Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A dog’s instinct to chase can be used to your advantage.

We all learn, in one way or another, that dog's like to chase things.  They often enjoy chasing cars, squirrels, other dogs, tennis balls, people, and basically anything else that moves.  My first experience with a dog's chasing behavior happened when I was very young.

It might surprise you to know that I have not always loved dogs as much as I do now.  In fact, I was afraid of dogs when I was very little.  In theory I liked dogs and begged my parents to let me have a puppy of my own.  I collected pictures of puppies and kittens (and other baby animals) and even started a small savings account (my allowance in an envelope) entitled “money for a puppy”.  However, in practice I was petrified of those four-legged creatures and would dash to the safety of my house whenever an actual flesh and blood dog would wander within sight.  Our neighbors at the time had dogs that would often meander into our yard for a little exploration.  Every time I saw them, I would implore my parents to make the dogs go away.

When I was about five, my parents decided to adopt a dog of their own.  I was excited and bragged to all my friends at school about the arriving puppy.  My excitement was instantly dashed upon returning home from school the day the puppy came to live with us:  I was first unsettled by the small, brown, wiggly thing I saw in the window as I walked to the front door, and then I was immediately terrified when the brown, wiggly thing jumped on me as soon as I set foot in the house.  Though I remember trying to act brave around our new dog, Max, it was a while before I felt comfortable with him being close to me.  I have memories of standing on my chair during dinner screaming for my parents to get Max out of the room.
my childhood dog, Max

One sunny day my sister and I decided to sit outside on the front lawn to eat our lunch.  We had just settled in when somehow Max slipped past my mom and bolted out the front door towards us.  Being that I was scared of Max, my response was to get up and run for my life.  Of course Max then chased me.  I’m sure Max thought that we were playing, while I, on the other hand, was absolutely terrified.  I ran across the yard and up and down my dad’s blueberry bushes trying to outrun the small puppy.  My sister eventually caught Max and all was well—though she didn’t catch him before he had had a chance to stop and gulp down half her sandwich.  This was the first time I learned that dogs will chase after you when you run from them.  I also learned that dogs are opportunists when it comes to food availability, but that’s a lesson for another blog.

You’ll be happy to know that Max and I eventually developed a friendship and he became very dear to my heart.  I am very happy that I got to grow up with him in my life.

As an adult, I’ve tried to use my knowledge of a dog’s chasing instinct to my advantage.  Before I trusted Leopold off leash completely, I would entice him to stay near me by running away from him; he would dash after me in great fun.  I’ve used this technique many times when he’s off leash and has wandered what I consider to be too far away.  It works to varying degrees depending on what other interesting things (ie, dogs) are in the area, but it almost always ends up working.

Chris has also had success with this method.  He once came to the rescue at a party when a dog had stolen a woman’s shoe.  Everyone was chasing after the dog in the back yard trying to get close enough to get the shoe out of its mouth.  I’m sure the dog thought this was a great game.  Chris, with whom I had shared my dog behavior knowledge, approached the situation by waving his arms and running away.  The dog chased after him, and he was able to catch the dog and get the shoe.

I think the most grateful I’ve been of this dog behavior knowledge was just a couple months ago on the day I brought Halo home from the shelter.
  I hadn’t bought her a collar prior to going to the pick her up because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to bring her home with me (she still needed to meet Leopold), and I didn’t want to jinx the situation.  Fortunately, the dogs seemed to get along, so I bought one of the used, $1 collars they sell at the shelter as a temporary solution. 
This turned out to be a bad idea. As soon as Halo jumped out of the car, the collar snapped open, and she started running free all over the yard in excitement.  Halo didn’t know which house was hers, hadn’t yet bonded with her new people, and knew no commands; I had visions of her running away and being lost or running out into the street and being hit by a car before I could even get her in the house!  My very first instinct was to try and catch her, but I very quickly remembered that chasing a dog will only make it run away from its pursuer.  So I changed tactics and ran like a crazy person, waving my arms and whooping, towards the front door.  It worked; she chased after me to join in my fun game, and I was able to get her inside.  Crisis averted.

I know it seems counter-intuitive and is against all human instinct, but these experiences have proven to me that one of the best ways to catch a dog is to run away from it.

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