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More than likely, your dog has, at one time or another, suddenly bolted to chase a small animal. It could have been a squirrel, a rabbit, or even your cat. For most dogs, that chase will usually end unsuccessfully. In some instances, though, this instinctual behavior has led to catastrophe.

Learning how to tame prey drive in dogs can be challenging. There are ways, however, to teach your dog not to chase after the first thing they see scurrying through your backyard. Here’s some information on why dogs do this, as well as training tips to help curb your dog’s prey drive.

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Dog Behavior: Why Does Your Dog Love To Chase Small Animals Like Squirrels, Birds, And Rabbits?

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Pet owners regularly see their dogs bolt after small animals. Whether you call it prey drive or predatory chase drive, dogs are just born with this instinct. Some dogs love to chase squirrels, while others in more rural areas might run after foxes or other types of animals. You’ve probably experienced your dog stretching their leash to the limit trying to run after something when you’re taking a walk.1

Dogs chase due to instinct. They also do it because it’s simply fun. But this can become a major problem if your dog gets out of the yard or runs after a car. In some extreme instances, a dog can get so preoccupied with chasing they can’t stop obsessing over anything that moves.2

This Instinct Is Stronger In Certain Dog Breeds: Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, And Other Shepherd Breeds

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Certain dog breeds have a stronger prey drive than others. Sighthounds, for example, were specifically bred to chase prey. It doesn’t hurt that these breeds, such as Whippets, Greyhounds, and Afghans, have fantastic eyesight. That makes them very effective predators.3

But herding breeds, such as the Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd, and Border Collie, also have a strong chase instinct. They are, unfortunately, more likely to run after people such as joggers, cyclists, and even skateboarders. They want to “herd” them like their ancestors herded cattle and other types of livestock.4

Get Ready For A Training Challenge

As you read earlier, training a dog to stop chasing small animals or people going on a neighborhood jog can be challenging. After all, you’re trying to change a behavior that’s been bred into your dog over thousands of years. But if you’re up to that challenge, and you’re willing to put in the work, your training efforts could help save the life of any wayward critters who happen to wander onto your property. They might even save your dog’s life one day.

Info For Dog Parents: How To Tame Prey Drive In Dog

One method taught by renowned trainer Cesar Millan involves changing your dog’s state of mind. The goal of this type of training is to move your dog from a hunting mode to a playing mode. Here’s how to do it.

  • teaching dog to sit | Ultimate Pet NutritionFirst, make sure your dog responds well to “sit” and “stay” commands.
  • Next, put your dog on a leash and go to the backyard.
  • While keeping the dog on the leash, play with some toys or toss a few treats in the yard. The leash will give you control should the dog see something they want to chase.5

Once you’ve done this for about a month, according to Millan, it’s time to put your training to the test. If you proceed too soon, your dog might still give chase. Always keep a leash handy whenever you take your pet outside.

  • When your dog chases something, grab a treat (like a piece of ham or chicken) and put it in your hand.
  • Get your hand close to your dog’s nose (a dog’s prey drive is often scent driven). Once your dog’s attention turns to the treat, put the leash on and give the treat.
  • Walk at least 10 feet away from what the dog was chasing and tell your pet to sit. Don’t bring them back into your home until they’re completely relaxed. This will, hopefully, show the dog that they can turn off their prey drive.6

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Teaching Your Dog Impulse Control

Some dogs have problems with impulse control no matter where they are. This issue goes beyond chasing small animals. They may barge through a door or act overly excited by something as simple as hearing their name called. But there are a few things you can try in order to reduce this behavior.

treat training | Ultimate Pet NutritionReward your dog for staying relaxed – If you have a hyper puppy or adult dog, it’s probably pretty rare to see them relaxed. When you do, be sure to reward them. Calmly approach with some gentle petting or praise, then put a treat near their nose. Don’t worry if your dog immediately gets up the first few times. After a while, they’ll learn to calm back down once they get their treat.7

Make your pup wait for their treat or toy – This is another way to teach your dog patience. Put a treat in your hand and tell your dog to sit.

Lower your hand gradually, until it’s a few feet from your dog’s mouth. If your pooch lunges for the treat, pull your hand back and tell them to sit. Repeat until you can get your hand a couple of inches from their mouth without the dog moving. Once the dog stays in place, reward them with the treat.8

A training exercise using your front or back door – If your dog always bolts toward the door when you get up, get to the door first and turn the handle just a slight bit. Hold it there until the dog calms down. Crack the door slightly and do the same thing. Don’t open the door entirely until your dog waits before you allow them out.9

The Earlier, The Better

As with any sort of training, the earlier you start training for impulse control and controlling prey drive, the higher your chances for success. If you just brought home a puppy who is showing signs of over-exuberance, start your training as soon as you can. If all your efforts prove fruitless, however, you might need a professional. Ask your vet if they have any recommendations.

Learn More:
Puppy Training: How To Stop A Puppy From Nipping
Biking With Dog: Training Your Large Dog To Run Next To A Bike (and Safety Concerns)
How To Stop A Dog From Jumping On You And Others: Puppy Training