Welcome to Day 71 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour
- food based, cognitive and sensory based enrichment
- different dogs have different motivations for chasing, with some chasing any time, any thing, at any opportunity, while some show less interest in chasing as a past-time
- There are some challenges here that may cause a little too much excitement for getting the children involved.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- some of these games will require some crafty prep, while some are quick to set up and you and your pet can engage in them for varying durations
Many normal natural necessary dog behaviours are an annoyance for dog owners, such as chewing and digging. Chasing is an interesting one because in some contexts many dog owners delight in their dog engaging in it, and in some contexts it truly worries the humans. To chasing dogs, of course, the distinction is often arbitrary; it’s hard for dogs, living in the human world, to win!
People often presume that some chasing is fun and beneficial for their pet, for example,:
- chasing after a ball
- chasing after other dogs when ‘ playing’
- chasing animals like squirrels or birds
People often find some chasing inappropriate and dangerous, for example,:
- chasing people and children
- chasing livestock or larger animals
- chasing cars or other vehicles
To me though, chasing is inappropriate when it contributes to such raised levels of arousal (stress), that the dog loses control, some what, which can be damaging to behavioural and physical health.
To the dog, regardless of what he’s chasing and regardless of human rules, his chasing behaviour seems appropriate.
That will mean that chasing behaviour and tendencies require careful management to prevent chasing becoming a human and dog problem.
What do you need?
- toys for fetching, tugging etc.
- kibble and food rewards
- dog lead, cord, rope or similar
- flirt pole or the tools to make one
Home-made flirt pole: use a horse lunge whip with a toy tied to it (you may require extra cord so that the flirt is long enough – I use blind cord and it works well)
- to facilitate appropriate chasing behaviour, while maintaining behavioural health and safety
- to encourage a wide range of normal, natural, necessary dog behaviours
- to broaden the dog’s behavioural repertoire
- to help build responsiveness and arousal control in chasing contexts
Why do dogs chase?
Dogs have evolved from predatory animals and on top of that, humans have exaggerated and inhibited different parts of the canid predatory sequence, through selective breeding, to develop breeds of dog that can carry out different jobs.
Chasing features heavily in many dog-jobs so there may be some types who are more into chasing than others, but, note that chasing, to some degree, is part of ALL dogs.
The predatory sequence, above, shows the complete sequence of behaviour intact in animals who are killing to eat. It is likely that the intact predatory sequence is present in some groups and types of dogs, given the jobs they have been selected for over centuries. But, just because a dog chases, doesn’t mean that he necessarily bites, kills, or consumes.
All of our enrichment endeavours, especially those challenges that are food based, should take into account these behaviour sets. Considerations for type and individual tendencies must be taken into account too to ensure that the dog is provided with outlets for behaviour he needs to do.
But, as soon as we start talking about chasing, pet owners get worried; will this make the dog more predatory, they query. I’m not sure what more predatory means, because, truth be told, your dog is already a predator.
By facilitating appropriate outlets for chasing, we are contributing to giving your pet an enriched life.
How can we achieve these goals?
Ascertaining appropriate from inappropriate is important here. There are tons of behaviours that dogs can do, love to do, and will do, given the slightest chance, but that can be harmful to them.
How did that happen? How did such harmful behaviours evolve?
While domestication certainly provides animals with skills (behaviours) that make it easier to live with humans, selective breeding can cause the exaggeration or inhibition of behaviours that require specific environmental, rearing and care conditions. Without responsible humans implementing this care, some behaviours can become harmful for pets and their people.
And to come full circle, this is why structured and intentional enrichment programs are so so so important for pet dogs. Safe and appropriate outlets for dog behaviour, along with careful management to prevent inappropriate behaviour, should be central to our caring for our pets.
Not to harp on about it, but that’s what #100daysofenrichment is all about and why our challenges are so far ranging in scope and detail. Providing a complete picture for pet owners, and subsequently their pets, will be vital in ensuring that pets’ welfare is maintained and improved.
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of Chasing:
Chasing may be food related, social and /or sensory related behaviour. Dogs may chase prey items to eat as part of predatory behaviour and may engage in chasing behaviour as part of play in social, sensory and cognitive enrichment contexts.
Remembering what we have talked about in relation to selective breeding, not all chasing dogs do is for food. Some are chasing because that’s what they have been bred to do, and they don’t appear that interested in going any further.
But, where that arousal increases and increases, any and all dogs can demonstrate inappropriate and dangerous chasing behaviour.
Because of the many functions of chasing, and the risk of it all going pear-shaped, we must provide dogs with appropriate outlets for chasing behaviour so that they get their jollies while remaining helpful and enriching.
Young dogs will invariably be enticed to chase easily and as they age they may become less interested. Predatory type chasing really develops and becomes more coordinated at about 5-7 months, with these young adolescents suddenly showing intentional stalking behaviour, pouncing and chasing with great enthusiasm
Adolescent dogs will also have more difficulty controlling arousal and thinking through behavioural choices, so chasing will often become a big part of their social experience. This can easily get out of control, especially during this developmental stage, and must be monitored carefully.
Short stints of bitey face, wrestling play should be emphasised and facilitated, especially for young dogs; along with monitoring for appropriate play in relation to lots of other criteria. Chasing play should be minimised.
Dog-dog play is not really going to be discussed throughout the #100days and will certainly not feature as a main approach to canine enrichment.
Your dog’s brain on chasing
Chasing requires the body and brain to work hard; physical exertion including increased demands for oxygen leading to increased respiration, heart rates and blood pressure. While that demands lots of brain input, so does the behavioural aspects of chasing.
Chasing requires the body to rise to some serious challenge. Another way of describing this, is stress. In dog training, we sometimes refer to the amount of stress the dog is experiencing and how they’re coping, as arousal. Neither stress nor arousal are necessarily bad.
Indeed, just the right amounts of stress and arousal are good and are definitely rewarding, triggering the dog’s reward systems in their brain. Dogs chase for chasing’s sake.
So far, chasing is pretty fun.
But, the longer your dog is chasing and in this state of increasing arousal, the closer it can become to chasing becoming more harmful.
As arousal increases, less input comes from higher, thinking parts of the brain as the more reactionary, emotional parts direct the action.
This means that chasing can start out appropriate, with the dog able to make thoughtful choices (well, as thoughtful as dogs ever are) about how he participates in chasing behaviour.
As that arousal increases, he is less well able to choose and more likely to react. This means that intense chasing can become inappropriate, leading to dangerous and harmful behaviour, directed at inappropriate triggers and associated with moving through predatory behaviours quickly and possibly uninhibited.
The reward and protective systems in the brain, that produce all sorts of pleasant neurochemicals, can even lead to the dog essentially becoming addicted to high octane chasing, and the situations that allow it.
Intense chasing in social situations and exerting repetitive fetch games may not be the sort of fun we want for our dogs at all.
Only play chasing, active games with your dog when they are well warmed up. Ideally, you should run through a warm up routine with your dog which will include activities and stretches. At the end of each chasing game, there should also be a corresponding warm down once chasing games are over.
Bring the excitement down, after all that, with lots of sniffing and then some lapping and chewing on stuffables or similar. Remember, think rollercoasters!
Chasing must be functional
Chasing must be functional for it to be beneficial, in that, there must be some pay-off to chasing; the dog shouldn’t be chasing and not actually catch something, eat something or have some social interaction.
This is why I do not consider chasing a light or projected image enriching and instead frustrating and arousing, not in a good way. Not to mention, the risks such games may pose where a dog is predisposed to reflection/shadow chasing, or other compulsive behaviours.
Make sure the dog gets to catch their ‘prey’, easily and without frustration in every chase.
Chasing is something most dogs will want to do in some capacity, and it’s up to us to make sure they get to do it carefully, while still having fun.
Don’t get hooked on allowing your dog to chase inappropriately, even if you think they’re having fun. A tired dog is not necessarily well behaved, they might just be tired! And if your dog is doing a lot of chasing to the point of physical exhaustion, I think we might need to find other, more rounded-out outlets for both you and your pet.
Option 1 Chasing Toy Games
Chasing toy games, like fetch, can still be part of your dog’s day to day life and activity, but, play in Rollercoaster Games.
This will help your dog get his chasing jollies, while avoiding the pitfalls of exertion and increasing arousal.
Stop now and go back to Day 57; start living and playing Rollercoaster Games today!
When you play, mix it up. Lots of breaks and, just as importantly, lots of variety to the game…never just fetch, fetch, fetch, fetch…
Add in lots of toy searches to encourage sniffing, which will help the fetcher recover from some over arousal; more on Day 62.
Option 2 Flirt Poling
Flirt poles are like cat fishing rod toys, but for dogs, so bigger and sturdier. You can buy commercially produced flirt poles (for example, here) or you can make your own.
Use a horse lunge whip, which are available from many pet and equine outlets, and tie a toy to it – simples!
Depending on the type of whip, you might need to add some cord to the whip. I use the big lunge whip when out and about in lots of space and a smaller crop, with cord to tie to the toy.
Take care to use a soft, light toy so that it won’t do too much damage if it hits you or your dog, or won’t hurt them when they chase and grab it.
Flirt pole with care
Flirt pole fun requires care because it’s likely to cause big spikes in arousal and the subsequent loss of control, leading to problems all over the place. As such, flirt poling should be introduced carefully with rules in place.
This is an old video with a baby-Decker but outlines the rules to keep the fun in flirt pole!
Introduce the flirt pole carefully, not just to establish the rules and appropriate behaviour, but also to prevent the dog becoming overwhelmed or scared. And if that’s the case, there are particular guidelines that should be followed to help the dog deal with something potentially scary:
Option 3 Chaser-toy
If you don’t have the tools or inclination to make a flirtpole, don’t worry, we’ve still got you covered!
Take your dog’s favourite soft toy and tie to a dog lead or cord (you can buy chaser toys too, like this one!). Make sure that there’s no metal parts of the lead in contact with the dog’s mouth or body when he chases or grabs the toy.
Present and play with the Chaser in exactly the same way you would a flirt pole.
Option 4 Food Chasing
Chasing must be functional for it to be beneficial, in that, there must be some pay-off to chasing; the dog shouldn’t be chasing and not actually catch something, eat something or have some social interaction.
That makes chasing games versatile and perfect for food and toys.
Food that rolls along the floor makes for a great chasing target! Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be kibble but works best if it’s a drier, harder food, especially if on hard flooring rather than carpet or grass.
Elastic Recalls games can be a great way of having a dog work for their meal, while improving responsiveness and engagement; more on Day 43
I play a couple of games with Decker: kibble chasing where I just fire kibble around the space and Goal Keeping, where I try to get the kibble through his legs, along the floor. Try out which ones your dog enjoys!
Kibble chasing, with care, can be nice for a pair of suitable dogs to play too:
Stalking & Chasing Dinner
You can go all in on this chasing challenge with the next one!
Tie some food on a string or cord and attach to the back of a remote controlled car – switch it on and let the fun begin!
You will need plenty of space for this one and probably food that is easily visible for your dog too. Because we want chasing behaviour to be functional, and to prevent the car being damaged or your dog being injured by it, always use food tied on a long cord so that they dog can easily catch it.
Raw feeders, with whom I have worked, have loved using this game to feed wings, legs, and bones. A good chew is an excellent way to wind down after a hunt!
Option 5 Chasing, at rest
Doesn’t sound like it makes a whole lot of sense, right?
We can provide dogs with some chasing jollies, even when they are lying down or even on rest or restricted exercise.
Pouncing and eye stalking
Play with your dog, on the floor. Have them lie down or sit and sit on the floor or on a low stool, opposite them.
Move a toy, ideally longer, softer and wiggly, from your left to your right, along the floor in darting movements.
Allow your dog to eye stalk it, following it intensely with their eyes. Suddenly stop the movement and allow them to pounce, paw or jump on it.
When they do, have a little game or allow them to chomp and chew it.
Teach your dog to roll or drop the ball in a stationary position. This is no different than teaching fetch, except your dog is lying down or sitting throughout.
Chasing at rest games offer fun chasing games when perhaps exertion is not possible or appropriate. They offer a ball-fix for the addict, without causing too much out of control exertion and arousal.
Option 6 Chasing Over Sized Balls
Just like with flirt poling, dogs can get super wound up when chasing these toys so the same care is required, with a very clear end-of-game cue established.
Check out Decker’s level of nuttiness when playing Boomer Ball, with a clear “take a break” and “finished” cue at the end.
Jolly Ball fun is a big favourite of Decker and he gets to play out some real predatory behaviour; watch him chase-bite-shake his “prey”:
Option 7 Keep away
Your dog might already play this game with you, whether you like it or not!
Play Keep-Away games using a particular signal, such as a phrase or action; I say “I’m gonna getcha” and make grabby hands.
And make sure to play only where you have established a solid release cue.
Don’t chase your dog if they get some ‘forbidden’ item! Instead move in the opposite direction and pretend to be very interested in some other activity or, for more urgent situations, create a diversion by, for example, tossing food rewards, pretending to get ready for a walk or to leave, or rustle packaging in the fridge. Continue all evasive action until the dog approaches to check out what you’re up to!
In this clip, I ask Decker which games he would like to play. A couple of times, he asks me to play the Keep-Away-Monster:
Incorporate two-way chasing – let the dog chase you, while they have the toy in their mouth, as well as you chasing him. In play, the dog should have the toy more than they don’t!
Chasing can be fun and provide a range of behavioural outlets for your pet, once we take care and manage inappropriate chasing behaviour and potentially damaging effects of chasing behaviour.
Dogs likely direct chasing behaviour inappropriately due to some arousal spike, and of course, reinforcement history.
Chasing in ‘play’
Dogs might have had a lot of practice chasing in ‘play’ with other dogs, especially during adolescence, and/or exposed to high-arousal environments, especially during this developmental period, in association with other dogs. This is largely why I am not at all a fan of daycares, dog parks, play groups or “social events”. This is not socialisation.
These dogs likely become ‘addicted’ to the highs of chasing and their behaviour may become increasingly difficult in anticipation of interacting with other dogs. Their chasing behaviour may involve effectively bullying other dogs, and their approach to dealing with arousal may impact other parts of their life and behaviour in general.
If high arousal play and social interactions are likely among dogs, especially where there are size or age differences, and especially when chasing features or has featured, we may have increased risk of a phenomenon known as ‘predatory drift’ occurring. When arousal is so high, it’s easy for some dogs to slip into more reactionary, ‘primitive’ behaviour resulting in predatory type behaviour being directed at non-prey items like other dogs or even children; triggers which may behave in a manner that triggers predatory behaviour (e.g. running around, squealing and so on).
Chasing may occur in appropriate contexts too, even though we find the behaviour undesirable which may include livestock chasing. At this time of year, lambing makes sheep more vulnerable, but pet dogs chasing sheep and other livestock is becoming a considerable problem for farmers. And, it will become a more serious problem for pet owners unless we can improve responsibility and accountability.
Sheep may become distressed at just the appearance of an unfamiliar dog close to them, so it won’t take much to cause these largely helpless animals to panic. Although some may be injured or killed by the dogs attacking them, many more die and become terribly distressed as they crush at gates and exits, over heating and suffering at death.
I am sure we can agree that this is not acceptable on any level, and unfortunately will continue to establish the poor tolerance of dogs in society, even further.
Any dog can and will chase livestock so all dogs must be confined securely and managed carefully where access to livestock is possible.
We must also look at wildlife chasing as possibly being inappropriate in a lot of cases, for many of the same reasons.
A dog, chasing wildlife such as squirrels or birds (or livestock), may develop a strong reinforcement history for this behaviour and even more so should they catch their quarry, catch and kill it or catch, kill and consume it. The more wildlife chasing the dog does, whether they are successful or not, the more difficult the behaviour becomes to manage.
Chasing & Fear
Lots of dogs will develop inappropriate chasing behaviours because chasing ‘makes’ the scary trigger go away. The dog, of course, doesn’t understand that the trigger is going on its way anyway, but as they practice this behaviour, it is reinforced and becomes more and more established.
This is regularly associated with dogs who lunge, vocalise and chase vehicles, cyclists or joggers.
This behaviour often crops up during adolescence so may be founded in higher arousal or poorer arousal control. These spikes in arousal may be associated with being out and about, in anticipation of some social interaction and fear or worry.
Tips for dealing with inappropriate chasing:
- prevent inappropriate chasing with suitable confinement or restraint
- exercise the dog in other areas to reduce triggering
- provide the dog with tons of appropriate outlets for chasing behaviour and normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour
- carefully play Rollercoaster Games and supervise dog-dog play closely, where relevant
- establish below threshold conditions – where can you hang out, where the dog is not intensely focused on them. The dog should be able to choose engagement with you, take food rewards and carry out simple behaviours. If they can’t, the subject dog needs more distance and less intensity.
- have short counterconditioning sessions at that safe working distance (example here)
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!