I was in Dacula last Thursday working with a new Home Dog Training client and their nine-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy. Everything went great and they were excited at how well their puppy responded to our training.  As I was driving out of the neighborhood, I observed two people rushing down the street flapping their hands at something ahead of them.  As I got closer, it became clear as to what they were doing. They were chasing an elusive Vizsla that was sprinting ahead of them.

How to catch a dog that is running free

I could see that the dog was having the time of his life. He was checking out trees, houses, and anything else as he ran at a “full sprint”.  The more the couple ran and waved their hands, the more the Vizsla would run and evade them.  He knew that they were chasing him, but he didn’t care. 

This “amusing observation of the human/canine experience” brings me to today’s topic.  That topic focuses around getting our dog back when they are running free in the neighborhood.

First of all, what was going on with the Vizsla and his owners? Well, from the Vizsla’s perspective, his owners’ excited pursuit of him only encouraged him to run away from them. This was in addition to his general excitement of being out and free on his own.

All dogs focus on dominance and submission, who is the leader and who is the follower.  This is a natural instinct that was instilled in them from birth.  Most dogs sharpen this instinct and practice their socialization through games.  “Follow-the-leader” is a socialization exercise designed to demonstrate the interaction between leaders and followers.  In this exercise (or game), everyone follows the leader.

The two luckless dog owners were unknowingly demonstrating their “follower roles” in the exercise.  The more they chased their dog, the more they were playing the followers and the more their dog was playing the leader.  The more they are waving their arms in the air, the more they are building their dog’s adrenaline level and causing “the game” to go on.  In this scenario, their dog will continue to elude them until he “simply gets tired or bored”.

To “catch their dog”, the two owners need to stop playing “follow-the leader” with their dog and direct his attention to something they can control. So, here is what happened next:

  • I calmly pulled alongside the out of breath and still running couple and stopped a little ahead of them. I then got out of the car, told them I happened to be a dog trainer, and wanted to help. Even though “they didn’t know me from Adam”, they were ready to try anything.
  • We stopped running towards their dog.  Instead, we slowly started to move in his direction in an almost nonchalant manner. Instead of moving directly towards him, we approached by walking in angles. Since we were no longer directly approaching their dog, it stopped the “follow-the-leader” game with him. He was no longer adrenalized because of their direct action.  He slowed down but still continued down the street.
  • Next, I asked that one of them get in the car with me. The wife was tired walking and said she would.  Once in the car, I asked her to “get down low” so their dog couldn’t see her when I slowly drove past and farther down the street.
  • We pulled about half a block ahead of the Vizsla and calmly stopped the car. The husband was still slowly following the Vizsla on foot.
  • I now asked the wife to get out of the car and open the back door. I instructed her to crouch down low, call her dog’s name in a high voice and clap her hands.
  • This caught her dog’s attention and directed his focus to the car and open door. Many dogs love car rides and I assumed that their dog was no exception.
  • Their Vizsla became excited over the possibility of a car ride, so he ran to the car and jumped in the back seat. We closed the door.

To summarize, we ended the “follow-the-leader” game by having the dog owners stop running after their dog. I also had them change their demeanor from animated to calm. This caused a decrease in the dog’s excitement, but he was still moving down the street.  The good news was that he was doing this in a calmer manner at a slower pace.

This gave us the chance to place an alternative distraction in his path.  My car’s open door provided an association of “car ride” and the wife’s encouragement and direction assured their dog that he would be safe. The Vizsla simply responded to “something better to do”.

Sometimes you won’t immediately have a friend with a car.  In this case, you need a “Plan B”. Get a neighbor in your dog’s path to call him over with a goodie.  (A piece of cheese, baloney, hot dog, or cheeseburger will do.) The neighbor should get down low, call the dog’s name, and wave the goodie in the air.  My experience is that a dog will always go to a neighbor offering a goodie.  Have the neighbor calmly hold his collar as you snap on a leash.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.