Stop Chasing That Dog!

This past weekend, I stopped by an office supply store that sits in the middle of an outdoor mall. Arms laden with printer paper and packing tape, I walked across the huge parking lot back to my car. I had just turned the key in the ignition when I spied an Australian shepherd walking on a nearby grassy median, heading toward the main road that runs along the storefronts. Just as I started to turn off the engine, a woman appeared a short distance behind the dog. She had a large adolescent-looking Chow mix on leash, and there was a white terrier mix walking along with her, also off-leash. Thinking uncharitable thoughts about people who allow their dogs off-leash in crowded shopping malls, I started the engine and began to drive away. I had just reached the main road when the car in front of me slammed on his brakes. The Aussie had reached the road and come within inches of being hit by the car. I immediately shut off the car and leaped out. (If you ever want to steal my purse, just put a stray dog in the road.)

The woman went chasing after the dog, and the dog ran from her. I ran to a spot a short distance ahead of them on the sidewalk, crouched down, turned my body slightly to the side, and began to pat my thigh and call the dogs to me in a happy, high-pitched tone. The little white dog reached me first, and I petted her while gently restraining her by the collar. By this time the woman was approaching, and I was able to get the Aussie close enough that she could get her hands on him. As she leashed him I continued to hold the terrier by the collar, petting and happy-talking her so she wouldn’t panic at being restrained. The woman soon got the leash attached to the terrier’s collar as well, and thanked me for the help. I don’t remember exactly what she said, and she had a very heavy accent that was difficult to understand, but I understood that she had somehow lost control of the leashes and the dogs had gotten loose. I was just relieved to see them all safe.

Last week, I was at the park doing my usual dog walking duties when I spied a stray dog way off in the distance, but still within the confines of the park. Just as my mind went into that tactical mode where thoughts like “How will I get the dog into my vehicle?” and “What if I put one dog in the front with me and leave the other behind the gate?” started whirring through my brain, a park worker saw the dog and began to chase it. I was way too far off for him to hear me shout, but if I could have, I would have told him to stop chasing that dog!

It’s understandable that when a dog is in danger, especially if it’s your dog, you want to rush over, grab him, and get him to safety. But chasing a dog who is running away, or who is happily romping just out of reach, can be the worst course of action. If it’s your own dog, it can be great fun—for him, that is. He runs, you chase. Woohoo! Party! In the case of a stray dog who is afraid, being chased can just be plain scary for the dog, but the result is the same; the dog runs away. It may feel counterintuitive at the time, but if you can remember not to chase the dog, you’ll have a much better chance of catching him. Catching strays is a whole other blog, so I’ll stick here with solutions for when it’s your own dog who’s gotten off leash: Try running the other way, away from your dog, and shouting happily in a high-pitched voice. “Come on, Buddy! Chase me, let’s go!” If you’ve ever played the Chase-Me game at home, your dog might already be conditioned to drop everything and run after you. But even if you’ve never done it before, the movement and high-pitched sounds will encourage your dog to run toward you. If that doesn’t work and you’re near home, you can always try getting into your vehicle and pulling up ahead of your dog, then opening the door and saying, “Want to go for a ride?”

You can also pretend to find something really fascinating on the ground or on the grass. Crouch down, pretend to pick something up and examine it, while saying, “Wow, what’s this? Ooh, this looks reaaally interesting!” Since dogs don’t speak English, this one’s all about your intonation, but many dogs will come over to see what treasure you’ve discovered.

As a last resort, you can try something I heard from trainer John Rogerson many years ago: pretend to fall down and be hurt. It takes a bit of acting skill, but the idea is that you’ve tripped and gone down in a heap, and you’re whining like a hurt puppy. Many dogs, realizing the fun is over, will drop the game and rush over to see if you’re okay. This is particularly effective if you have a strong bond with your dog. Just be sure to grab him gently when he comes over, and not to scold him.

These are all effective ways to get your dog back once he’s run off. But better yet, check the fit on his collar periodically and train a rock-solid recall so that all of the foregoing will be completely unnecessary.

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8 Responses to Stop Chasing That Dog!

  1. Kirsten Carlson says:

    Growing up we had a shih tzu that would escape out the front door as we were all leaving for school or work. He would do zoomies on the front lawn taunting us to catch him. We, of course, would chase him and get more and more frustrated. It was a fun game of chase for him. This would go on for a while. I don’t remember how we actually caught him but we were none too happy when we did. Years later I have come to understand that the best way to get my dogs to come is to walk in the other direction. “See ya” has become their recall. This is only because we have a strong bond. When people ask me if I’m ever worried that they will run away. My response is “why would they?” Everything good comes from me.

  2. Donna says:

    When I was12, I was dog sitting a friend’s dog. She got away from me and wouldn’t come. After chasing, cajolling, trying treats etc, I finally fell to the ground and started crying. The dog ran over to me to see what was wrong. I have used it (the falling down and making hurt or sounds) successfully several times in the intervening years and for dogs that were not my own. So, this works even if you don’t have a strong bond with a dog.

  3. Jen says:

    One of my coworkers had a dog get loose a couple of months go, and the dog was hit by a car (only grazed, and is thankfully okay) when a crowd of people, I’m sure with best intentions in mind, tried to chase her down. I’m not sure why “I’ll outrun that dog!” enters peoples’ minds.

    I will not claim to have a recall champ, but Elka pulled the leash out of my hand on our front lawn once (well, she walked away and the leash fell out of my fingers. I’m not sure why my hand stopped working…). I thought “Oh God”, since we live on a street people sometimes speed down, and I called her name in my surprised, happy-to-see-you voice, and when she turned around I crouched and clapped and spread my arms, and she ran to me. It seemed that she was thinking “Why are you over there?”

  4. Joe Krenn says:

    Very good blog. I have made most of these observations a while back. Especially about running away from your dog when he gets loose. In many experiences, I have observed that the dog will freeze (at a distance from you) make eye contact, and it is at that exact moment I will begin to run the other way with happy sounding high pitched sounds. Every single time the dog will chase after me. Even if it’s just to get a dog away from a busy street. A few months ago my neighbors dog got loose. The owner chased it up to a busy road. Good thing no cars were driving nearby at the time cuz when I got up to help, the dog was standing in the middle of the road. Every time the owner called for her dog and approached her, the dog would run away further.
    So as the dog was standing in the middle of this road. It froze and made eye contact with me (time to play chase!) That’s when I began to run the other way, and very easily, I was able to get the dog to follow me back to its own yard where the dog was lured with a piece of food (from my mother) back to its owners arms.
    My mothers dog has also gotten away a couple times and both times we were able to apprehend him by luring him into the truck (to go for a ride).
    I think you always got to look at it from a dogs perspective, and in most cases where the dog gets loose, it just wants to play chase.

  5. wildewmn says:

    Thanks, all for your comments. It’s nice to hear that so many of you already use the running-away tactic when a dog gets loose, and I love that so many on FB are spreading the word. Good to hear too that the falling down ploy has worked, Donna!

  6. Matthew says:

    a good 50% of my dog’s recall is the chase me game. him chasing me. in fact a large part of getting him to come back to me reliably has involved making recall more a fun and rewarding game than a “obedience skill/command” at predicts end of fun.

  7. […] blog post, “Stop Chasing That Dog!” has some great tips for what you should do if your dog gets off leash or if you come across someone […]

  8. paulcottman says:

    Nice post. Dog lovers do this all the time and prevention really is the key here. When they do get away, if all else fails, i’ve also had success with waving my arms to get their attention and then dropping on the ground and kicking my arms and legs like a cockroach while squealing irregularly ( kinda like a cock roach pig blend…we’ll call it a “roach pig” :). Again, if you have a chance, feel free to check out my blog at:

    http://www.k-9balance.com/balance-blog-2/

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