Startled Australian Cattle Dog Chases Bikes

6 | Posted:

QUESTION:

Hi Dr. Yin,
My female 18 mos old ACD is getting better and better about responding to my commands when off leash. The biggest problem is her chasing of bikes (and sometimes runners). I think they startle her and then move so fast that she goes immediately into prey mode. How can I learn to teach her to ignore them? or at least stop and wait for my command when something so exciting is happening.
thanks!
Gwyn
from Marin

ANSWER:

Gwyn, while many dogs chase bikes and runners (see article on Why Runners Steer Clear of Dogs), it's definitely no surprise to see an Australian Cattle Dog performing this chase-type behavior. They have a tendency to chase and nip the “heels” of things running by. They can do this in play or as a defensive startle or fear response. In any case, you're right that the behavior is not OK. The plan for fixing this behavior is two-pronged.

Start With the Dog On Leash at All Times

First, your dog should never be off leash in public until you can get fantastic attention on you and a fantastic 'come when called' when on a regular leash first and then when on a long 15-20 foot leash. Every time you call her or ask her to focus on you and she blows you off, she's learning that your words are unimportant. So you'll first have to work with her on leash so you can always get her attention and keep her from ignoring you until you can get good focus, no matter how distracting the situation. Then, you can work with her on a longer leash to simulate off-leash situations before you let her completely off-leash. I know it sounds like a drag, but it's the only way you can get her to be 100% reliable and avoid risk of liability. One nip at a jogger or dog-induced bike crash and your home owners insurance might be maxed out! Plus, if you work on it full-bore, you can have the problem solved pretty quickly.

Train Her That Playing With You Overrides Barking at Runners and Bikes

Part one is to first get her to focus on you (on leash) no matter how high the distractions. Generally, I teach owners to train their dogs that heeling in different directions and playing sit games is really fun – so fun that the dog gives their undivided attention, first, in quiet areas and then with distractions. You can also just have her perform tricks when these distractions go by. Again, first get her to perform them in rapid succession without distractions, then later with distractions. That means you have to be ready for bikes and get her focused on you before the bike or runner gets close. Once you're able to get her attention and keep it focused on you, then your 'come when called' will likely be more effective.

Watch Podees aggression to other dogs
Watch Jonesy heels for a toy
Go to www.AskDrYin.com and watch all the Say Please by Sitting Videos and Come When Called and Molly Movie and Zoe UPS

Add The Come When Called

The best way to get your dog to come when called is to send her on a chase. Put her on a leash in the house. Say, her name plus 'come' and run backwards 5-10 steps fast enough so she runs to catch up. Give her a treat as soon as she catches up, follow up with a few more treats for sitting so she learns to remain focused on you. Be sure to say her name and 'come' just one time right before you run backwards and then give the treat and praise or petting if she indicates with body language that she likes praise and petting.

Next, add some speed by repeating step 1 but turning around and running away from her rather than facing her and running backwards. Stop and face her before she gets to you so she knows what she's supposed to do. Give her the treat when she catches up. She should charge after you in a full run. When she reliably does this in the house with distractions, you can try her off leash in the house and then on leash outside. When she's good on a regular length lead you can go to the next step.

Now you can go to a leash that's 15 to 20 or more feet long. Let your dog walk around on the lengthy lead. Then, making sure it's not tangled, call her and run in the opposite direction at full speed. Your movement will hopefully incite her to chase you at a full run. Before she catches up, turn around to face her and lure her into a sit (if needed) in front of you and then give her treats and lots of praise so she's sure she made the right choice. Then as a second reward, let her wander. Literally practice this 20x per walk at the park.

When she comes immediately 100% of the times on long leash, add in distractions. Start with easy ones at first such as stationary objects. Then graduate to more engaging ones such as moving toys or other dogs on leash. In the case of doggie distractions, make sure the other dog can't run alongside or tackle your dog as she's trying to make her way to you. As usual, when she reaches you and sits, give her a treat and praise plus sometimes give her the opportunity to play with the other dog or go back and do what she was doing before. That way she learns that coming when called never means missing an opportunity for something better.

[Refer to Chapter 19 in How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves or Watch the MannersMinder DVD, and view YouTube video.

Putting it Together

So how do we know how to use this all? Once her attention and recall is 100%—meaning she comes running full throttle to you immediately when you call the first time—you can have her off leash. Call her before the biker or jogger gets too close. Call before she has a chance to react to them. Then once she's near you, reward her for focusing on you until the runner or bicyclist goes by. If you can set the situation up so that you will see many bicyclers and joggers and you're able to reward the good behavior and prevent her from barking and lunging at these people, you'll be able to change the behavior quickly.

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6 responses to “Startled Australian Cattle Dog Chases Bikes

  1. Thanks Andrew:
    Since my family and I have had cattledogs for 20 years (1 lived to 17, the other to 16 and the current one is just over a year) I have many videos that include cattledogs:-). and the dogs also make many cameo appearances in various scenes too. I’ll have more blog post about my dad’s young Australian Cattledog upcoming too. She’s very sweet.
    Sophia

  2. It’s very important to teach a dog to not chase things. I use to have a golden retriever that started chasing joggers and bikers through the neighborhood. He was only about a year old, but I simply had to train him. Taking time with your dog does wonders. All they need to know is that it is wrong. They will learn, just like we did growing up.

  3. Exceptional job! The feedback delivered was very helpful. I am hoping you maintain the excellent work performed.

  4. I suppose I’m a bit surprised that your recommendation didn’t include desensitization to the stimulus. Is there a particular reason why this was not recommended? Could you please respond with your thoughts and/or approach to desensitizing the dog to the bicycle or jogger?

  5. Andrew: The reason I didn’t talk about desensitization is that I don’t cover every single thing in every single article. For instance, I would generally recommend a client take their dog through the entire learn to earn program in order to gain more focus so that their dog will listen to them in the more distracting situation. But then this and all my other articles would be about 5000 works long. Ugh!

    I did show DS with the podee video though which there’s a link to within this article—e.g. first working without the distractions (dog, bike, etc) then adding the distractions. Plus in this case, it sounded like the owner would have no problems getting the dog’s attention but that it’s the sudden appearance of the bike (e.g. owner not ready) that is a major factor.

    If she was having problem’s getting her dog to focus on her with bikes, then I’d specifically set things up so that people are riding bikes and the owner can work at the distance where the dog will focus on her and just be happy. Goal is that the dog is learning alternate appropriate behaviors where it is also having fun. (operant counterconditioning paired with desensitization). She could also use pure classical counterconditioning and DS (give treats to change the emotional state first at a distance then moving closer) but I find that in real life where you can’t always control the distance of the stimulus that training alternate fun behaviors is faster.– with the goal of always working at a distance where owners can keep their dog’s attention.

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