DEAR OLD TRAINER: My sheltie, Piper, has a dangerous habit. On our walk she wants to chase cars, trucks and motorcycles – anything that moves. I’ve tried to stop it, but nothing works. She knows sit and stay and other commands, but she ignores me and lunges as hard as she can on the leash when she sees a car. What do I do?
A: There are two reasons Piper loves chasing cars. One, the pursuit reflex exists in all dogs but is dominant in shelties and other herding breeds. When Piper sees anything that moves, her genes tell her to run it down and control it.
Two, herd dogs think they are in charge of the world. Piper looks at a busy street and sees chaos – people and objects moving in all directions at any speed they want. No herd dog is going to stand for that, so Piper wants to take charge and make everyone conform to her idea of order.
You break this habit the same way you do any bad habit – interrupt the thought process the instant it pops into Piper’s mind.
First, be calm at all times. Dogs take their emotional cue from the leader, so when excitement is the root of the problem you remove excitement from the equation by creating a placid training environment.
Start in a quiet place with no distractions. Put Piper on her leash and have a rolled up newspaper in your hand. Order Piper to sit, and say, in a calm voice, “Look at me.” Move her head with your hand if you need to. She is not allowed to even glance at anything but your eyes.
When she looks at you for five seconds, pet her and brag on her and give her a 10 second break for love and play. Do 10 reps each session, five sessions a day. If she sneaks a peek at anything else whack your leg with the paper, touch her neck with the paper or your hand and say, “Look at me.”
If her attention strays, scold her, move a few feet and repeat the exercise. Show her the only option is to obey you. As she improves, increase the time she has to look at you to 10 seconds.
After a week, walk on a street with little traffic and wait for a car. Remain calm and make her look at you when a car approaches. Be relentless. She is not allowed to even glance at the car. Don’t take one step unless you get the response you want. If she loses focus take her back to the training area and go back to “sit” and “look at me.”
Pet and praise her when she does it right. Make a game of it. If you have a good time, Piper will too. Keep training on that street until she ignores every car that comes by, then work your way up to slightly more crowded streets until you have her completely under control.
Training is a process, not an event. Don’t worry about how long it takes. If you brag on her when she does it right she will learn to enjoy obeying the order.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.