Q&A: How to keep my dog from chasing cars when walking him?

I have a 4 year old dog hes a border collie mix. He never learned to walk on a leash but now I’ve been trying to train him. A week ago I tried the halti head-collar and that worked for a few days , I have to walk him on the side of the road cause on the sidewalk he just wants to mark everything. But yesterday when a car drove past us, he jumped up trying to pull me towards it and almost got out of his collar. There isn’t a lot of traffic or anything just one and one car. I’ve walked him there for 2 months now and he hasn’t acted like this before.

I’m really scared to walk him now since he has been close to getting loose to the driving cars. I will get him neutered soon but I’m wondering if that will help at his age? Also walking him he just keeps pulling, I have tried stopping and turning around with giving him treats. But as soon as I start walking he pulls again. Its really hard to get his attention both inside and outside. What should I do?

Thanks,
Maria

Hello Maria, and thank you for reaching out.

From your description it sounds like your dog really wants to chase cars as they pass by him. This is quite common behavior in border collies and border collie mixes as they have an innate predisposition to want to “herd” anything that moves. This is instinctive behavior that isn’t learned or trained, it’s likely just part of his genetic background from the border collie side. While this instinctive behavior cannot be removed, it can be redirected into a more appropriate behavior. Training your dog a more appropriate, alternate behavior on walks can also help you distract your dog should he decide to mark. Here are some tips to help you train an alternate, more appropriate response.

Work under threshold.

At what distance does your dog want to chase the cars? Is it when they’re right past him? at 5 feet? 10 feet? Find the distance where your dog seems to react the most and work farther from that distance. So, if for instance, he reacts the most when the car is at 3 feet, try working from 5 feet. What we are trying to avoid here is getting your dog at that level of arousal where he’s unable to respond to you. Once you find the distance from cars that he doesn’t react, you can have him focus enough to train him an alternate behavior.

Train an Alternate Behavior

When you are at home with your dog, train him to respond to a smacking sound you make with your mouth. Make that smacking sound and bring a treat at eye level. The moment he makes eye contact, praise and give him the treat. Repeat several times. As he gets good at this, add some motion. Make the smacking sound as you are walking and praise and reward him for looking up at you as you are both walking.When you reward your dog as you’re both walking, make sure you deliver the treat to him right next to your knee. That’s the reward zone so your dog learns how sticking by your side is rewarding. Practice walking more and more steps with your dog looking up at you. Once your dog does well, start practicing in a fenced yard, in front of the home and then move on walks in low distraction areas.

Reduce Pulling Behaviors

Make it a rule that every time the leash is tense, you stop walking and when the leash is loose you resume walking. Basically, a tense leash is your break and a loose leash is your accelerator. Dogs pull because the behavior is reinforcing. Every little inch your dog gains from pulling, even the very slight forward motion of you arm, reinforces the pulling. So from now on, on walks, this is what you will do:

Start walking. The moment your dog pulls, stop in your tracks. Say the word “heel” and lure your dog to come next to you in heel position to get his treat. When he’s right next to you, give him the treat in the reward zone next to your knee. Resume walking. If he walks nicely, next to you, keep on walking. If he pulls, stop again, say “heel” and reward him when he comes next to you for his reward. Repeat as necessary. Your first walks may feel like you are getting no where as you may have to repeat this exercise several times, but soon if you are persistent your dog will get the point that pulling gets him nowhere. Right now, you dog knows that you are trying to stop him pulling but soon you get frustrated and give up so he wins. This only makes training more difficult because there’s no consistency and he’s being rewarded for being persistent. So you really need to get really determined and NOT give up or get frustrated. If your dog continues to want to pull on walks, determine if it’s cause he has too much energy to drain. I will list a few ideas to get him a bit tired before walks in the next paragraphs.

What to do When You Spot A Car

Since you mention you don’t have lots of traffic, you can take advantage of this opportunity to train him using the alternate behavior. The moment you spot a car, from a distance move to the distance where your dog is best under control. It may be the sidewalk, but the good news is that you can now try to distract him from wanting to mark since it’s hard to focus on marking if you’re asking him to do something else. So once you’re at distance from the car, make the smacking noise with your mouth, bring the treat at eye level, and have him walk looking at you as the car passes by. The moment the car passes by, praise him and give him several treats in a row. Repeat as necessary. By doing this you accomplish two things: you teach your dog an alternate behavior to the marking and chasing and you create positive associations with the cars. This way, the moment your dog spots a car, he will start anticipating the treat so he should automatically look at you. If at any time you notice your dog reverting to his chasing behavior, you are likely too close to the car and your dog is not ready for working at that distance yet. Go gradually. With time, you should be able to move a little bit closer to the cars. Another great exercise is simply standing at a distance from the road and watching the cars passing by. Every time a car passes by, you make the smacking noise and deliver a treat. Of course, before doing all this you need to make sure your dog is safely restrained to prevent a possible escape.

Fitting the Right Collar

You mention your dog almost backing out of the halti head collar. This is not uncommon. Many dogs are able to escape out of their head collars. You have the choice of trying another type of head collar for a better fit or you can try a martingale collar which is made in such a way as to prevent a dog from backing out of it. Alternatively, some people have more success with a front-attachment harness such as a Sensation harness or an Easy Walk harness. In these harnesses, the leash attaches to a front ring to allow better control of the shoulder area. When the dog pulls, the dog is re-directed sideways. Some people attach their leash to both the front-attachment harness and the martingale collar for added security. It’s very important to ensure security on walks A dog who breaks free and engages in car chasing can injure himself and others. Also, a dog who is successful in escaping a collar even just once, will likely try to repeat the experience the next time and soon you’re stuck with an escape artist.

Neutering to Reduce Marking

Neutering is often portrayed as a cure-all, but it’s often not. Neutering mostly works to reduce behaviors that are derived from hormones. So, in your case, it might reduce the urine marking behavior if it’s related to marking to attract female dogs and compete with males, but it will likely not reduce the pulling on walks or the will to chase cars. It will also not reduce the barking behavior when you get the toy.

Barking for Toys

The barking at you when you grab the toy is likely a playful behavior. He likely wants the ball and is telling you to toss it. Many dog get quite vocal during play. A while back when we were training dogs to bark for search and rescue, the most effective way to train them to bark was getting a toy and hiding it behind our backs. The dog would start barking in protest because he wanted the toy and we would give the toy to reward the barking. So in your case, if you find the barking annoying, you could grab the toy and toss it only when he STOPS barking. To kick things up a notch, you can even incorporate some training here. Get the toy, ask him to sit and toss it when he’s sitting nicely. This may distract him from barking.

Increase Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Last but not least, generally border collies and border collie crosses are very energetic dogs with a great need for exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure you provide plenty of opportunities to release pent-up energy and give loads of mental stimulation especially before going on walks. Incorporate play in your training. Ask for a sit before you toss a ball or a Frisbee, ask your dog to stay as you hide somewhere, and then release your dog to find you. Hide his kibble around the home instead of feeding out of food bowls, stuff Kong toys or put his kibble in a bottle without a cap so he has to move it around to get the kibble out. I hope this helps you! Training and playing with your dog offers a good opportunity to bond together so you both can reap the rewards! Happy training!

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One Response to Q&A: How to keep my dog from chasing cars when walking him?

  1. Pauline November 28, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    My dogs have always responded to No said quietly. I reward with treats but as soon as I suspect they are thinking a thought like run after a cyclist I say No. It starts with little things in the home like taking an item if clothing to chew or mouth. I say No and replace with a toy. Going towards a tray of human food, etc. After No, they often come to me for a pat and to be told they did the right thing. Recall when out always means a treat!! I tend to keep them calm and give affection when they are. They listen to me as I’m the pack leader and they want to please me and be part of the pack. I’ve a giant schnauzer, podenco and Jack Russel terrier.

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