Recall Training

Can I Stop My Dog Chasing Horses?

Dear Pippa,

I have a border collie called Gizmo and she is perfect in so many ways. In the house she is extremely well behaved and she walks very well to heel on walks.

I also have a horse and spend the majority of my evenings and weekends at the yard. When I take Gizmo to the field where I keep my horse, she can't be trusted. She runs riot in the field, chasing not only my horse but all the others. I know she would never harm them but she really scares them all. I want to take her with me as it provides her with a lot of exercise and is where I spend my evenings. Is there anything I can do to stop this behaviour? The other horse owners are being very patient but I think their understanding is waning!

Many thanks,

Sue.

Dear Sue,

Chase behaviour is part of the inherited predatory hunting sequence. The sequence is genetically "hard wired" and prepares wild canines to catch prey for survival. Dogs with a high inherited drive not only derive great pleasure from chasing, they are driven to perform it. Chase boosts their feelings as they receive a "high" when the endorphins surge around their body, just the same as we get from fast exercise. The main reason you are unable to call Gizmo back is because during the chase she closes down all other senses to concentrate upon the target, she simply doesn't hear you!

Border collie's as a breed have a high chase drive. When we train our dogs we offer an external reinforcer, such as a treat or praise. It is incredibly hard to externally reinforce behaviour when the internal motivation is so great. A dog will not stop chasing to return for a treat when a treat is not as valuable to the enjoyment she is feeling!

Dogs are motivated to chase for different reasons, namely predatory behaviour, territorial behaviour, fear or social interactions. Predatory Chase behaviour will usually be targeted towards moving targets such as cars, joggers, birds, bicycles, ankles and horses in Gizmo's case. Dogs will often exhibit stalking, nipping or yapping during the chase.

The problem occurs because you have no control over the behaviour. You need to go back to basics and start to retrain the recall without any distractions; just shouting after Gizmo when she is chasing the horses will never bring her back!

Take Gizmo to a field (without livestock!) and practise the recall between two people, have her running between you answering to a command such as 'come' or 'here'. If she doesn't 'come' drop to the floor as that will usually encourage her back. Start to walk round the field together and allow her to investigate. Collies are noise sensitive so as she is running away, call her back and use a squeaky toy to generate more noise. Even run in the other direction so she turns to chase you. Give her lots of praise as she returns on the recall.

You must be consistent and keep practising this. As she gets better you need to add distractions. Set the training area so there is another person in the field with a dog. Walk near them and then encourage her back using the same technique. Take out 'high value' rewards with you such as small pieces of meat or cheese. Never give her your training squeaky toy, keep it novel so her drive to get back to you remains high. Build up these distractions with people running in the field and ask them to make lots of noise. When you feel you have her on the recall take her back to your yard and practise. Everyone should be really impressed!

For further information, if a dog is aggressive towards horses, there are collars that you can buy that emit spray directed in front of their noses. These should only be used under the guidance of a behaviour counsellor and in situations where the dog is so aggressive their actions would mean that they would have to be put down.

How Do I Stop My Dog Running Off?

Dear Pippa,

I have a young terrier and am having problems with both calling him back to me and he appears to cower when there are other dogs around him. Why is this happening and what can I do? Do you have any advice?

Regards, Melanie

Dear Melanie,

Thank you for your email. You seem to be describing two separate problems with your terrier, which I will deal with separately. Dogs have been domesticated for approximately 20 000 years and whilst they have adapted extremely well to living in our homes they retain many behaviour traits which we might find unpleasing or anti-social. This will be natural behaviour to them and whilst we may be able to modify them we can never completely eradicate them. A Terrier's natural behaviour is to chase game, rabbits or rats and if your dog is in a chase situation you may find, exasperatingly, that no amount of calling him back will work.

For a situation like this I would work with you to encourage your dog to listen to you through the basic commands of sit, stay, down and so on. We would then progress to recall work in a secure field, happy in the knowledge that he could not run off. As your dog discovers that he receives great praise for returning, this will become his learned response when you call his name. With a terrier, you will always have to be one step ahead! If he were to see a prey animal he will be motivated by their movement and instinctively want to chase. However, you can be successful by calling him back at the point before he starts a chase.

Cowering in the company of other dogs in not unusual. He is a young dog and may just be letting other older dogs know that he is being submissive towards them. He needs to experience all types of different dogs over time to build his confidence. Avoid picking him up when other dogs are around.

I hope this helps, if you would like speak to me in person please call me on 01303 269172.

Best of luck!