We all know the story. You are having a lovely stroll with your dog on the meadow or in the forest and a deer pops up right in front of you and your dog and in one second your dog is gone. He doesn't hear you, he doesn't hear anything anymore. You start to panic and run after your dog which is chasing the deer, so scared he might run to the street and get hit by a car. You try different things, your hysteria and panic is all in your voice, you scream your dogs name, you scream "No!" or "Stop!" but nothing works.
For most dog owners the picture above is their worst nightmare when they are out with their off leash dog.
Can you actually stop a behavior that is completely a natural instinct? The answer is yes! Read on and you'll find out how.
What are some of the reasons you should never to let your dog chase an animal? The animals are in great danger getting hurt by the dog, your dog might run onto a street and get hit by a car causing danger not only to himself but also to other people.
Let's first start with the different stages a dog goes through before he starts to chase an animal:
1. Stopping and standing still with a stiff a bit raised body in the front, kind of a majestic posture
2. Sniffing in the air with a highly raised snout (and his tail is raised high up, one front leg lifted) he is very alert
3. Gazing and fixating his target
5. The chase begins
These last stages usually fall away with most dogs, they are usually kind of clueless what to do if they reached their target but it depends on the dog, usually smaller animals and rodents will get killed by most dogs but larger animals like deer or boars stay might stay unharmed.
6. Reaching the target and get a hold on the neck or anywhere the dog can reach
7. Getting in a good bite and not letting go
8. Shaking head until the animal stops moving and eventually dies
These stages are not much different from how wolves hunt.
The reasons your dog wants to hunt and chase animals:
1. He is bored
2. He has had successful hunting experiences before (yes, even one good experience is enough)
3. His natural instincts
4. He doesn't have a good recall
5. It's so much fun for the dog
6. You own a specialized hunting or herding breed
A pack of wolves hunting and catching up to a buffalo
So let's get practical, what are some things you need to work on as the dog owner so it will never happen again?
1. Your recall: always call your dog the same thing, not one day "Sam!" other day "Sammyy" then "Come here Sammyy". This will confuse your dog and he wont know what to do. Dogs listen to the tone of your voice and what it sounds like when you call his name, he doesn't understand your words. Train on your recall until it works 90 % of all times, with lots of yummy treats like meats, cheese and foods your dog loves. You can also shortly play with him when he comes to you as a reward. Keep it positive and never punish your dog if he didn't come to you immediately.
Whistles are also a great tool because like I already wrote, your dog listens to the tone of your voice and if you have any kind of an anguish or fear in your voice after he runs away, it's very probable he wont want to come to you.
2. Your timing. Timing is everything if you want to prevent your dog from hunting. You need to watch for the first signals before it's too late, standing still, (raised tail, front leg lifted), sniffing in the air and fixating his target. Check out the pictures below to get an idea.
3. Not being aware enough of your surroundings. While you are constantly checking your phone, your dog is every second aware of his surroundings. Try your best to spot that animal before he does.
4. Where do you walk your dog? Do you bring him to that field where you know hundreds of rabbits have their home and might jump up from the holes any minute? Or that deep forest in the middle of nowhere, where you somehow always spot a deer or boar? The best is to change the places you walk your dog. If it's close to your home and you absolutely need to walk your dog there, please try to leash your dog at all times.
The dog is very alert, tail is raised, his body is stiff and he is definitely searching for something.
So.. How do you stop a dog from hunting animals?
First off, which tools are you going to need?
1. A long leash of up to 10 meters which you will hold at the end (just in case!), later you can shorten it and let it on the ground and step on it if needed. You'll also need a harness to attach the long leash, never attach a long lead on a collar.
2. Yummy treats to practice that recall, it needs to be worth it for the dog to come to you. If you say now "But the dog should come to me automatically, I don't want to use treats", well in this case you should ask yourself this question: Would you go to work every day just to be nice to your boss without getting paid at all? I didn't think so ;-)
3. A fun toy your dog loves, but try to mix it up so it wont get boring. Also don't always take a ball and throw it, this only works out his hunting and chasing abilities, also you might risk getting a ball-junkie if your dogs only exercise is running after the ball (I will make another blog post about ball-junkies, stay tuned!)
4. A name tag with your address and phone number (in case something goes wrong). But it's still the best to get your dog micro chipped.
Optional but really helpful as well:
My dogs all with a long lead attached to a harness.
The 6 steps to how to get your dog never to chase and hunt animals again:
1. Keep your walks interesting, don't let your dog get bored and start drifting off and find something more interesting than you. Use the toy and play with him every once in a while. Do some tricks or just do the regular "Sit", "Lay", "Wait", or anything he already knows to keep that mental stimulation up. Let your dog jump on things like fallen tree logs and make him sit or even lay down.
2. It's also great to work on that mental stimulation even before the walk. Easy ways you can work on your dogs mental stimulation without much effort and wont take up much of your time, for an example you can put his food in a treat-ball and he has to use his paws or snout to get his food out or you can try hiding his food or treats all around the apartment and let him search for them.
3. Work every day further on that recall until it works even with high stimulation present (like other dogs, maybe bike-riders, joggers, anything your dog finds stimulating).
4. Try to desensitize him to wild animals, especially those he likes to chase, could be deer, boar, rabbits.. You can go to an animal park where dogs are allowed and let him see these animals from time to time (but don't let him get too close to them, some might bite through the fence or have diseases!)
5. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times, try to not go out at dusk or dawn when the wild animals are most likely to be wandering around. Also try in general to not go to places where there might be a lot of wild animals.
6. Your timing. Keep an eye on your dog and when he starts to do the warning signals grab or step on the long lead immediately. Try to even stop him and snap him out of this hunting behavior before it starts. Whistle or call your dog, do anything. Get him out of this hunting state of mind.
I hope this could help some of you struggling with hunting issues with your dog. I only use positive reinforcement on my dogs, so I didn't include things like shock- or E-Collars in my list because the use of this tool is in my opinion very cruel and doesn't really address the problem at hand.
You can use all these recommendations I made for any dog breed. You will have a harder time with a specialized hunting dog or herding breed (even herding breeds have high capabilities to chase and catch animals) because they were bred to do this exact thing. Don't give up and let your dog walk all his life on a short lead. It takes time and a lot of patience from you as the owner. You'll get there.
If there are more ways to prevent hunting behavior in dogs, I'd love to hear them.
Please write a comment or send me an email. Thanks.