Hunt chase may be a term you have heard wafted around, but what does it actually mean and what does it look like?
Hunt chase is where a dog performs the act of “hunting” and “chasing” wildlife, most commonly birds, squirrels and rabbits.
Hunt and chase don’t always happen together, some dogs will chase a rabbit if it leaps out in front of them but they don’t actively go hunting for it by sniffing and searching, however if a dog is hunting they often then chase once they find something.
Hunt chase varies in all dogs and you can measure how extreme their hunt chase is by asking yourself a few simple questions;
- When they are hunting will they respond to recall?
- How far away from you do they go while hunting?
- How close does the animal need to be to your dog for your dog to chase it?
- Will your dog recall away from chase?
- How far will your dog run to chase / how soon do they give up chasing?
As my main experience of hunt chase is from Zebby I’ll use him as an example.
Zebby has varying levels of hunt chase depending on what environment we are in, how much interaction we are doing and how close and strong the scent is.
For example if we walk into a farm field that has a large number of pheasants in it he will not recall from hunting and will go a couple of fields away from me (becomes a tiny dot in the distance).
However a walk somewhere else with Zebby may involve some sniffing but consistent responds to recalls every time, and if a rabbit ran out ahead of him he may chase for a few seconds and then turn around and come back, so it all depends on the environment and the state of the mind of the dog at that moment of time.
[If he had been off-lead at that moment then I can guarantee I would have not seen him for about 10 minutes or more!]
How to prevent it
Find the right trainer
All dogs have predatory instincts and therefore they all have the potential to hunt chase.
Consider the main prey instincts that any dog may have… hunting, stalking, chasing, grabbing and catching, biting, shaking, plucking, tearing and carrying.
Therefore depending on the breed and their intended purposes they will have different strengths, for example terriers are good at hunting, catching and killing, whereas collies are wired to stalk and chase and lurchers tend to be all chase and kill without the hunt.
The one and most importance piece of advice I will give to you is go and find a qualified trainer who is experienced with hunt chase in you breed of dog.
In my opinion a trainer who has only ever owned collies and prefers collies is not going to be able to help you with your hunting spaniel as much as a trainer who owns and works spaniels on a shoot.
Of course above all the importance is to find a trainer who uses positive methods.
Self control is an important skill for all dogs to gain for every day life, but especially for dogs with strong hunt chase.
A dog who is able to hold back and not act on it’s first impulse will be a better mannered, more enjoyable dog to live with.
Think about a dog who doesn’t charge through doorways, doesn’t jump up at the table to steal food, relaxes while you are at the pub having a meal, doesn’t chase the cat and stays close on a walk without running off to every dog it sees. That is a dog with good self control.
There are a huge range of training exercises that work on self control and I’d suggest you find a suitable dog training class or workshop near you that covers these.
Susan Garrett’s “It’s Yer Choice” game is a good place to start, plus Kiko Pup’s stay training method.
Also Jane Arden runs workshops such as Stop, Come, Click which covers self control and predatory chase. https://www.facebook.com/pg/waggawuffins/
Give your dog an appropriate outlet
I think it’s very important that we recognise what is natural for our dogs and then give them an opportunity to express these behaviours.
Spaniels have been bred especially for their strong sense of smell and their desire to hunt, so to not allow them to do any searching or sniffing at all is practically cruel.
Therefore a very easy and fun alternative behaviour for a spaniel is scentwork.
Scentwork training and competition is becoming increasing more popular and you should be able to find a class or workshop near you.
You may also find that getting your dog in to a toy such as a tennis ball gives them an alternative activity to do during a walk instead of hunting.
Personally I don’t like a dog to be too over-obsessed with a toy to the point that nothing else exists to them except that ball, so balance is key.
Puppies tend to stay close on their first few walks as they are still very dependant on us. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to reward every time your puppy looks at you and comes back to you while off-lead.
Introduce play and retrieves early, as well as fun self control training.
What to do once you’ve got it
Prevent it from being practised
If you dog is frequently ignoring you to go running off and hunting then the first step is to prevent this.
Use a long line to give them some level of freedom but which stops them from ranging too far.
Increasing their mental stimulation in the house will make up for their lack of physical exercises and help to keep their arousal down.
Build up the foundations
While preventing the dog from disappearing you then need to be working on your recall foundations;
~ Consider introducing a new recall command, such as a whistle, and build a strong emotional response to that command by blowing it before feeding the dog their meal every day.
~ Don’t go for a walk but instead go for a training session. Stick to one part of the field and change direction every time your dog runs ahead of you, praising and rewarding them when they come running back towards you then quickly changing direction again.
~Throw treats for your dog to chase or hide them in the grass and encourage them to find it.
~ As mentioned above find an appropriate, alternative behaviour for your dog to do, such as playing with a ball or searching for a treat under your direction.
~ Practise in all different environments, working to ensure your dogs recall response is the same no matter what distractions. Start somewhere easy with a low level of distractions such as a large playing field.
Give yourself time
Behaviours don’t change over night and habits are hard to kill. Plus consider the time of year. I know my recall will always be more challenging when the young pheasants have been released from their pens around September.
Keep up with your training, keep it light and fun and try to create positive sessions.
The main thing is to seek help and understand your dogs desires and how you can accommodate their instincts in an appropriate way.