Given the chance, they will go for gold. It’s rarely 70% effort. When chasing a squirrel, how often do you see a dog trotting after one? I’d say never. When playing with another dog friend, we marvel at the speed dogs exhibit, and the energy they so freely expend. It’s 100%, even if just for a moment. We rarely want to interrupt it because it’s so refreshing, and hey, they are getting great exercise! However, when dogs are chasing after a cyclist, jogger or an unfamiliar person, this speed is not so desirable and often results in harsh words or other punitive measures to stop this unwanted chasing behavior. From a dog’s perspective, this is confusing. One minute we are encouraging them to run and chase, and the next, we are saying don’t do it. No wonder so many people have difficulties stopping a chase behavior.
From a human’s perspective, we want to teach our dogs to run and chase only when it is safe and appropriate. But how can dogs know the difference? This is where a dog’s selfishness becomes apparent. Dogs function on a very simple principle, they will continue to do what they find most rewarding and what works best for them, not you. The test is this; practice saying your dog’s name or doing anything to get your dog’s attention when they are interacting with another dog around 50% effort. When dogs are sprinting in full circles around you, they are running at 100%. But often, they don’t keep this pace up for long and they start to slow down, maybe wrestle with one another, or take pause to sniff something new. Now they are around 50%. At this point, see if you can encourage your dog to focus their attention on you. If you are unsuccessful, your dog is telling you it is more rewarding for them to pay attention elsewhere. So if you are unable to get your dog’s attention at this lower level, how do you think you could stop them from chasing after a bicycle at 100%? The answer is that some work needs to be done to make yourself more rewarding! Each dog is different in what they find rewarding and it is our job to determine what works for our dog. Try enticing them with encouraging words, some affection, a ball or other toy, a treat, a stick to chew on, or even a new area in which to sniff. If you want your dog to listen to you, it’s all about creating more rewardable moments relative to you, as their owner, rather than just within an environment. You will be most successful practicing this when your dog is still having fun and it’s safe, not in a life-threatening situation, when your dog is running at 100%.
Plain and simple, if we don’t have voice control of our dogs, then our dogs should not be off leash. They haven’t earned that freedom. It doesn’t matter if the dog is in a fenced in dog park, or a large open grassy field with no one around.