Why Do Dogs Chase Cars?
There is doubt left when watching an old Looney Tunes cartoon with Chester and Spike as to why do dogs chase cars; Chester just thinks it’s fun. But, if you have ever had to deal with stopping a dog from chasing cars, you know that there is much more to the equation than being the fun police; stopping this habit is vital to everyone’s safety.
As a dog mom of a pup who doesn’t just want to chase cars, but also wants to jump into them, there is an urgency to find a solution to prevent injuries and possible death. There are a few factors that contribute to why dogs will chase cars and what might happen if they catch one. You already know that dog training is designed to not just make life more fun with your pup, but is also there to keep him safe. Breaking this bad but often instinctual habit of chasing cars is worth the effort.
Why Do Dogs Chase Cars
Dogs like to chase things: other dogs, frisbees, tennis balls, and even their tails. Chasing things is a natural behavior in dogs, but one that needs to be curbed if it results in sprinting down a busy highway. Stopping car chasing is important to keep your pet and other people safe. Understand that dog car chasing starts with natural prey instincts coupled with a lack of impulse control. Some breeds are more likely than others to run down the street to see if they can play tag with the car.
The Hunter Chasing Cars
Dogs have what is called a prey drive. This refers to their innate desire to run after rabbits or stalk a squirrel up in a tree. It is a survival instinct honed as puppies playing tag with each other. This instinct easily expands to chasing cars because the car is moving, it’s fast, and going away from them. It’s a trigger that sends many dogs sprinting for what could be miles along a farm road.
Keep in mind that farm roads are much less dangerous than city streets where there are many more cars. Drivers on busy streets probably aren’t able to see a dog or don’t expect an erratic direction change from a pooch. Hence, the danger.
Impulse Control Issues
Dogs that are chronic car chasers haven’t learned impulse control. Without proper impulse control, you will never have a true handle on your dog chasing cars or other undesired behaviors. Something like eating a chicken bone found on a walk is another example of an impulse control scenario that every dog must learn in order to safely navigate his human world. Chasing cars is no different.
The lack of impulse control simply means that your dog hasn’t learned that following his natural instincts isn’t in his best interest. He doesn’t know that chasing cars is bad for him until he might actually find himself under the tires of one. What needs to happen is a shift from what feels good to him, laying chase, to something else that also feels good and replaces that impulse.
Breeds Likely to Chase Cars
Some dog breeds are much more likely to chase cars than others. Herding breeds are known to chase and corral anything and everything. Other hunting dogs have a very strong prey drive. This means your two border collies might get bored playing tag and decide to bolt out of the house when your spouse leaves for work. Similarly, your terrier puppy might get bored with the squirrel and decided to run down the street after the school bus.
Any dog may develop a love for chasing cars although the hunting and herding breeds tend to be the most common culprits.
Dangers of Dogs Chasing Cars
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when your dog develops the habit of chasing cars. It might be cute the first or second time, but there are serious dangers to your dog, you, and bystanders when a dog chases a car.
Imagine walking your dog on a leash in your neighborhood. A car goes by that has another dog in it, barking at him. His instinct kicks in as the car continues down the street, and he starts a sprint towards the car. The problem is that you are on the other end of the leash, potentially being drug into the street into oncoming traffic.
Maybe neither you nor your dog gets hit, but an oncoming vehicle ends up swerving and creates an accident in the process. This is why curbing this instinct is important for community safety.
Catching a Car
Like most dog owners who have dealt with car chasing habits, you might wonder what happens when the dog actually catches up to the car. Is this simply a game of tag or does your dog intend to nip at the heels of the car (otherwise known as tires)? A number of problems arise from catching the car.
Here are a few potential issues to consider:
- Dog Gets Tripped Up: Biting the tires could lead to your dog losing balance and tripping, potentially ending up under the car and getting run over.
- Dog Jumps Into an Open Vehicle: Mailman trucks where a door is open can lead to an uninvited aggressive dog causing harm to the driver or passengers.
- Dog Creates an Accident: The car he is chasing or another car in his path tries to avoid contact with your dog leading to a collision with another car or object like a street sign.
Stopping the Car Chasing Impulse
Professional dog trainers and animal behaviorists agree that training helps stop dogs from chasing cars in the same way as dog owners use training to stop unwanted moments when your dog barks at visitors. Training first requires conditioning owners to be consistent with commands, rewards, and processes. Dogs do well with routines and positive reinforcement, so start there.
Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
Before you can really address chasing cars, you’ll need to make sure your dog understands and obeys certain basic commands. Clicker training, leash walks with positive reinforcement, and treats are all ways to give your dog the right environment to learn commands. Start training at home or in another controlled environment such as a professional dog training group. Eventually, work distractions into the mix as your pet is successful with impulse control.
Follow these tips to train your dog and stop him from chasing cars:
- Basic Commands at Home: Start with basic commands at home or in dog training classes. Learning to sit and stay becomes the foundation of keeping him from running away. Then let him master the come and wait commands as well. Once he’s able to do these consistently without problems, move on to the next stage of training.
- Expand to Leash Training: Walking your dog on a leash is a great way to get him exercised and socialized with other dogs. While training him, work in the basic commands and make him work while on his walk. If he something distracts him, use the command leave it with a tug on the choke chain or leash. Start with less busy streets to minimize distractions and set him up for success.
- Add Distractions: As your dog progresses, incorporate designed distractions such as a friend running or bicycling by. You may want to start him in the sit and stay position as you introduce a new distraction, reminding him to leave it if he starts to move towards it. His attention span and control to avoid moving objects will improve over time.
- Never Chase After Him: Don’t run after your dog if he does start to run after an animal, person, or car. This just reinforces his desire to play chase and speed off to win whatever game he is playing.
- Keep It Positive: Negative reinforcement gives your dog something to fear about you which might not make him want to readily come back to you when called with come. Instead, always use positive reinforcement training.
- Practice in Play: If your dog is playing chase with his dog pals, let them play for a while to get his dog frenzies out. Once he has released that pent-up energy, add some training to the day. As he is wandering around with other dogs, call his name and say stop then call him to come.
In any training exercise, make sure your dog is making eye contact with you to show he is paying attention to your next command. If you can control your dog various types of play scenarios, you are in a good position to stop him if he decided to chase cars. When you get on walks with the leash, make sure to have extra treats to reward your dog for responding to you and not the distraction of runners, bicycles, and cars. He’ll associate ignoring all those things with yummies and love from you.
Always give your dog a reason to come back to you. This means you have to be the center of his world where he gets love, pets, and treats. If your dog does start to run, you need to be more important than the car. Overcoming the distraction of the car means you never give your dog a reason to run from you. Training is best started with pups at an early age, but can also be done with dogs of all ages.
Burn That Energy
A lot of dogs chase cars because they just want an excuse to sprint and get that energy out. If this is the reason behind your dog running, the simplest solution is the best. Get your dog exercised so he is exhausted. If he loves to chase things, play chase or fetch with him.
Some dogs need to go for a run, but again, you’ll want to make sure your dog has developed some impulse control before you leash him up and run down the street or attach him to a bike. The same is true if you are concerned about taking your dog for a walk on the leash because he might pull. You might want to play fetch with him for a bit in the back yard before you go. Until he learns to control the impulse to run, you’ll need to do a bit of extra work ahead of time to prevent problems.
Give Your Dog Mental Stimulation
Dogs that use their brains through training, working and challenging activities are less likely to be intrigued by things like bicycles and cars. Basic obedience training is usually a good way to start puppies and dogs that have no previous training. However, this will only go so far. Smart and energetic breeds will constantly get into trouble because they are curious and their attention span moves quickly from one thing to another.
Trouble might look like getting into your trash can, digging out your perennials or chasing after the car with loud music at the stop sign. Getting your dog into scent work, puzzle toys or herding chickens is one way to reduce occurrences where he ends up chasing a car. Mentally stimulated dogs simply have better things to do.
A pet that is bored or perhaps feeling separation anxiety when you are at work is more likely to seek distractions and even escape routes. Some dogs have such high separation anxiety that they will chase their owners driving away for miles. Animal welfare organizations and pet adoption centers always look to see that dogs have secure containment. This means the fence is tall enough that they can’t jump over and lined properly that they can’t dig under. Gates are secured and everyone in the house knows to keep doors and gates closed and shut.
Preventing your dog from being able to chase a car with containment keeps him safe from harm or getting lost. This is especially important if you haven’t had a chance to train him to ignore distractions. But it isn’t just at home that you need to be concerned with containment. Dogs love going for car drives yet many pet owners don’t understand that allowing their dog to hang out of the window risks situations where he can fall out or jump out to chase anything including another car. Strap him into a pet safety harness.
Keeping Rex Safe
While your dog might think that chasing cars is a game, there are a lot of risks to his safety and the safety of others if he is allowed to follow his prey drive. As his owner, you can control the situation with consistent training. If you are having trouble, seek the help of a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist who will help you break the habit with positive reinforcement. Every pet owner should go through obedience training with their dog for many reasons including breaking the habit of chasing cars, animals, and people.
Kimberlee Leonard is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor. Her company, Safer Family Pets helps families prepared for worst-case scenarios including evacuations during natural disasters. She enjoys time with her beagle mix, Arky who enjoys “sit-walks” where he sits more than walks, enjoying the fresh mountain air.