the main reasons why dogs get hit by a car or wonder so far away that they are de facto lost!
So is it possible then to teach dogs to stop chasing anything that moves?
The answer … (drum droll please…) is that it is actually quite possible if we work hard at building a very reliable STOP! behavior. A STOP! cue means exactly that: stop in your tracks. If practiced consistently and daily it can become reflexive under similar circumstances.
By reflexive I mean that after ions and ions of trials – with most of them being paid very handsomely, your dog could literally stop in its tracks versus chasing when asked to do so because he has practiced so many times that when you ask for “real” he won’t even think about it, but will just do it!
Now, if you ask your dog to STOP while he is already chasing… that really adds to the level of difficulty. At this point your dog truly cannot hear you. He has tuned you out and everything else except the “prey”.
So, how does this STOP training look like?
What I do with my dogs on an ongoing basis (as well as teach my clients) is to engage in games that always double as training sessions by which the dog learns some very much needed impulse control.
Impulse control translates to your dog being able to stop chasing the ball, playing with the whippet, tug, etc. until you release him back to play the game once again.
As you can see, all these games have some elements of the predatory sequence described above (more on this next week) 🙂 and that is why they are so energizing and fun for dogs.
However, we must use them as opportunities to really flex our dog’s self-control muscle.
It is this capacity of self-control that will be needed when we request in a real-life scenario that our dog forgo the chase and stops in its tracks. Yes, of course, there is more to it than just self-control. Your dog has been reinforced HEAVENLY by engaging in a game(s) he loves thousands of times. And that, my friends… builds behavior!
It goes without saying that there are no guarantees when it comes to behavior, but what I can tell you is that the chances of you being able to recall your dog back away from prey will increase substantially if you are committed to giving your dog “legal” outlets for predatory behaviors as part of his daily exercise.
In next week’s post I will address some of the specifics needed in turning an “exercise routine” into a training session where your dog can learn self-control.