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Why Do Dogs Have a Tendency to Chase Moving Objects?

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On the Yahoo "Click to Calm" list recently, Jen asked "why do other [non-herding] breeds chase things?"

Prey drive was mentioned, dogs or wolves in the wild would have to chase prey in order to catch food. Through selective breeding, certain parts of the hunt sequence have been modified or truncated to suit the purpose of the breed. Liz Shaw gave these examples -

"Herders orient, eye, stalk and chase

Retrievers are good at the chase, grab-bite

Terriers have strong chase, grab-bite and kill-bite"

A herding dog who grabbed at stock excessively or killed stock would not be suitable for a farm. A retriever doesn't need to stalk prey that has been shot. Terriers were originally bred for hunting or pest control, and were required to kill.

These days, with some exceptions, our herders, retrievers, pointers, sight-hounds and terriers are not used for their original purposes. However, understanding their original purpose can give us some idea of how to use satisfaction of their prey drive as a powerful reinforcer and can go a long way to explain certain behaviors or tendencies within a breed.

The Yahoo "Click to Calm" list is for people training reactive dogs using the methods described in Emma Parson's excellent book of the same name. More information on Click to Calm can be found here. The Yahoo "Click to Calm" list can be found here.

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I agree with Ms. Yasi that

I agree with Ms. Yasi that prey driven dogs tend to have high performance potential. I sometimes work as a training assistant and handler for a couple of different sprint mushers (in dog mushing, sprint races are short distance, high speed events). We frequently take advantage of the chase drive when training leaders to respond to directional cues (gee / haw) because it sets them up for success. They are going to follow whatever they are chasing in whatever direction it goes. By encouraging the team to chase a snow machine or another dog team, all the trainer has to do is give the cue at the appropriate time (In mushing, as in "obedience" training, timing is everything.) Through repetition the dogs quickly learn to respond to the cue.

Long distance and touring mushers sometimes use the chase drive to teach dogs to run at a slower pace. By controlling the speed of the leading snowmachine or team, the dogs in the chasing team learn to conserve their energy to maximize endurance.

Of course the chase drive has its down side as well. When I was just learning to drive sled dogs I was training an unfamiliar team of young, inexperienced dogs. Already you can see that an inexperienced driver with an inexperienced team is a recipe for disaster. The dogs were fresh from a rest day, and just as they were hitting maximum stride a squirrel ran across the trail in front of us. My leader decided to give chase and I wasn't nearly quick enough to call the whoa or stomp on the brake. The next thing I new that little 30 lb. sprint dog was trying to drag her five team mates up a tree and I had some more bumps and bruises to add to my collection. I learned some important lessons in that misadventure, most importantly the lesson that "timing is everything".


"You can't run with the big dogs if you pee like a puppy" Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs