Good Lad, Deuce Good Lad! When dogs chase cars

Living with a Border collie is frankly a lot of fun!  There is so much about the breed that I enjoy.

I personally love dogs that are intense in focus and great team players. Of course, like any breed, they also come with their challenges such as their possibly obsessive disposition for toys & balls and obsessing over ball playing.  Here is where a bit of common sense and management are really important.

Not only is throwing a ball all day long not sustainable, but it is also not good for the dog. You might have to manage this obsession by picking up all the balls so that you can break that pesky habit.  In addition, make sure your herding dog has other outlets for mental and physical energy not only the throwing/retrieving of balls.

But how about herding dogs wanting to herd EVERYTHING? How much fun is that?!  Having your herding dog herd your small child, guests, the cat if you have one, along with cars, bikes, joggers, horses, chickens… (sigh!)

Yes, let’s talk about dogs that chase cars. This, of course, is a pastime and a tendency of a lot of dogs not only Border collies. You see, movement in general triggers predatory instincts in many animals.

Clearly car chasing is a no, no activity.  So how then can we teach a dog not to chase cars in the first place?  And what if they already do?

You are definitively better off if your dog has not gotten into the habit of chasing moving objects such as cars, bicycles or runners. The easiest yet tedious way to do this is to manage the heck out of your dog when in the presence of any of these triggers. Yes, this might mean that you need to keep your dog leashed so that he cannot physically engage in the sport of chasing all of the above.  This is REALLY important.  Whatever your dog practices he will get really good at it. So, prevention is key.

Use distance at first when you are teaching your dog not to chase, this will make it easier on both of you.

Also, the size of the object moving as well as the direction of the object in relation to the dog will make a difference in the dog thinking of the moving object as a prey.  This is why most dogs chase cars when they are passing them in parallel not when they are coming at them. The same can be said for a car, person or bike moving away from the dog.  So be alert.

The problem many people experience and why they might want to work with a trainer is because their beloved pup is already chasing all that moves! Chasing is a natural behavior for a dog – indeed the second behavior in the predatory chain of all predators!  Having said this, you can still work on re-directing your dog to other behaviors instead of chasing.  What we are after here is what is called an incompatible behavior.  For instance, your dog cannot chase and at the same time hold a down/stay.

Deuce our Border collie got in the habit of chasing cars early on when being walked in Santa Fe.  His habit was so pernicious that it was frankly a drag to walk him.  I knew that I had to do something about this.

I did basically what I explained above:  I manage him so that he was on a leash whenever the possibility of a car was in the horizon.  Lucky for me he did not chase bikes or joggers, basically ignores the bikes (good lad Deuce, good lad) or wags his whole body in anticipation of meeting the person. So, I just focused on cars and, of course, trucks which were his ultimate favorite!

I began by teaching him to lie down in a sparse-trafficked road with ample space to one side so that we did not have to be close to the cars.  As the car was passing by, with me holding the leash ever so tight and my foot on the leash that was next to him on the floor, I began to pay him handsomely with high-value treats (here is where you bring the chicken, salmon, left over rib-eye etc.) during the duration the car was in our view.

After this we continued walking with me repeating the drill over and over and over again. Yes, it is needed a drill.

But my efforts were paying off and to my surprise a couple of years back we were vacationing with the dogs in Colorado.  As we were crossing the parking lot of our hotel, Deuce was adamant about lying down.  It took me a couple of seconds to realize that a car was ever so slowly turning into the parking lot behind us and Deuce had learned the lesson:  I see a car, I lie down.

On this particular instance, it was frankly impractical to have him lie down as we were just finishing crossing and the car was trying to come in. Nevertheless, I paid Deuce for his brilliant decision.

I continue to work with him every time he is around cars but it is much easier now.  He will lie down on his own as demonstrated above, or I can just ask him to do so and I pay him on occasion. Now it is also great to see that many a times, he’d rather sniff and pee than chase cars.  I have effectively changed his association he had with cars for another reinforcer and more acceptable behaviors: sniff & pee.

When we come to a street that has heavy traffic I go back to helping him by gently asking him to lie down and just pay as the cars go by.  He can handle this now and we continue onward on our walk.  There is a great bonus in working with our dog this way since you are not only teaching your dog some really important skills that might save his life, but I can tell you that you will also see drivers smiling at the brilliancy of your dog.

PS: Deuce in this photo with John is wearing a coat to keep him cool AND looking cool.