For a lot of dogs, there does not seem to be anything more fun than chasing a kitty. They are fast and they are furry, what more could a dog want in a toy? In fact, if your cat did not run, most likely your dog would not find him as interesting, but since they’re instinct is to run from the dog, it becomes a great game to your dog and a nightmare for the cat.
Whether your dog is chasing your cat in the house, in the backyard, or strange kitties she sees on walks, it causes a host of problems: damage to your house, pulling and barking on leash, bolting out the front door or yard into the street, and getting lost if they follow the cat far. In some cases, the cat can get injured or killed if your dog is able to catch him. But how do you stop it?
First, you need to realize this is going to take a LOT of time. You are fighting against a dog’s instinct and a VERY high self-rewarding behavior. However, it is possible to train your dog to not chase the kitty and the sooner you start, the easier it will be for you and your dog.
What you really need to teach your dog is self-control: just because your instinct is telling you to chase that cat, does not mean you HAVE to. This can be very hard for “drivey” herding and hunting dogs, but again, not impossible.
There are a lot of different exercises and ways to teach self-control and the more you do, the better your dog will be. Start with these simple cues and exercises:
Leave it – leave something you want to go get (leave toys, food, socks, the TV remote and…the cat)
Stay with distractions – can your dog stay while you toss a cookie, squeak a toy, throw a ball, have a child run around (and eventually….the CAT!)
Go to your crate/bed – this behaviors teaches your dog to go do something (go to their crate, lie on their bed) instead of do what they want to do (jump on a person, steal your food, and eventually, chase the cat)
Stop – this behavior teaches your dog to freeze on the spot. Great for the dog that is bolting out the door toward the street chasing a neighbor’s kitty. Again, start with just stopping in the house with no distractions and build up to the cat.
Carolyn Wilki, a positive reinforcement herding instructor, explained to me that when a dog’s instinct is “switched on” or they are past their arousal zone (some trainers call it “over stimulated”), the thinking part of the brain switches off and it’s not that your dog is ignoring you, it’s that she cannot physically respond to the cue. A cat is the same as a sheep to a lot of dogs – it sends them over the moon and they just can’t respond to a cue.
So how do you fix that? By teaching spilt-attention focus Wilki explains. This teaches the dog to listen while near or at their arousal zone and by slowly decreasing that zone (i.e., how close they can be a to a cat without losing control). Once you have taught your dog the above cues, you will slowly increase the level of distractions as long as they are successful responding to you. If your dog stops responding, they are past their arousal zone and are not ready for that level yet. Make it easier for your dog by adding distance, blocking their view, or going back a level.
To make it easier to understand, here is a sample of how your training might go using the leave it cue:
- Dog learns to leave treats in my closed hand.
- Dog learns to leave treats in my open hand.
- Dog learns to leave treats on the floor.
- Dog learns to leave socks, shoes, things he is not super interested in.
- Dog learns to leave human food on table, then on floor
- Dog learns to leave grass, leaves, etc. while on a walk
- Dog learns to leave slow moving adults
- Dog learns to leave fast moving (running, jumping, etc.) adults
- Dog learns to leave slow moving children
- Dog learns to leave fast moving children
- Dog learns to leave sleeping kitty
- Dog learns to leave slow moving kitty
- Dog learns to leave fast moving kitty from a distance
- Dog learns to leave fast moving kitty that is nearby
You only move onto the next step after many successful repetitions of the previous step. Remember, add distance and block view to make it easier for your dog.
- To prevent mistakes that are self-rewarding (i.e. grabbing the item he was supposed to leave or getting to chase the person or cat), put your dog on a leash or a long line until you are 100% positive your dog is going to listen to you.
- Put up a barrier so your dog can see the cat but cannot get to him. Work on your dog responding to cues while the cat is around, but not accessible. This will make it easier for your dog in the beginning.
- Make sure you have high value treats. Do not ask your dog to leave a cat for the first time and reward him with his kibble. It won’t be enough.
- While training, manage your dog so he is not practicing the self-rewarding behavior of chasing the cat. It might mean separating them in the house, checking your backyard for neighbor cats before letting your dog out, and/or not taking your dog outside off leash.
About the Author
Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs.