Why do Dogs Chase Cats & How to Stop it?
Q: I have a 2-year-old male Dachshund/Pug mix and in the last four months he has decided that my four cats are perfect for chasing. He has two other dogs to play with, gets plenty of exercise, and my dog still chases my cats. What am I missing? I know doxis have high prey drives, but why did my dog start chasing the cats in only the last four months? How can I stop my dog from chasing my cats/
A: It’s hard to say why you are suddenly seeing this chasing behavior when you never did before. I assume all the cats were residents before your dog got there? Be sure your dog’s exercise regimen is regular and very exhausting. Exercise can often solve a great many issues right off the bat!
As for the chasing episodes, he needs to be redirected as soon as the behavior starts and ideally as soon as he starts to get aroused, whines or makes any indication that the chase is about to begin. The faster you can cut him off and redirect his behavior, the more successful you will be long term. Teach yourself to watch for him staring. As soon as he keys into one of the cats and is staring in their direction, call his name or clap your hands. When he looks at you or turns around, praise and reward him. He needs to be taught that another behavior will be more successful for him at the same time he learns that you are not allowing him to practice the behavior you don’t like (chasing).
There is some inherent reward in the chase behavior, so the more your dog does it, the more well-versed he will become. This can become very serious, so being consistent in redirection and correction of this behavior before it starts over the next few weeks will really be important.
That said, I would also correct him if he gets fully into chase mode because you were not able to catch him in time to redirect him first. If he takes off chasing, you need to be right after him, using your voice as a correction tool. I want him to be immediately aware he has made a bad choice in chasing the kitty because Mom is very upset.
When you catch him, without emotion, put him into a room by himself or into his crate for a few minutes. You don’t need to hold a long grudge against him, but he needs to know that his chasing behavior has a serious consequence. Not only will you not allow it, he will have some time alone if and when he partakes.
If you have done any obedience work with him, use your recall (come, here, etc.) to work on calling him off. You may want to review his recall in contexts easier than cat-chasing at first so you can build a reinforcement history for coming when called. That way, you are likely to be more successful when he is otherwise distracted. This practice will help you outdoors as well with his daily recalls or off-leash behavior.
If you ever taught him a reliable “leave it” command, you can use that in this instance as well. Realistically, this takes lots of practice. He should be practicing lots of “leave its” in other contexts to help him understand what is expected of him so he has the best chance for success with the cat situation.
Always reward calm behavior in the presence of the cats. Any time they walk in and your dog is calm, reward like crazy with tasty tiny treats. This will help him make a nice, positive association with the presence of the cats. It will also help him learn to look to you when the cats are around rather than making his own choices about how best to deal with the cats!
I tend to be a little harsh with cat chasing as I have seen it turn into serious predatory behavior very fast — hence my suggestion for corrective measures in conjunction with the praise and reward for any good behavior that happens along the way!
Dogs Think! Dog Training
Q: I have a 1-year-old Lab mix who is constantly chasing my cats. They hide in their little room all the time because they’re scared of him. Occasionally he’s jumped on them and pinned them down. He’s fine with the ferrets. Is there any way to stop this?
A: You can certainly suppress this behavior and eliminate it from your dog’s repertoire. The key is not to allow the dog to practice the behavior.
Chasing is very self-reinforcing for dogs. Basically, it is innately reinforcing. When I work with dogs and cats, I put the dog on a very strict training program, making sure the dog can recall away from any distraction. The dog must also be crated to give the cats time to wander. Lastly, the dog should be wearing a drag line so you can stop him from chasing the cats.
Supervision is critical. You can begin by having the cat in a carrier and permit the dog to be close (not too close) to the cat. Call your dog off the carrier and reward him with something he never gets, but loves. He needs to understand that coming to you is worth his while. Also, if he retrieves, I reward with a retrieve — in other words, I am putting the dog in chase mode, but chasing after the correct object.
I hope this gives you a starting point.
Pia Silvani C.P.D.T.
St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center
Q: We have two adult cats (ages 13 and 4 — both adopted) and recently adopted an adult dog from our local shelter who seems to be about 2-3 years old. The dog just can’t seem to break that dog/cat stereotype and loves to chase the cats! We have the cats in our bedroom behind a gate but ultimately would love to have them all together. Can’t we all just get along?
A: It is not unusual for a dog to want to chase another moving animal, no matter what kind it is. A basic obedience class will be your best bet, or a couple of in-home sessions with a private trainer. Your dog needs to learn to sit and down or “emergency drop” on cue, as well as “leave it” (break eye contact with) for the safety and comfort of your cats.
During the learning period, he should probably wear a house lead, so you can ensure your cats’ safety and help increase compliance. Also, make sure to click and treat your dog when he’s in the room and a cat moves, but he doesn’t take chase. Always remember: Rewarded behavior increases in frequency. If it is more rewarding to watch than it is to chase, you should see watching increase and chasing decrease. This will probably happen over time to a certain degree as the cats’ novelty wears off.
Also remember that until you really know who this dog is, do not leave the three of them alone in the same space together. The dog’s arousal could go over the top to aggression and you don’t want to come home to a deadly scenario.
I am assuming that your dog is just chasing in a playful manner and not trying to grab, shake and kill. If the latter is the case, you have a very dangerous situation on your hands. You then definitely need to work with an experienced professional trainer or behaviorist, and even then you may have no other choice but to re-home the dog into a cat-free environment.
Jacque Schultz, MA CPDT-KA
ASPCA Community Initiatives
New York, NY