Why Dogs Chase Cars (and How to Stop Them)

Everyone's heard that age-old stereotype of cats chasing mice. There's an equally old stereotype of dogs chasing passing cars. Unfortunately, for many dogs, it's more than just a stereotype. It can be a dangerous habit and for your dog's safety as well as the safety of the cars that pass through your neighborhood, you may want to know how to stop your dog from chasing cars as well as any other moving objects.

Little white dog on a road
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Why dogs chase passing cars

Some dog breeds are hard-wired to run and chase, such as border collies. Thinking about how dogs became domesticated over thousands of years, it makes sense, because dogs were bred for their appearance and friendliness as well as the different jobs that humans wanted them to do. The American Kennel Club explains that some breeds have a strong herding instinct, and a strong prey drive, which means they may have a hard time not chasing anything that moves. They may chase cars, people on bicycles, people walking a baby stroller, squirrels, or even vacuum cleaners.

If your dog is one who really wants to chase, you can use training to get them to stop. But first things first, if you know your dog is a chaser, make sure they stay in an area where they can be off-leash and safe, and can't escape until you are able to work on correcting the problem.

A veterinarian who joined the Car Talk radio show offered an interesting explanation for a reason that being able bark and chase moving objects may actually reinforce the behavior. Dr. Sip said that when dogs are in a fenced yard and they can see a car or bicyclist through the fence, they may naturally want to bark. Because the object is in motion, it moves away from the dog while they are barking and chasing, so the dog may get the impression that this behavior "worked," or actually caused the object to move away. They may be more likely to bark next time they see a similar moving object.

Cute Agile Chihuahua Running On Sunny Road
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Redirect your dog

Teaching your dog basic commands like "stop" and "stay" are crucial for any dog, but especially one that you know has a desire to roam. The AKC recommends walking your dog where there is less car traffic. If your dog is a real escape artist and wants to chase so much that they pull out of their leash, invest in the right gear that will allow you to firmly control them.

When you are out walking and you hear a car, immediately get your dog's attention through a desirable treat or a favorite toy. Reduce the space between the dog and whatever he wants to chase, if possible. Be generous with the praise, treats, and attention so that your dog is paying as little attention to the passing object as possible.

The AKC says that with enough positive reinforcements such as this, your dog may choose the reward rather than the chasing and may actually start to check in with you in anticipation rather than chasing whatever is passing by. To reinforce this good behavior at home, consider building a fence or modifying the fence you currently have so that your dog can not see through it.

small brown dog running on road
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Train an alternate behavior

To get your dog to stop chasing cars, the Dog Training Basics website suggests doing some in-depth observations of how your dog responds to cars or other moving objects and doing the training based on that. For instance, at what distance does your dog react to the moving object? If he starts to respond when the object is 5 feet away, start working with him when the object is 10 feet away, for instance. Start working on positive reinforcements when the object is at a distance that he doesn't react, so he can learn to focus better.

They suggest training your dog to respond to you making a smacking sound with your mouth. That way, you can make the smacking sound while you are walking and get hi to focus on you rather than whatever is around you. Practice in low-distraction areas first.

Reduce pulling behaviors

One of the hardest parts of walking a dog that is hard to control is the constant pulling. Most dogs are strong, even though they may be small, and they can either pull away from you or simply make walking with them not enjoyable. One of the best ways to get a dog's general behavior under control is to focus on basic commands such as not pulling. If you can get them to respond to you when they're on leash, they may lose interest in whatever they want to chase.

Dog Training Basics says to stop walking whenever your dog pulls and tightens up her leash. Every little inch your dog gains by pulling makes her want to pull even more. It may make walking take longer. at first, but imagine how fun it will be when your dog really learns her manners and doesn't pull or chase anything that moves!