The Loved Dog
Q: My dog Chloe has a strong prey drive. She nearly yanks my arm out of the socket when she sees a bird, squirrel, or even a leaf blowing in the wind! Once she sets her sights on something, it’s as if she goes deaf. It terrifies me when she won’t listen, especially since sometimes she slips out of her collar. We often take walks near busy streets. How can I keep her safe when she goes into “huntress mode”?
A: Dogs only know what nature has programmed into them—their instincts and impulses. When they want something, they jump for it; when they need to go to the bathroom, they go; and when they see something moving fast, they chase it. Our job is to teach them how not to react based on instinct and instead to make a conscious choice to do something else. Parents do the same thing with toddlers.
A dog’s behavior is designed to meet her core needs. These needs go beyond food and shelter, and include mental stimulation and playing wolf-like games, which contain an element of surprise. Most dogs who chase prey have few of those needs met at home, so they find a way to meet them on their own.
Some dogs and specific breeds have stronger prey drives than others. But it’s critical to evaluate, on a scale of one to ten, how much mental exercise and game playing your dog experiences. Does Chloe get to play-wrestle with other dogs? Does she go running or hiking off-leash with other dogs? How about playing Tug-of-War games with you?
Making a few changes to Chloe’s daily routine is key. Here are some suggestions:
1. Instead of feeding meals in a bowl, play Hide and Seek. Offer a handful of food as a reward each time Chloe finds you.
2. Make Tug-of-War part of your daily routine.
3. Offer Chloe challenging toys stuffed with treats to engage her brain—encouraging her to figure out how to get the treats.
4. Teach Chloe the behavior, “Leave It.” Practice as many different scenarios as possible.
5. Get Chloe obsessed with a squeaky toy. You can do this by playing when Chloe is her happiest—like right when you walk in the door! She will learn to associate the toy with exciting, wonderful feelings. Be sure to give it to her only when you want to distract her from potential “prey.”
6. Teach Chloe the “Watch Me” command.
Additionally, it’s important to focus on prevention and counter-conditioning on your walks. Make sure Chloe isn’t scanning for potential targets. If she does see something and begins to go into stalker mode, distract her with your “Leave It” or “Watch Me” command, then reward her with a high-value treat that she does not receive at any other time. You can also change the direction of the walk, moving away from the prey. When walking in areas that are a trigger for Chloe, pull out the special squeaky toy, or play a super fun, but brief, game of Tug-of-War. End the game before Chloe is ready to stop playing. This gets her focused on the toy in your pocket, not on scanning.
Be sure that Chloe gets her core needs met outside of the walk. It will make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Practice often, and have fun!
You can find instructions for these games and commands in my book, 30 Days to a Well Mannered Dog.
Ask Tamar. Have a training issue? Email: experts@TailsInc.com to submit your question.
ABOUT the Trainer
Known as Oprah’s favorite dog trainer and the dog guru to the stars, Tamar Geller has far more to offer than star power to her many followers. She provides genuine insight and passion for the well-intentioned guardian at wit’s end trying to understand a lovable dog’s unlovable behavior. Her signature method, The Loved Dog, aims to transform both the dog and person by building rapport between them. Seeing her mission as far more than training dogs to be obedient, Geller prefers being called a life coach for people and dogs.