Sirius Training, Serious Fun!
Sirius Training, Serious Fun!

Meh.. there goes a car…

I’ve been hesitant to write it for fear of jinxing our progress, but I have to update you all on Dexter’s car chasing.  Words cannot quite explain the changes I’ve seen in him.  It’s been a crazy good 2 or 3 weeks in terms of his car chasing.  I think something just “clicked” in his brain and he finally got it–all the crazy hard work was finally starting to pay off..

When I first brought him home, I could not have him outside with me just hanging out because he was out of control hypervigilant.  The mere sound of a car got him running the length of the fence and the sight of one moving had him barking, chasing, and pogo-ing at the corners of the fence.  He could not think … this was not a choice, this was simply a reaction to a stimulus.  Although I knew it wasn’t his choice, I couldn’t help getting frustrated at the constant rehearsal of a really dangerous behavior…. so poor Dex was often kenneled while I was outside chilling.  There were moments of total frustration … where I would just hope upon hope that a car wouldn’t cross our paths.  I mean, ultimately, I became reactive to the sound of cars approaching.  I was walking Shayne and I heard a car and my hand reflexively shortened the leash and my muscles engaged to absorb the lunge… only it was Shayne and not Dexter on the end of the leash.

I know I’ve written about the huge changes I’ve seen with his on leash behavior while on walks but his off-leash behavior hadn’t made huge changes until the last few weeks.  It started while hiking on my long line and he started to look for cars only to run back to me for a reward.  I decided to take the off-leash training in the yard to a new level… uh.. using the long line.

Although I had been pretty good about not letting Dexter out to potty when there were likely going to be cars (I know the neighborhood schedule pretty well), he was still able to rehearse the dangerous behavior, even if only occasionally (since I am not, you know, super skilled at controlling neighborhood vehicles).  Having seen his massive improvements on the long line I was inspired to really amp up the training plan for off-leash work.

I knew that at this point Dexter was fully capable of making a choice to chase or not to chase in many circumstances.  I was more vigilant about never allowing him to chase the cars, we did a lot of work on the long line, and I taught him a warning cue.

The ‘end’ result (though it’s not the end, only another point on the map) is that Dexter is pretty chill about cars now.  This weekend he watched 6 cars drive by the house and he didn’t choose to chase at all, he cantered for about 30ft after 7 cars before turning back to me, he listened to his warning (cut-off) cue each time I gave it, and only really chased after 1 car all weekend.  It’s now a pleasure to have him outside with the rest of us while we play in the yard or just relax in the warm sun.

Although I wouldn’t yet trust him off leash around cars, he has made some huge strides both on and off leash.  It’s been quite the turn around for him… I’m so proud of him.  It’s been a process, but I think the behavior plan has been as effective as I could have hoped for–I think back to the day I met Dexter and he was reacting to a car who was more than 200yd away from us and it took him minutes to stop searching for the car, nowadays he wouldn’t even think twice about that car and certainly wouldn’t react to it!

It’s not always easy but seeing the results make all the hard work so worth it!

10 Comments
  1. That’s fantastic. Good work!

    It reminds me of Cohen’s bike chasing. As a pup she would take off after a bike half way across the park if I let my attention dip and didn’t call her away fast enough. Now she’s advanced far enough that every bike we see is a Its Yer Choice opportunity where if she doesn’t chase she gets huge jackpot rewards. It’s gotten to the point where she’ll trot ahead 10 feet or so in her “chase” then turn back to me for a reward without a cue from me. It’s not perfect (ideally I don’t want her increasing speed/excitement at all) but it’s a good improvement. I just like to see the obvious use of self restraint exhibited so regularly.

    • Thanks.. yeah… i’m lucky he didn’t have a problem with bicycles and really not much of an issue with motorcycles… just cars. But he is a tire-biter style car chaser so IF he had the chance to chase unfenced i have no doubt in my mind that if he caught the car he’d be seriously injured because he’d bite the tires (perhaps that’s how he lost his canine in the first place).

  2. After seeing Dexter this past weekend at a home visit, I am so impressed. The last time I saw him, when I met Tena and handed him off to be fostered at her place, Dex was pulling and straining for several minutes after a car in the distance went out of sight. The car wasn’t even close enough to hear, really, but because he’d seen it, he fixated on it for many minutes even as we tried to walk in the other direction. He’d been giving me his full attention for food but nothing would get him back after he saw that car. It wasn’t until about ten minutes later and walking in the wrong direction that he was able to focus on me and even then, he was turning around periodically to see if the car was still back there.

    Fast forward to this past weekend, where I met the “new” Dexter. It is one thing to read about the progress he’s made but when my mind’s eye could only remember that obsessive behavior, seeing him use a car as a mere visual target to turn back and get a reward was amazing. Car after car tempted him that day and though there were a couple moments (a couple out of many!) where he thought about it, Dexter showed restraint and inhibition every time. You’ve really done superb work with him, Tena. Bravo!

    When I think about the trainers that would use a shock collar or other aversive methods to try and work on these behaviors, I am so disappointed and discouraged. I will always remember the progress Dexter has made as one of the greatest successes I’ve personally seen, due to the sheer intensity of his initial compulsive response to cars.

    • Thanks Crystal! I’m glad you could see the changes… i’ve been crazy proud of the work we’ve done… even if some things have been pushed to the back burner. Fingers crossed he wowed his potential adopter (and the significant other)… if not, i may get a frisbee video going, he’s actually started to play disc a little bit!

  3. Outstanding results, Tena! You’ve done a great job with Dexter. Sounds like he’s made amazing strides which doesn’t surprise me. Keep up the great work with him. He’s sure to find a great new home.

    • Thanks Jamie… it’s been a journey that’s for sure! I’ve been quite pleased with his turn around… especially so quickly.

      Good luck w/ the competition this weekend!

  4. My dog Cody is a chaser. He’s an Aussie and apparently in his brain if it moves he should move too. He has gotten better but off leash with moving cars will probably never happen for him. He is now selective about which cars/trucks he chases. Seems those with the loudest engines are his favorite, (I don’t like those either). For now at any rate there’s less weed eating on the inside of the fence. Good job with Dexter.

    • Brad, it’s been a journey that’s for sure. I don’t wouldn’t trust him off-leash/unfenced near cars at this point, but in the fenced in yard, he’s been showing some unexpected improvements. There are certainly benefits to a fence runner LOL… only REAL fence runner we have is 19lb bandit so he doesn’t really do a good job LOL!

  5. congrats – sounds like he’s coming along really well. Gwynn hasn’t had that type of issue with cars or bikes, luckily, though he does try to join any runners who pass us by on our walks. That and dogs – it’s like he loses his hearing hwen there are other dogs around, and if he’s off-leash i’ve got about a 20% chance of stopping him from running up to another dog within sight of us.

    • Dogs and their chase-drive can certainly get them into trouble w/ joggers/bikers/skateboarders etc. One of the many reasons there are leash laws! 🙂 LOL!

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