Why Do Dogs Chase Things?

When you're walking your dog and she sees a squirrel, bird, or other small creature, she immediately starts chasing it. Or perhaps she likes to chase cars, bike riders, and runners.

Dog chasing and catching toy ball jumping on green grass
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The fact is, dogs naturally have chasing instincts. When they see something moving —whether it's an animal, object, or person—they are tempted to go after it. While it can be cute, sometimes it's downright dangerous for you and your pup.

Learning why your dog likes to chase things and determining what her triggers are is going to help you when it comes to training. With a little bit of patience and consistent training, you can begin teaching your dog what she can chase and what she cannot.

Here are a few reasons why your dog might be chasing things.

She has a strong prey drive

Dogs have been domesticated for some time now, but they still have those natural urges to search for, stalk, and chase prey. Some breeds are likelier than others to chase and have what's called a strong prey drive, often because their breed was bred to chase prey to help humans hunt. They include Airedale Terriers, greyhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, English Springer Spaniels, bull terriers, and Siberian Huskies.

It may be fine if your dog chases after a mouse in your yard due to prey drive, but what if she goes after a fox, or another dangerous animal with rabies? Or, what if her prey drive convinces her to chase a car? You could wind up at the vet with a very expensive bill because of your dog's instincts. Though you can't rid of these instincts, you can use training to combat them and teach her not to go after unsafe objects.

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She's bored or stressed out

If your dog chases her tail, she may be stressed out about something or bored and looking for things to do. If it is stress-related, then she'll probably also chew her tail, so you should look for signs of hair loss. She may get anxious when you leave her alone, when she's around other dogs or certain people, or when something in her environment has changed. If she is simply bored, then she just needs some stimulation to keep from chasing her tail.

She's engaging in compulsive behavior

It's possible that your dog is exhibiting obsessive-compulsive behavior. A classic case of this would be if your dog were chasing her own shadow. Dogs can sometimes become obsessive-compulsive when they are anxious. If your dog came from an abusive home, that could also cause her to be stressed out. Chasing a shadow is not a healthy behavior, and it could result in a lack of sleep for you and your pup.

She's territorial

Perhaps you've noticed that your dog chases people when they come to your house. If your dog is not familiar with someone who drops by, then she may try to chase them out of her territory and do things like bark at them and nibble at their shoes. When they run away, it shows her that the chasing is working, and she will continue to do it. This can be dangerous if she's doing it to little children or she accidentally bites someone, so this behavior must be curbed immediately. Contact a trainer to help you train your dog out of this behavior.

She needs to release energy

It is absolutely thrilling for dogs to chase after something, especially when they catch it. Your dog may be chasing things because she has a lot of pent up energy that she needs to get out of her system. Chasing leads to an adrenalin rush that feels good, so she is likely to continue with the behavior.

How to train your dog not to chase

Dog owners need to train their pups not to chase certain things because it can end up being unsafe. Though you can't go about teaching your dog how to rid of her prey drive, you can institute some rules and help her cut back on this bad behavior.

Two Spaniels running in field
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For example, you can play fetch with your dog and use positive reinforcement to show her that it's perfectly fine to chase a ball or a toy. When your dog brings a toy back to you, tell her "Good dog!" and/or reward her with a treat and more play time. You'll also want to use positive reinforcement to show that it's fine to chase after things in the confines of your yard, as opposed to on walks or at the dog park.

When going out for walks, use a training leash so that you can have better control over your dog, should she try to chase after an object. Make sure she gets plenty of exercise per day, especially if she is a hyper or very active dog.

If you believe your dog is stressed out or worried, then you'll need to comfort her to show her that she doesn't have to be anxious. This could mean cuddling her, giving her her favorite toy, having a dog walker stop by to walk and play with her when you're not home, giving her a crate of her own, and talking to her in a soothing tone.

As a last resort, you can always hire a dog trainer to help you. Generally, feeding your dog a healthy diet, ensuring she gets her exercise daily, and using positive reinforcement should do the trick, however. If you think the chasing is related to medical issues, make sure you reach out to a veterinarian for help.

With a little trial and error, you can figure out why she is chasing and feel secure knowing that your pup is safe and sound.