'Dogs That Chase Livestock'
from a dog trainer specialising in teaching dogs not to chase livestock
Members of the public who contact me about their pet dogs chasing livestock are generally responsible caring owners, who are very deeply upset and very concerned that it may happen again, but they simply don’t know what to do to stop it happening again!
To the dog, chasing is perfectly normal enjoyable natural behaviour. To the owner his dog chasing sheep means trauma and despair and the possibility his dog may be shot.
To the farmer dogs chasing livestock means financial loss and emotional trauma, not to mention the possibility of having to deal with maggot, abortion, external wounds, internal damage, stress induced illness, and the expensive disposal of carcases.
During the chase, dogs with a high chase drive experience a rush of pleasure on the same level as that derived in the human population from the drug ecstasy. Chasers become more enthusiastic, more addicted, and more proficient every time they chase.
Chasing is self rewarding behaviour.
The most vulnerable livestock are sheep grazing on the fringes of urban areas, and amenity land used extensively by the public.
To the irresponsible or negligent owner their dog chasing sheep will lead to a hasty retreat from the field hoping that no one witnessed the incident, only responsible owners confess and contact the farmer, so he can tend his animals, and then go on to contact me to remedy the problem of the dog.
In my twenty years experience, I have met very few dogs that are predatory chasers, the word predatory is defined as killing another species in order to eat it. The majority of dogs actually do just want to race, play, catch, sniff at, or corner, but not kill to eat! From the dogs viewpoint all those flying sheep tails, the intoxicating smell of sheep, the rushing feet the sounds of panic, all very exciting. Owners wail. “If the sheep had just stood still for a minute I could have got Rover back!” This is true, fast movement elicits chase behaviour, and during the chase untrained dogs go deaf. Dogs often lose interest once the sheep is standing still.
Unfortunately livestock still suffer badly play or no play. Most owners have no idea of the damage dogs can cause , without even touching the livestock, this is understandable few people have close contact with farm animals nowdays .
My methods of preventing controlling or stopping chase behaviour overlap each other but are based on the following:
- Establishing the correct relationship with the dog, dog as compliant friend. attentive to owner, obedient to owner
- Training the dog in the presence of the chased animal and seeing the chased animal close up
- Achieving a reliable "Leave" command , leave the biscuits on the coffee table, the roast chicken that was dropped on the floor, eventually the running sheep!
- Linking the word "leave" to the word "here" in the presence of the animal that is normally chased, until the very sight of that animal becomes the cue to return to the owner .
- Ignoring all kinds of temptations and distractions and return to the owner when called.
- Off lead distance control, that is obedience at a distance from the owner.
- Training the dog to chase an alternative target which can be anything from duck herding to frisbee chasing. Give the dog another exciting outlet for chase behaviour.
- Building up control under safe conditions using lots of fast moving targets including fast moving sheep!
- Multiple interruptions of the sequence of eye stalk chase and kill in dogs with a very high chase drive.
- Training Games, retrieve and fast moving targets.
- A reliable chase recall static recall and other advanced recall exercises. Over many years I have developed over twenty exercises that are recipes for non-chasing success, many evolve around a principle of chase this and not that with some retrieve thrown in and lots of developing on and off switches!
Please see my photographs illustrating some of the things we do on my courses
SUE HARPER FETC. MIACE. KCAI. member (pending)
This article was submitted to National Farmers Union Countrywide magazine 2011