Teaching My Hound NOT To Hunt

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photo by John Morgan. license

Shhhh. Can you keep a secret? I used to HATE walking my dog. Why? Because my neighborhood is full of squirrels, and every time my dog saw one, she went freak-show crazy. Airborne. Yowling, lunging, sometimes even pulling me off my feet and dragging me along the sidewalk. People literally stopped and stared. Windows flew open and heads craned out to investigate the commotion. Oh, and the looks on their faces–judgmental, scornful, control-your-dog looks. I was apprenticing to become a dog trainer at the time, so imagine how competent I was feeling. Not very. But I knew this much: Yanking on the leash, yelling, and punishing her in any way weren’t my answer. I didn’t want a tough-guy approach. Rather than controlling my dog, I needed to teach her to control herself.

Like many fellow adopters of stray dogs, I’d made up a plausible but baseless back-story for my hound mix, Huckleberry, a country gal from rural Virginia. Once upon a time, she’d been someone’s hunting dog, trained to chase anything that moved and corner it in a tree to be shot. She’d probably spent little if any time on a leash. Maybe she was out for a romp one day, chasing critters to her heart’s content, and ventured so far that she lost her way home and landed in the pound. This would explain a lot, I rationalized. Look what I was up against. A dog like that was a squirrel junkie; she wasn’t going to quit her habit cold turkey.

Huck running near creekWell, whatever her past, Huckleberry definitely wasn’t alone in her obsession with squirrels. I did eventually become a dog trainer, and I’ve discovered squirrel chasing ranks way up there on our clients’ list of peeves. Although dogs are hard-wired to scavenge for food, most also have some degree of prey drive, owing to their wolf ancestry and selective breeding for hunting with humans. And there’s an instinctual predatory sequence that, once triggered, is almost impossible to interrupt if the dog’s on the loose, and pretty darn challenging even if she’s leashed. It begins with the dog eyeing its prey, then stalking it, then chasing, capturing, and killing it. So when we try to stop them mid-chase, our dogs are already locked into the prey sequence and hell bent on completing it. Our best chance to abort and redirect squirrel chasing during our walks is to catch our dogs at–or before–the eyeing stage.

Easier said than done, right? Yes. But still, very do-able. Learning to interrupt Huckleberry at the point where she was still considering chasing the squirrel, but hadn’t set the wheels in motion yet, was the secret to our success. And yep, let me brag a little… I did solve this one. Now when Huckleberry spies a squirrel, she turns to me instead of chasing–most of the time, anyway. (Nobody’s perfect.) I often don’t even have to give her a verbal cue anymore. The squirrel itself has become a cue for her to turn her attention to me.

I’m not going to lie to you: It wasn’t an overnight thing. It was a process that took many, many repetitions. We worked up to it gradually, with baby steps, and a generous dose of hot dogs. Success took time, but I saw quick improvement and steady progress. Would punishing her have worked faster? For me, the point was moot since that approach was never on the table.

Scolding and punishing a dog for doing what comes naturally isn’t fair, and it doesn’t teach her what to do instead. Instinct, not conscious choice, is driving the dog’s behavior. And behavior can’t just be cancelled. It needs an outlet–an appropriate one. For Huckleberry, I decided her alternative to chasing a squirrel would be chasing a treat. Here’s how I did it:

May I Have Your Attention, Please!

P1060689Attention is the gateway to all other behaviors. If I have Huckleberry’s attention, I can ask her to do the things I’ve trained her to do. If she’s not tuned in, forget it. Getting her attention when she was about to chase a squirrel was like a college-level exam. We were still in kindergarten. So I started out just capturing attention, meaning if she happened to look at me as we were walking, I rewarded her with a really great treat. At first, I did it literally every single time she looked at me. She learned that focusing on me was a really rewarding behavior. After a while she was checking in all the time–as long as there were no distractions.

I also called Huckleberry’s name and rewarded her for looking at me. We did this over and over during walks, first with no distractions, then with mild distractions like a person walking in the distance, then with someone running by, then when she was sniffing something interesting, and so on. If she didn’t respond the first time, I’d make some sounds to get her to make eye contact. If that didn’t work, I’d even put a treat on her nose and lure her around to look at me. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, but I was going to make it as easy as necessary to help her succeed. With time and practice, Huckleberry was whipping around whenever she heard her name. Once her “eyes on me” behavior was solid enough, I started putting it to use around squirrels.

Squirrel Radar

I knew I needed to spot squirrels before Huckleberry did, or at least at the same moment she did, so I’d be ready to call her name and get her eyes on me. You’d have thought I was the squirrel hunter; I was always on the lookout. I even stopped listening to my iPod so I’d be more alert. At first, the squirrel had to be pretty far off in the distance for Huckleberry to disengage from it and refocus on me. With more practice–and more rewards–she got better and better.

All behaviors get stronger and more ingrained with more practice and more reinforcement. And I wasn’t just trying to teach Huckleberry a new behavior (looking at me, not the squirrel); I also needed to prevent her from rehearsing the old behavior (chasing the squirrel). Looking at me was reinforced by me, with hot dogs. But chasing the squirrel was self-reinforcing, because it just felt good to her. I didn’t want the chasing behavior to grow any stronger than it already was! No, it wasn’t the end of the world to have a setback now and then–that’s life. But by staying vigilant, I headed off a lot more squirrel chasing than if I’d been daydreaming.

Chase This, Not That

As getting Huckleberry’s attention became easier, I worked on maintaining it for longer periods. For some dogs, holding their beloved owner’s gaze while passing a squirrel might be enough to squelch their urge to chase it. But I felt just watching me wasn’t going to cut it for Huckleberry; she needed to discharge her chasing impulse in a more physical, kinetic way. I’m not that interesting to look at–not compared to a scampering rodent, anyway. So the second part of my sequence, after getting her eyes on me, was to toss a piece of hot dog. I’d toss it in the opposite direction from the squirrel, far enough that she had to bound after it and then sniff it out in the grass. This typically gave the squirrel enough time to scramble up a tree. Sometimes I tossed several treats, to buy the squirrel more time to get away. I found they’d often freeze when they saw Huckleberry coming, and then flee as soon as they saw she was occupied with something else.

Huck with Snowy

So that’s how I came to LOVE walking my dog. Next, I turned to training Huckleberry not to chase my free range rabbits inside the house. But that’s a topic for another blog….

What are your tricks, strategies, and coping methods for walking your critter-chasing dog?

 

About Karen Baragona

I'm a dog trainer (CPDT-KA) with a soft spot for shelter and rescue dogs who are a little rough around the edges. My own rescue dog Huckleberry, an exuberant hound mix, gave me a run for my money with her reactivity, resource guarding, squirrel chasing, fear of car rides, and unapologetic boisterousness. But she made me a better, more empathetic trainer. As a group class training instructor, private in-home trainer, and animal shelter behavior counselor, I've worked with hundreds of dogs and their people to help them understand and learn from each other. I have a special interest in interactions between dogs and kids, and dogs and other household pets. I also have a master's degree in environmental science and in a past life worked in international wildlife conservation for 15 years.

38 comments

  1. Oh my gosh, I need help quick! I have had four rescued coonhounds in the past, and the 5th came to live with me two days ago. So now I have #4, who is quite old, and #5, who is less than a year old. (I’m not a good judge of dog age. When I took #5 in from the very frantic Mexican family who originally rescued her, she was having her first heat cycle.) I have always had pretty good luck at training my dogs not to hunt. This one, though! I live in very rural Utah, a hotspot for cougar hunting, and there are often houndsmen who use our little town as a basecamp. The dog was dropped off about a month ago at our hotel with a bullet wound through the neck! Seriously, there is an entrance and exit wound right through her neck, and I don’t know how she lived. The only thing I can think of is that she was amongst the dogs that treed the cougar, and the hunters accidently shot her, and then discarded her in town. So the family that runs the hotel saved her by treating her wounds and keeping her at their home. A couple days ago, they said that they were at their wits end with her and since I have always had hounds for pets, they asked if I would take her. I was delighted because I have actually been looking for a new dog to adopt, since I lost my old furkids last year. Now I am not so delighted. I love her, but damn! All she wants to do is chase my cats! She was actually specifically trained to hunt cougars, and now, I am finding that she considers house cats to be just bite-sized versions. She is young and fast, and the more I yell at her for attacking my cats, the more crazed she gets and fervent her determination. Should I just stop right here and look at rehoming her with one of those horrible hunters (that I despise with all my heart) or is there even a chance?

  2. I have a red tick coonhound that goes nuts whenever she’s on her leash. It happens when she sees people, other dogs, or animals. Every walk we go on turns into an embarrassing experience for everyone involved. She is so loud and sounds like I’m killing her or have beaten her so badly. I’m not even touching her when it happens. I’ve been trying to come up with solutions to break her focus but nothing I’ve tried has worked. Right now I’m just turning around and heading the opposite direction of whatever has her attention. It’s hard because it looks like I’m dragging her and hurting her. I’ve tried using treats, toys and standing in between her and the thing she’s fixated on. None of that has worked. I would love to go on a work or bring her to places without having her freak out and everyone stare and make comments. My other dog tries to calm her down and distract her as well because he is bothered by it too. I’m going to try what you did but if you can think of anything else to help me that would be amazing.

  3. My dog Bishop is a pointe lab and I hate walking him too. He’s a puller, screeched, hunter and once we leave the house all bets are off cause now we are in his world. Most recently he even has started screeching from the window in the house by the back door every time he spies a squirrel. Every night his friend Duke, a golden retriever, comes over and they play with the hopes it would tire Bishop out a bit but no such luck. We go for a 2.5 mile walk every night and he has 1 thing on his mind only – rabbits and he always finds one but the entire walk he’s on high alert with his head literally ticking back and forth and I cannot see them til he does. I his the Victoria Stilwell harness and I have him double leashed back and front. The back one is connected to a bungee leash that’s connected to a belt wrapped around my waste. I go to pt every week for my arm / wrist, hip flexor and IT band due to all the pulling. Funny thing is I got a dog to be my walking buddy but I dread every walk and never enjoy it except for our understanding and non judgmental walking buddies. I would love some help and what you are saying makes sense, I’m willing to work with him since I’m the only one who walks him or I trust to walk him. Also Bishop is scared of the car too and I have to physically lift him in the car to get him to go in and that’s no fun. The back of the car hammock did help a bit. At Home Bishop is a pleasure and my best companion. We definitely need to nip this though cause it’s just taking a toll on my body and I need a better walking buddy.

  4. I have two chow rescues. One is 60lbs about 8 years old, his name is Carter. Then there is Angel who is 9mo. old and about 40lbs. Friday I was walking them and they saw squirrels running up a tree. Angel actually bit thru her harness and was loose. As I went for her Carter jerked away and was loose. Since they were after the squirrels they both didn’t realize they were loose so I managed to get both of them. So Sat. evening my husband and I were walking them when again two squirrel went running up a tree. They both took off and I got caught in the leashes and went down, hard. I’m 63 and really don’t want to be crippled in retirement. I am definitely going to work with them in our back yard. We have two squirrels nest in our tree in the back yard, which is actually part of the problem. They torment them…lol. So thank you for the article and also it is nice to know I am not alone. I have been thinking about taking them for training but I’m not fond of some techniques used by trainers.

    1. That must have been pretty scary. Do you have Carter and Angel on front-clip, no-pull harnesses? They don’t really stop pulling altogether but they do take some of the momentum out of it. I really encourage you to find a trainer who can work with you and your pups. You can search PPG and APDT for positive, no-force trainers near you and be assured that they will use humane methods based on the science of animal behavior. Just between you and me, I think squirrels DO tease our dogs–and cats!

  5. This is a great article. We rescued a Coonhound. The Humane Society said he was a grey hound. When we take him on walks he is all over the place. He is very aggressive towards other dogs and people. He is just fine around our other dogs but anyone else he is barking and lunging. Very embarrassing!! Our lab is a very social dog so the coonhound has put a damper on the walks. We have started using a “gentle leader” collar. That combined with your technique will hopefully help. He is a very good boy otherwise and this is his natural instinct . Any advice for when we take him camping ? We wil need a sturdy strong tie to keep him from running. He is definitely a runner!!

  6. Interesting article. I am researching whether or not a Walker hound type would be a good fit in our house. The dog previously lived in a one bedroom without a yard and it was with a single working person. We had a hound mix for 15 years but she was more of a sight hound and so was not too into the barking thing after covering up the fence. I am hoping that since the hound we are looking at was not actually utilized in hunting, he might be less inclined to bark? It is hard to know what he will do when at our house and hate to have to take him back once sprung from the pound and I now feel somewhat entrenched in adopting as we have had a hold for a week and have been visiting twice daily. He would be inside and out and never left outside without someone being around. I saw hunting videos where they teach the hound to lunge and bark at the tree as they were pulling something up the tree on a rope so am hoping that some of the behaviors seen on u-tube that are encouraged are amplified (maybe won’t do this to the degree observed)? He is sweet in temperament and got along with my lab mix. I had to walk him by caged rabbits at the pound, which I was not aware of until too late, and he swerved away from them and did not glance at all. It is hard to tell as the animal pound is so full of scents and barking dogs how he will behave. Any thoughts on adopting a Walker Hound? He was crate trained apparently, so no problems there.

  7. Great info there, I thought I was alone!

    I have come to use squirrels as the ultimate training tool. I do lots of walking off leash at a local park. I must confess, watching Dolce go into that trance-like, stalk mode where she moves in slow motion and twitches loke crazy is most enjoyable for me! On the other hand, I don’t want her to think she can just run off everytime she spots a squirrel in the distance.

    So now I allow her to see it, even fixate on it, and then I will call her to come. Sometimes we will walk right up to one (I will pretend like I am feeding it) but I don’t let her chase it or lunge. She looks like she is going into cardiac arrest!

    Someone once said regarding treats: “Just because I have a treat in hand doesn’t mean I am going to give it to you”. This is the principle I use with squirrels: “Just because you see a squirrel doesn’t mean you are allowed to chase it.” Anyway, when I say ‘okay’ she knows she can chase them.

    I started doing this because once she took off after a gopher and wouldn’t listen to me calling her. Now she does because I worked on it and she is a gooooood doggie!

  8. I too have a crazy hound that loves nothing more than to hunt and was so excited to see this thread full of good suggestions. While I understand that my dog is hard wired to hunt, it is terrible as she has already killed one squirrel and one bunny while on leash. I am looking forward to trying to distract her with treats as she has made walks into a struggle but her prey drive is very strong making me wonder if I can succeed…

  9. Karen,

    I also have a crazy minded chasing dog. My problem with her is not chasing squirrels but my free range rabbits, like you, I have two indoor buns that own the house. I have one outside in a large 10×10 kennel in the day time and can not let my dog in that part of the yard because she lunges at the kennel and scares the bun to utter death. I would love to interact with both at the same time as I feel bad having to exile the dog to the side yard when my buns want to go outside. 🙁 Any thoughts of hope for me.

    Thank you
    Virginia in Central California

  10. I would love to hear some advice on a similar scenario to the previous comment.
    I have a rescue (history unknown) maybe 2 years old. Her instinct to hunt is very evident. We live in the middle of no where and before it wasn’t a problem for her to chase squirrels. Now we have a horse and intend to get cattle, but she won’t stop chasing the horse! Sometimes she’ll lay near him and pay him no attention, others she chases and nips at his tail. I had been putting her on a tether when she would get in trouble. It seemed like this was working. She nearly showed no interest in the horse. But Today the horse kicked her because she started chasing him. She looked pretty shook up, but no apparent damage. I love this dog so much and can’t fathom her always being tied to a tree. What can I do??? Any help would be appreciated.

  11. Hello…I ,have a 3 yr old strong willed basset hound rottweiler mix whom I have raised from a puppy. His name is Zeek. This is my first dog and it has been a long process of learning what the best methods are for training him.

    In the past Zeek was very independent, dominant and reactive (he would bark at ppl thru our fence, chase the cats etc)and would pull on the leash. We lived in the suburbs. We also lived with a small Chiwawa mix that was not trained and had very bad manners. this dog was a bad influence on Zeek and he picked up some bad habits.

    We have since moved to a ranch and with positive reinforcement and proper leashes/collars there has been major improvements. we use a kennel as well.

    On the ranch there are free range ducks, chickens, turkey and many large animals that are kept in their pastures. I have slowly worked with Zeek to not be reactive towards the farm animals. It has been successful. He doesn’t react to any free range birds…. However, he is still on a leash 24/7 if he is not inside or in his kennel. This is because I don’t fully trust him yet. Today is an example of why.

    This morning he got away from me and chased a wild jack rabbit. He was still on his leash and bolted before I could get control of him. I haven’t done any training to stop him from chasing wild critters. I am unsure what approach to take.

    He chased the rabbit for about 2 minutes and then took off and ran around the area for about 40 minutes. I didn’t chase after him when he would not call on command. He was in total chase mode and would not listen . During his run he didn’t attack or chase and farm animals. When he returned he went right to his kennel.

    I’m at a loss as to what I should do for training. Ideally I’d love if Zeek could be off the leash and allowed to run on the ranch. He no longer seems interest in the farm animals but there are other factors like jack rabbits, foxes, deer which still trigger him.

    If I knew more I’d like to train him to keep those pesky critters away. But I don’t want to counter train him and undo the work I’ve done to keep him away from farm animals.

    Perhaps this is not a goal i can achieve? I do not want Zeek to become more independent and leave the property. I don’t want him to hunt farm animals.

    any thoughts or perspectives would be greatly appreciated!

  12. Great article, I can’t wait to read the one about getting your dog to leave the bunny alone! I have 2 rabbits myself and a dog that was specifically bread for hunting so he’s very keen of getting those bunnies.

  13. This makes me feel better too, by finding this blog. Our dog (Bailey) is a pheasant hunting dog, very trained to follow her nose everywhere. She is an English Cocker Spaniel, lots of energy and eager to please. My husband attests to the fact that she is fantastic in the field – I, on the hand – says she is terrible at walking on a leash. I am really trying to work on it now. I am letting her have some leash space to quarter back and forth – and coining the term ‘walk’ instead of flushing so hopefully she is learning the difference. Bailey will generally stay a few feet in front of me, and will come by my side when told to heel. But she wont’ stay there long, and goes crazy when she smells something or sees any critters moving. I really like the idea of getting her attention when she starts to get distracted. I am definitely going to give this a try – so I appreciate your input!

    1. Sounds like you’re very dedicated and Bailey has a good foundation! Heeling is hard! I don’t even bother. As long as the leash is loose, that’s good enough for me. I let Huckleberry be in front, behind, or to the side as much as she wants as long as she’s not putting any tension in the leash. I’m sure you’ll see progress with Bailey if you reward the behavior you want and catch her before she really starts going after things. Good luck!

  14. I am so happy I found this! I have a jack russell terrier mix. Her name is Hazel. We live in a apartment and we have to take her out to go potty every time. I am a small person. I am 4’6 and 120 pounds and pregnant. She is 16 pounds of pure muscle. When we take her out she looks for other animals to chase after. She runs back to us and then runs full speed to get the animal pulling at the leash so hard it hurts me. Needless to say I have rope burn on my fingers trying to pull her back because she broke the locking mechanism today! I am at my last straw if we can’t find a way to fix this. I will be giving her away wether he likes it or not if we can’t fix this problem. I love Hazel to death but I’m about to have a baby and I can’t take care of a baby and take Hazel out at the same time! She is out of control. So if we try this and it doesn’t work or start making progress then we have to get rid of her! It won’t be fair to my boyfriend for him to always take her out because I’m incapable of taking care of her too. He takes her on walks and she gets enough exercise because I go to my moms (she has a big back yard) 2 times during the week, friday, saturday, and sunday. So She gets plenty of exercise. I don’t know what to do anymore. I am at my last straw. She just loves squirrel and cats. I can’t take it anymore!

    1. Shelby, I can hear how frustrated you feel. The first thing I’d suggest is stop using the retractable leash because they don’t allow much control, especially when broken 🙂 Try a 6′ or 4′ leash so Hazel can’t get up so much momentum when she sees a cat or squirrel to chase. I would also consider investing in a private trainer, even just or one session, who can help you learn the best techniques for managing Hazel’s strength and tendency to chase. I can tell how committed you are because you’ve been taking such good care of her. I also want to recommend http://www.familypaws.com as a wonderful resource for expecting parents who have dogs. Best of luck with everything!

  15. I’m coming in a little late on this but I’m hoping someone is still reading this. I have a dachshund, about a year old, who has severe fear issues (rescue, history unknown). I’ve only had her for a few months. She’s on Happy Traveler, which helps her quite noticeably. My problem is that I can proof her 500 times inside the house but as soon as she goes out, all bets are off. She won’t touch food rewards of ANY kind outdoors. She is stressed but doing very well on walks now except when we encounter people but I just can’t seem to get through to her when it comes to tracking/chasing prey. I’m a trainer of over 20 years (crossover to positive methods) and this dog has been my most difficult, bar none.

    I have to walk her as I’m in a condo, no fenced yard and very little opportunity for other exercise. I have her in a front clip harness. She’s a happy, friendly and seemingly well adjusted dog now, indoors. She’s improved steadily outdoors. But I can’t stop her from hunting, jumping through the air toward a scent, screaming when she sees a cat…She is very, very unpleasant to walk. Any helpful comments or questions are very much appreciated!

    1. In the writing of this I answered my own question. From now on if I can’t solve something I’ll just write it out! 🙂

      Why is it so much easier to see what someone ELSE is doing wrong….?

        1. I realized that I need to start on my back porch, which has an excellent view of squirrels. Right now she’ll take the treat and spit it out. I’m rewarding her for turning toward me. But since she is too tense for eating at this time I decided to go a differentnt route. On walks I stop her with the wait command, crouch down and get in her space until she finally looks at me, at which time I’m rewarding with praising and petting. She is realizing that she will get to keep walking if she turns her attention to me for a few seconds. Long, slow process with this dog. Baby steps.

  16. I knew you would figure it out, Karen. It shows off in the article that you are a competent trainer. You have to play with two distances: that separating the dog and the squirrel, on the one hand, and the one between you and your dog on the other. Needless to say that when you tense up one of them you have to relax the other criterion to put your learner in a situation of being successful in 80% of the trials.

    With regard to the recall, sure you can rely on a recall cue and transfer stimulus control to sight of the prey in the usual way (new cue, old cue), as you did already. You could also simply prompt the behavior and fade out any prompts as the learner comes to find you (defined as approximating, establishing eye contact and perhaps even touching the handler) consistently. Another interesting way to do it would be to start shaping the “find me” behavior putting a reinforcer in a varikennel or behind a gate, and waiting until the dog stops trying to reach it on his/her own (extinction), and asks for your help. Again you would progressively build distance into it. Another component of it would be to let the dog insist on the contact with the handler in some trials, so that they don’t learn to swing back and forth between the squirrel and the handler. It is the problem that we have in the “look at that” contingency, for instance, and it is important to get rid off it to increase realiability.

    If you analyze it you see that, overall, we are applying a composed procedure, which could be differential reinforcement of successive approximations to an incompatible behavior. Basically that’s what we would be doing under any of these variations. This is important to understand because we need to keep extinction trials at a minimum, and adopt all measures to prevent the behavior we need to extinguish from working again. A long leash could work as a safety net. The hook in that leash needs to be as light as possible so that there is not much physical difference for the dog between being on and off leash.

    That’s what springs to my mind now but I’m positive that there are many ways of doing this, so I keep following the debate!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful follow-up, Luis. It’s truly amazing what a dog can learn if we have enough patience and ingenuity. I hope to gain ever more of both.

  17. Hello Karen, thank you for the nice post. Just to present a few variations on this theme, you can teach the dog not only to look at you but to look for you. In this way the handler does not have to be in the picture or find the squirrel before the dog does. Of course distance needs to be gradually built. This was taught to me by Turid Rugaas, very simple but very effective.

    For dogs with a strong chasing learning history you can rely on more natural reinforcers using a horse whipp with a toy at the end. This I believe is perfectly illustrated by Emily Larlhan in some of her videos.

    Finally, the most thoughful approach to this behavior change program would consist of singling out each component behavior of the prey sequence and find a substitute for it, sort of building various safety nets in case the dog or the handler fail to implement the first exit. The credit for this insight corresponds to James O’Heare.

    1. I love these ideas. I’m going to check out the Emily Larlhan videos with the whip/toy (we’ve been calling it a “flirt pole”). How do you get your dog to “find” you on seeing the squirrel? Did you start with a recall cue at the sight of the squirrel, with the squirrel in the distance and you very close to your dog? The last idea is pretty challenging, but presumably it would deter chasing/hunting even when a dog is off leash.

  18. Great article. I am trying to teach my dog not to chase my cat, and I think I will use your technique! I also really want to hear how you taught him not to chase your rabbits… I have a 6 year old lop bunny that I am afraid to let out around the dog because his chase instinct is just so strong! So… hurry up and write that story 🙂

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Nadine. With the rabbits, I did a lot of Settle on the Mat with Huckleberry while the rabbits were behind an ex-pen with the front gate closed, then with the gate open, then with the dog in the rabbit pen but still in a Down on a mat. Very rapid rate of reinforcement with very high value rewards. The rabbits had a back gate out of their pen, so they could come as close to the dog as they dared but stay way back if they preferred, and they also had safe places to hide. I also practiced Leave It like crazy. Very short practice sessions, always ending on a good note, and baby steps….

    2. WOW, this sounds EXACTLY like my dog! The only problem is that I haven’t found a treat yet that is higher [valued] than a squirrel! If you have something your dog will ignore a squirrel for, PLEASE tell me!

      1. Hi, Nadine. There are 4 parts to this: 1. Finding treats your dog LOVES–and that usually means not the manufactured dog stuff but people food like hot dogs, etc. 2. Teaching the alternative behavior (alternative to chasing squirrels!) till it’s rock solid in many settings. And easy one is “Find it!” 3. Figuring out your dog’s threshold–the distance from the squirrel beyond which your dog cannot control himself but within which he can. You have to redirect him as soon as he sees the squirrel, before he gets too far into the predatory sequence (eye, orient, chase, etc.) That behavior is instinctive and hard to interrupt once it’s triggered, so you need to intervene before it reaches the orienting and chasing part. 4. Practice, and patience.

  19. This blog really resonates with me though for a slightly different reason. I have a Lurcher (Pip) and one of my other dogs is a small Cocker Spaniel (Pickle) who runs about all the time and loves also to chase a ball.

    Pip wasn’t interested in chasing the ball – he chased Pickle in a way he might start to chase prey. I caught it as soon as he fixed his gaze on Pickle, called him and threw the food in the opposite direction so he still had something to chase.

    Now Pip automatically comes running to me for food when he gets the urge to chase Pickle.

    1. Thanks, Theo. And this reminds us all how closely we have to watch our dogs when they’re playing, doesn’t it! Things can always turn on a dime. I like how you resolved the Pip-Pickle interaction.

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