By Dr. Sophia Yin
Readers will frequently ask me questions like, “My dog chases my cat, what do I do?” or, “My dog goes after my chickens so he can’t be outside. How do I stop it?” I’m always surprised at the timing of these questions because they tend to occur right after I’ve explained in detail how to train your dog to be calm and relaxed around other dogs instead of barking, lunging at, or attacking them. Why am I so surprised? Although the problems and their answers may seem unique, they are actually just the same problem in disguise. If your dog wants to bark and lunge at or chase something, you train the dog to perform alternate replacement behaviors that he enjoys. It doesn’t matter if he wants to chase a bike or a cat, or a skateboard, bird or dog. As long as the alternate, more appropriate behaviors you choose are fun, you’ll be on the right track. On the other hand, if the replacement behavior is boring, or you use force to train it, like using pinch collar corrections to get him to sit or focus on you, you may actually make the behavior worse. A physical correction may cause the animal to become more reactive or if he’s reactive due to fear, the corrections may cause him to feel more fearful.
Jonesy’s First Chicken Encounter:
Hmm. Wondering how this replacement behavior training will work? Here’s an example with my own dog, Jonesy, and my new chickens. This is Jonesy’s first day with the chickens and you can see he’s really interested in them… Or perhaps he’s interested in tasting them.
In this video, I work on having Jonesy stay focused on me while perform exercises he knows well. We’re doing repeat sits backwards at a quick pace so he doesn’t have much time to look. As he improves, I switch to repeat sits with him on my side with me going forward. We just have a short session and I work at the distance where I can keep him focused on me. If needed, I can move farther away. Note that my quick movements, the quick shift between one behavior and the next (not time in between for his mind to wander), and the quick delivery of treats are all essential to performing these exercises at such close range. If your technique is not as good, you’ll have to work at a greater distance. The Gentle Leader head halter also makes the training much easier. I can move a little slower because it helps me guide his attention compared to if he was just attached to leash by flat collar or harness.
Jonesy and Chickens Several Days Later
Here is Jonesy in an encounter with chickens several days later. In between, I have just kept him farther away from the chickens because I’ve been too busy to practice much. But I’ve worked with him more casually at a distance where I don’t have to be top energetic and quick with my movements.
Jonesy After A Week: One main training session and a few more informal sessions.
Here he is now with them in the yard. He can be outside with them even unsupervised; however that doesn’t mean I’d leave a dog bred for killing little prey items out with such tasty looking creatures. When we aren’t home, the chickens live safely in their expensive chicken run and coop.
Is it Really That Simple? What Has to Happen First?
Overall, it was for me because Jonesy is used to this type of routine, and he knows that he has to try to control his impulses to get what he wants. It will take a little more work for most of you. If you go home and just try to mimic what you saw it may not work quite the same any more than you could mimic the golf swing you watched by a pro. Here’s what has to happen first.
Some people may just be able to make sure their dog is hungry and then move quickly and easily be able to keep their dog’s attention. Others will actually have to break the exercises down into pieces (shown in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right) to get an idea of how to move in a way to keep the dog focused.
But even with this, the food often won’t be powerful enough and the owner’s technique won’t be fast and clear enough to achieve good focus. So the dog will first have to go through my version of the Learn to Earn Program for Teaching Leadership Skills in Humans and Impulse Control in Dogs. In this program, Fido learns not only that he should focus on his owners for rewards, but that other behaviors, such as pulling on leash, rushing past the owner, whining, barking, trying to dart by, don’t work. With the Learn to Earn Program, the dog learns impulse control and to look to you for permission and guidance. The human learns how to be consistent and give clear signals and the dog learns the owner can now communicate clearly and is fun.
Then, once you have the basic skills and the dog is regularly automatically sitting and looking to your for guidance when he wants things—such as to get his leash on, go through the door, to be petted, etc, then you can work on keeping him focused on you with high distractions, such as chickens, rats, or squirrels!
For more info on the Learn to Earn Program, go to
For help with training your reactive dog, pick up