If you tuned in recently to Channel 4 program, Dogs: Their Secret Lives, you will have seen problems that we see all too often here at K9 Control, but in particular, dogs with a desire to chase traffic.
Biscuit, the Bearded Collie who featured on the show, was the adored family pet who turned into Mo Farah when she came into contact with traffic, and in particular double decker busses. When Biscuit caught sight of one of these busses, the only thing standing between her and dog heaven, was the taught lead which frantic owners, Katy and Craig, tried their best to hang on to!
Walking Biscuit was no joy at all, even the children were no longer able to walk her after she nearly pulled one of them into the road! Biscuits behaviour reminded us of a German Shepard called Samson who came to us 6 months ago to take part in our two week Residential Dog Training program.
Samson’s owner, Richard, was getting increasingly concerned with Samson’s particular penchant for chasing anything that moved; cars, lorries, bikes, etc. Richard felt as though the situation was out of control and was concerned that Samson would eventually cause an accident if he wasn’t stopped.
In all other aspects of his life Sampson, much like Biscuit, was an excellent natured dog adored by his owners, however this one trait was making what should be a pleasurable experience, a living nightmare.
Why do dogs have the desire to chase traffic?
Dogs, particularly those from herding breeds, are hard wired to chase and round up livestock, and whilst this behavior is inappropriate for life as a family pet, your dog is simply acting on instinct.
Instead of inhibiting the dogs natural prey drive, which will merely frustrate both you and your dog, you need to refocus his energy into something more positive and rewarding than what chasing cars has become to him.
With Samson, we channeled his energy into playing the game ‘tug.’ By spending a great deal of time on this activity and constantly rewarding him for his efforts, he eventually made the switch from wanting to chase things that moved, to actually preferring to play a game of tug.
As the attached video link shows, Samson was soon at the point where he could happily walk along a busy road and not bat an eye at traffic that two weeks earlier he would have been straining at the lead to chase.
Can I do anything the early years to avoid this behaviour later on?
A puppy is full of wonder, and at around 8 weeks he will start to pick up bad habits that, if not nipped in the bud, will grow with him.
Once your dog gets a taste for chasing cars for example, he will feel a sense of joy when he does so. If you notice this trait in your pup, start work immediately on changing the object that he wants to chase – refocus to a prey orientated game that the dog is allowed to play, for example, chasing a ball or a game of tug. Remember to reward him often during these games.
Is my dog too old to change bad habits?
Despite the saying ‘you cant teach an old dog new tricks’, you can actually retrain bad habits like chasing cars, out of a dog at any age providing you keep practicing.
Of course, preventing these bad habits in the first place is the best option. In order to do this, start training your puppy as soon as you get him home at 8 weeks, and get him used to ALL environmental factors.
Will my dog ever go back to chasing cars?
As with anything in life, in order to maintain the results, training is a continuous process. No dog is ever ‘fixed’, new behaviors are taught and the dog responds, however in order for the training to remain effective, it will need continuous re-enforcement.
In the case of Samson, Expecting him to be cured for good with no ongoing work is not feasible. After his two week training programme, he went home to his owners who were provided with the tools to keep up the work. Ongoing telephone support was also part of this handover process.
Samson’s owners have continued the work that we started and 6 months on, he is still happy playing tug, and not a bit interested in cars. To watch Samsons 2 week progress view the video below: