Most runners can recount a scary incident involving a dog charging out of a yard at them or chasing them down on the street. While most dogs don’t bother with people running, some dogs will chase runners if given the opportunity. There are four main reasons why dogs chase runners:
- Some dogs’ chasing behavior is triggered by a runner’s fast movement. These dogs typically lose interest if the runner stops moving. (The rare exception to this would be a predatory dog who might attack and seriously injure a running person if she catches up. Please keep in mind, however, that predatory attacks by dogs on people are exceedingly rare and usually occur under different circumstances, such as a pack of dogs chasing wildlife. Please see our article, Predatory Behavior in Dogs, for more information.) Typically, both chase-happy and predatory dogs are quiet during the chase.
- Some playful dogs may think a runner is inviting a game of chase. These dogs might continue to play—jump, leap, nip playfully and bark—if they catch up with the runner. A playful dog’s demeanor is relaxed and fun-loving—her tail will wag, her movements will be loose and bouncy, and she’ll often bark.
- Some dogs are fearful of people and perceive a runner as a retreating threat. Fearful dogs often feel too threatened to behave aggressively toward a person facing them, but as soon as the person turns away (becoming a “safe” target, so to speak), they might sneak up from behind to nip or bite. These “butt biters” may perceive a runner as not only turning away but also running away. So they chase to drive the person farther away. Fearful dogs typically bark during the chase. Some fearful dogs may pose a threat to runners if they catch up with them.
- Some dogs can be territorially aggressive toward people. Such dogs only chase runners who are near their yard or their perceived physical territory. Like fearful dogs, territorial dogs want to drive people away and often bark during the chase. Some territorially aggressive dogs may pose a threat to runners if they catch up with them.
Regardless of your dog’s motivation, chasing runners should be discouraged. No runner enjoys being harassed by a dog, even if the dog’s intent is playful. Your dog could be injured or frightened by a runner since the person is well within his or her rights to shout, strike out or kick at your dog in self-defense. Runners often carry pepper spray to ward off chasing dogs. There’s also the very serious possibility that your dog could injure a runner. Fearful dogs, territorial dogs and predatory dogs could all pose a serious threat to a runner. Even playful dogs get caught up in the excitement of the chase and can hurt runners by nipping at them or knocking them down. There are even documented cases of runners suffering heart attacks as they try to outrun dogs. Also, be aware that even if your dog is leashed, if she’s allowed to lunge at runners passing by, she might startle them and cause them to trip and fall or veer into traffic. Because leashed dogs can react so quickly when excited or upset, their pet parents, on the other end of the leash, may be injured or knocked down as well.
If you believe that your dog might harm runners, DO NOT attempt to deal with the problem yourself. Contact an experienced Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) for assistance. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these experts in your area.
If your dog shows any interest in runners when on walks, teach her to associate people running past with good things that come from you. As soon as you see your dog looking at a runner, call your pet’s name. The instant she turns toward you, praise her and give her delicious treats. (Reward your dog with something really exciting, such as small pieces of chicken, cheese or hot dog.) If she doesn’t look at you when you say her name, wiggle a treat right in front of her nose. Using the treat like a magnet on your dog’s nose, lure her head around toward you. When she looks at you, give her the treat. Continue to do this every time a runner is in view until your dog automatically looks at you in anticipation of treats whenever she sees someone running.
Even if your dog chases runners from within your fenced yard, it’s a good idea to discourage this behavior because it can cause your dog to develop territorial aggression. When she starts the behavior, immediately interrupt her by saying her name, clapping sharply, if necessary, and telling her “No!” Then bring your dog inside the house. To prevent the behavior from happening again, you can put up a stockade-style privacy fence or attach tarps to your existing fence so your dog can’t see passersby. You should also avoid leaving your dog alone in the yard. It’s never a good idea to leave a dog unsupervised outside for longer than 15 to 20 minutes—even if she’s in a fenced area. In addition to discouraging and preventing your dog’s chasing behavior, it’s important to give her plenty of acceptable things to do. Provide daily exercise and enrichment for your dog so that she’s less motivated to chase runners out of pure boredom and excess energy. Please see our articles, Exercise for Dogs and Enriching Your Dog’s Life, for lots of great ways to give your dog the mental and physical stimulation she needs.
What to Do About the Problem
- Keep your dog confined in a secure kennel or fenced yard so that she can’t chase runners passing by on the road.
- If you walk your dog off leash, do so in places where she can’t see or access roads, sidewalks or jogging trails.
- Some dogs lose interest in chasing runners if they become accustomed to running with their pet parents. At first, have a helper hold your dog on leash while you practice running past them. If your dog lunges at you, instantly stop and tell her “No!” in a firm voice. Try again. Once you’ve successfully discouraged her from jumping up at you when you pass by, try taking the leash and running with your dog. Be careful—she may try to bite your ankles or trip you up. Each time she interferes with your movement, stop dead and simply wait until she stops too and looks up at you. (If she’s not inclined to look at you, say her name quietly after she stops nipping at you.) As soon as your dog looks at you, start running again. You may find that you both enjoy this pastime, and you’ll have a healthy way to keep you both in shape.
- Teach your dog a really reliable recall so that you can call her whenever you need to. Please see our article, Teaching your Dog to Come When Called, for detailed information about how to accomplish this. To be successful, you’ll need to start your dog’s training away from areas where she might see runners so that she can focus on learning and not get overly excited and distracted. Only when your dog is extremely reliable at coming when called should you “test” her around runners. Even then, you should do so with your dog on a long line (a 15- to 40-foot training leash) in case she decides to go after a runner. It‘s nearly impossible to call a dog off once she’s in pursuit of something or someone. Be prepared to devote a substantial amount of training time and effort to making your dog’s recall reliable. Even then, please realize that your dog will still be motivated to chase runners. It will be your responsibility to make sure that you detect potentially problematic situations early enough to call your dog before she takes off. Don’t hesitate to find a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area for help with this training.
- As a last resort, you can teach your dog to associate chasing people with an unpleasant, punishing experience, such as an obnoxious noise or repulsive spray scent. To ensure that you and your dog benefit from humane and effective training procedures, it’s imperative that you work with an experienced Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). (Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these qualified professionals in your area.) The behaviorist or trainer must work with your dog over many sessions, in a variety of circumstances, with many different runners for the procedure to work. Some dogs are so excited by the anticipation of a chase that even associating runners with very strong or painful punishment won’t deter them. This is why it’s crucial to work with an experienced professional. She or he can determine in the first few sessions if this kind of procedure is likely to work for your dog. This may be your only viable option to safeguard your dog if she’s an escape artist and frequently manages to get out of her yard or kennel.
What NOT to Do
- Do not expose your dog to a runner and then physically beat her. This is inhumane and highly unlikely to deter your dog. At best, she might refrain from chasing runners when you’re nearby, but she won’t learn not do to it when you’re not around. At worst, you could injure your dog, damage her trust in you and cause further behavior problems, such as fear and aggression.
- Do not purposely let your dog to take off after a runner and then allow her to hit the end of a leash or long line at a dead run. This could cause severe damage to her neck and vertebrae.