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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vehicle Chasers. Part III

From the mailbag:
What makes some dogs lunge, some dogs chase, and others run the other way when a car/motorcycle goes by?

Some dogs are afraid of cars. Some dogs have problems with Sudden Environmental Change. Some dogs just get excited about anything that is moving. Moving vehicles might bring out the prey drive in some dogs.

We aren't smart enough to know what dogs are thinking; but we can make some educated guesses based their behavior:

Dogs who run away when they see cars are probably scared - that's an easy one. But are they scared of the engine? The movement? The loud radio? The person in the vehicle? If pet parents are able to distinguish a pattern (like the dog always runs away from diesel engines), then guardians might be better able to help their pups become less fearful of the scary thing.

A dog who lunges and barks and growls is probably scared. Dogs display fear in different ways. Some run away. Some charge (probably in an attempt to make the scary thing go away). A dog who wants to chase down something and hurt or eat it, probably won't waste a lot of energy lunging and growling. This is not always the case, but it's something to consider. Also some experts say that if a dog's weight is on his/her back legs (even if it looks like she/he is about to charge), that dog is probably displaying fear - ready to run away. If a dog's weight is on the front legs, he/she might be more confident. For more about dogs who move towards scary things, click here

Dogs who have issues with Sudden Environmental Change hate surprises and they also don't like things "out of place." So your dog might be okay on a busy street. But might get upset if a car suddenly appears on a quiet street.  Dog with SEC issues will probably have problems in other areas of their life.
Example. Lupe, Murphy have walked a certain sidewalk dozens of times with no issues. Then one night there was a brown paper bag in the middle of the sidewalk.  Both of the dogs became of upset about the bag.  They have no problem with bags in general. But in their mind, that bag didn't belong in the middle of the sidewalk.
Their reaction to the bag shows the range of behaviors a scared dog might display. Lupe lunged, barked and growled. Murphy tried to run away.
Also, Lupe is fine walking through a crowd of people but will get upset if she see a lone man off in the distance.

Dogs who want to chase down moving things and hurt or eat them are going to be very efficient. They aren't going to waste energy barking and lunging. They are going to be swift and quiet (usually). This type of prey drive is probably the hardest to modify and is probably best handled by a professional. Also dogs like this should be heavily managed (not walked near cars). Because they are so quiet and swift, a pet parent can be taken off guard.

Another safety issue with car chasers is redirected aggression. Some dogs get so upset about moving cars that they might lash out at whatever is nearby (when they can't get to the car). That nearby thing might be a family member dog or it might be the pet parent.  Dogs who redirect should not be walked near vehicles and should not walk with their sibling dogs.  Pet parents who live with such dogs should wear thick clothing and sturdy shoes - and consult a professional.

One more reason that car chasers should not be walked with other dogs - a car chaser might teach a non car chaser to also hate cars. Like my Lupe taught Matt-Matt.

For other posts on vehicle chasers, click here 
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  1. Great post - you always provide a lot more to think about then just the problem, thank you.

    I've always wondered... Do dogs that love car rides change if they've been in a car that's been in an accident? Thanks again.

    1. Hello again
      Here is a longer answer to your question:

  2. Thanks and you are welcome :)
    That's a good question. The short answer is that it depends on the dog and the situation. I'll write more details soon in a post titled "Classical Conditioning"