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taking off to chase squirrels - help!

nestey75
July 30th, 2008, 08:08 AM
We rescured Sydney in May 2008 - so we've had her for about three months.

She is a real mutt - with some shepherd, rottie, and likely hound or even spaniel.

We built up to letting her off-leash first in fully fenced-in parks and more recently in mostly fenced-in parks.

She has been great in these situations - sticking with the other dogs in the area and not going too far. For us, it's important that Sydney get the running expercise she needs and has an opportunity to socialize with other dogs.

Like most dogs, Sydney has a thing for squirrels and wants to chase them. This seems to be evolving into more and more of an obsession for her. About thee weeks ago, she discovered that she can run out of the off-leash areas we take her to towards the trees surrounding hunting for squirrels. She eventually comes back and we do call her to "come", but it's like she goes into this other mental zone and becomes oblivious to everything else around her.

We reward her for coming back, but it's frustrating because it's not on our terms. We live in a dense urban area, so roads are a real concern. We've had to stop taking her to one off-leash area because it's too close to a busy road and we cannot trust her not to run across it whilst on "the hunt".

It seems to be getting worse as she pushes her boundaries more and more. Interestingly, even when there are other dogs for her to play with, she's becoming much more interested in taking off for the trees to hunt for those elusive squirrels.

Has anyone else had an issue like this? How did you address it?

jessi76
July 30th, 2008, 08:35 AM
Like most dogs, Sydney has a thing for squirrels and wants to chase them. This seems to be evolving into more and more of an obsession for her. About thee weeks ago, she discovered that she can run out of the off-leash areas we take her to towards the trees surrounding hunting for squirrels. She eventually comes back and we do call her to "come", but it's like she goes into this other mental zone and becomes oblivious to everything else around her.

We reward her for coming back, but it's frustrating because it's not on our terms. We live in a dense urban area, so roads are a real concern. We've had to stop taking her to one off-leash area because it's too close to a busy road and we cannot trust her not to run across it whilst on "the hunt".

It seems to be getting worse as she pushes her boundaries more and more. Interestingly, even when there are other dogs for her to play with, she's becoming much more interested in taking off for the trees to hunt for those elusive squirrels.

Has anyone else had an issue like this? How did you address it?

Its unsafe for your dog to be taking off after squirrels. Unsafe for the dog, for other people in the area, drivers, etc... If your dog is taking off, she needs to be reminded of the rules, and earn that freedom again.

You're right that she needs exercise and social time. For that I would stick to well fenced dog parks if she behaves well at those. For public places, I'd keep her on a long training lead (20 ft). Give her enough slack for "freedom", but work on teaching boudaries and respect for commands...

which leads me to my next point... teach some long distance commands. i.e. If I raise my arm over my head, my dog knows that is the signal for DOWN, wherever he may be. He may be across the yard, down means DOWN RIGHT THERE. I do not need to yell or say a word, he knows the hand signal. It was taught for that purpose. Also, teach an emergency word to stop. I use WAIT. for my dog, "wait" means stop immediately and await further instruction... it may be "come" or "down" or "sit". but wait means WAIT.

it does sound like you're on the right track though, slowly building up to off leash time and rewarding for coming back when called. That's excellent, and it will certainly help make it easier.

my dog was hit by a car, (he's ok), but I know first hand how serious it can be, it's nice to let them off leash, but I don't think it's advisable in an area w/ cars. Out in a field, or hiking, or hunting... sure, it's GREAT! but in a heavily populated area it's dangerous. just my :2cents:

kigndano
July 30th, 2008, 09:13 AM
i agree about the areas to let a dog, especially one prone to getting into prey drive mode, off leash.

as far as the squirrel chasing problem, the long lead will certainly take care of it since the dog wont be able to run away.

if you are in a fenced in area, and want to block his prey drive you are most likely going to have to start on-leash and almost set him up to get into a chase situation (mentally anyways). with my dog you can see his body language change the minute he goes into hunt mode, what I do (and again this is just me) is give a small leash pop to the side (i use a slip collar/Illusion) and a verbal "No".

if that doesnt work i tap his side with my heel (near his hind legs (if you watch the dog whisperer, thats the move i do).

that will usually break his concentration.


the idea behind what i am doing, is to train his mind that when he sees a squirrel or other prey to NOT enter that state of mind. by breaking the natural cycle he has enough times, you should be able to re-condition the brain to ignore small animals.

that said, i am still working on this with my dog, and its only a problem now if they are within "striking" distance. 10-15 feet or so. squirrels across the road or birds etc, do not cause any fixation any more.


im sure other people will be by with other advice, treat based training etc, but my dog was so fixated everything else was blocked out. a correction was the only thing that got his attention so thats what i am using.



hope that helps

Lissa
July 30th, 2008, 10:05 AM
Good advice Jessi! I won't repeat it so I will just share something else that I do!

you should be able to re-condition the brain to ignore small animals.

I disagree. I think the only dogs who ignore small animals are those that have been trained using corrections(-R) or a constant/well-timed desensitization/counter-conditioning program or a dog that doesn't have a huge prey drive to begin with.

HOWEVER, I do think its possible to teach our dog's self-control, so they appear to be unphased by small animals - even if they have a huge prey drive!

I do not expect my dog to ignore small animals entirely - sure he can alert me to them but if I say "next time" or "let's go", he knows that its time to let the critter live today.:evil:

im sure other people will be by with other advice, treat based training etc, but my dog was so fixated everything else was blocked out. a correction was the only thing that got his attention so thats what i am using.

I'm here!:highfive:

Actually something that I find works impeccably well is to let your dog chase squirrels in appropriate times/places at your discretion! Of course I work with huskies/hounds who MUST hunt in some shape or form... But the rules have always been clear - hunting is a reward, a privilege - not something they choose to do on their own unless we are in the woods and I've already released them.
Most people think that by preventing the dog from chasing squirrels that it will lessen the behaviour/desire because they aren't being rewarded...when in fact the opposite is true. If you never let your dog fill his "prey drive tank" - you will have a dog who gets so overwhelmed by critters (or any moving object) that his every waking moment is spent looking for something to chase. The trick to dog training is telling your dog to do something - the more you tell them to do something, the less they want to do it:laughing:
Basically, if Dodger behaves calmly and defers to me, I will occasionally release him to chase a critter... He never knows when he will be allowed to go (variable reinforcement) and he is never anything but calm... Why? Because calm behaviour is the ONLY thing that is ever rewarded around critters...Anything else and its too bad so sad!

Another way to fill your dog's prey drive is to make a lure/flirt pole. I use a lunge line whip and attach a toy or bit of fur to the end and have my dog chase it. Its an excellent form of exercise and it takes care of the prey drive as well! It's ideal to do a little bit of that and then try to work around squirrels - keep your distance at first so that your dog doesn't get overstimulated.

BTW - 3 months isn't very long! She is likely still adjusting and/or feeling a little more comfortable and starting to test you to see what works and what doesn't! Have you taken an OB course?
Also, my hound was a dream until 2 years old - he loved other dogs and was perfect off-leash. Then hunting instincts took over - he avoided dogs like the plague and spent all his time hunting:p - so I know how it feels! It's quite normal for adult dogs to not want to play with strange dogs and to find other activities more rewarding (even if we don't think they should be!)...

kigndano
July 30th, 2008, 10:41 AM
allowing your dog to chase squirrels?

whatever works i guess:shrug:

you could try enrolling him in a hunting dog class, that would certainly teach you commands to control that kind of thing i would think.


me? im too broke, so if you are too then dont worry about it.

nestey75
July 30th, 2008, 03:35 PM
Thanks everyone, for your suggestions and for sharing your experiences.

Since Sydney is relatively new to us, part of it might be that the "honeymoon" phase is over and she's starting to feel more comfortable and pushing her boundaries.

She has gone through a first level of obedience training and we actually have an ongoing relationship with a wonderful trainer who we can call at the drop of a hat. He has been great.

We are eager to get to those levels of higher order conditioning (hand signals in particular like the hand above the head meaning "down" wherever Sydney may be and, for example, a right hand placed on the hip meaning "come"), but we know we have to take it one step at a time.

When we take Sydney out for on-leash walks and she sees a squirrel and tenses up and potentially tries to run after it, we've given her a correction on the leash emphasized with a "no" (it has also been suggested to us to use the "off" command in this situation).

The interesting thing with Sydney is that, off leash, she doesn't take off in reaction to actually seeing a squirrel. It's like she's suddenly decided that she has to go an investigate particular areas for squirrels whether any are there or not. And she always goes back to the same areas.

I had a dog when I was younger who was hit by a car (and survived) and it was very upsetting. By no means do we want to take that chance with Sydney in the city, so we won't.

Looks like we'll have to take a few steps back and work with her on a long lead ensuring that she is responding consistently to commands and only let her off leash in fully fenced in areas or places where there are no roads nearby...

Thanks again!

kigndano
July 30th, 2008, 04:31 PM
the off leash thing is interesting.

it could be that she gets bored while walking on leash, but while off leash she is busy sniffing around and is not looking for something to entertain her so to speak.

is this the case? is she walkng at your side when she gets all tense?

nestey75
July 31st, 2008, 11:40 AM
I don't *think* she gets bored walking on-leash. She loves getting outside. Even an on-leash walk around the neighbourhood is like going on the hunt for her. Right now, she is a "B" student in the heeling department. She still likes to pull on the leash sometimes and walking at my left side means as close to walking just ahead as she can. She will only lag behind if we're walking away from an area she wants to go and explore. I try to make the earlier part of on-leash walks "all business" and if she does a good job walking by my side, I reward her with a little "go sniff" time.

Off-leash, she is certainly interested in meeting any other dogs that may be in the park. She doesn't do as much sniffing when she's off-leash. The main difference is that she used to just hang out with the other dogs or near us and if we called her to come, she would respond 8/10 times (I know that's not good enough). Now she may do some interacting with other dogs, but very quickly takes off to search those "areas". Sometimes, a dog she has been playing with joins her and then we have two owners calling their dogs back from the edges of the off-leash area.

I don't know if this helps?

Our trainer suggested the idea of whistle training her on the "come" command (i.e. if she runs off, tooting the whistle will be certain to distract her and means "come back this very instant"). Any thoughts about this approach?

kigndano
July 31st, 2008, 12:17 PM
i think the whistle approach is great actually.

it will be an unmistakable sound every single time. provided you dont change whistles!

maybe buy a few when you find one, just to be safe.

as far as the other stuff, sounds like normal doggy behaviour to go and socialize but then sniff around if she has high prey drive.

hazelrunpack
July 31st, 2008, 12:54 PM
nestey, a whistle can be a great tool--we use them all the time. :thumbs up And it's easy to transition the spoken "come" command to the whistle--just blow the whistle when the dog is on its way and they'll catch on soon enough. Just be aware that whistles also are not infallible--although dogs might be more likely to hear a whistle than a voice when in the heat of the chase, it still takes a lot of hard work and patience to get your dog's response as reliable as you'd like.

Also, once whistle trained, changing whistles doesn't seem to have much of an impact as long as they've heard the new frequency. I think they may listen for patterns rather than frequency and usually do not (in our experience, anyway) mistake one whistle-blower for another. :D We've been in a field with two different owners blowing whistles, and the dogs never responded to the wrong whistle.

kigndano
July 31st, 2008, 01:25 PM
good to know hazelrunpack...im an engineer so details like that are always in the back of my mind.

whistle frequency...lol..what a nerd huh:D

hazelrunpack
July 31st, 2008, 01:31 PM
good to know hazelrunpack...im an engineer so details like that are always in the back of my mind.

whistle frequency...lol..what a nerd huh:D

You or me? :p

:laughing:

kigndano
July 31st, 2008, 02:12 PM
lol

good point


fellow nerd!