Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Certain Breeds Are More Likely to Chase and Attack Other Animals
To understand why a dog loves chasing and attacking squirrels, chickens, cats, birds, or in some cases, small dogs, you must look into the history of the breed. There are breeds that are bred specifically to hunt and/or retrieve. I once had a client who came crying to me because her Kerry Blue Terrier had attacked and killed her hamster. I told her to go home and read about this breed. She then called me and told me how sorry she was for not knowing that the Kerry Blue Terrier was bred to hunt vermin!
To be a good hunter and retriever, a dog must have a certain level of prey drive. Of course, all dogs have a good level of prey drive, but in hunting breeds, the drive is much stronger. Before you can train your dog to stop chasing, you must understand that your dog's prey drive is in his genes. You can't take away the drive, but you can certainly manage it.
How to Stop Your Dog From Chasing and Attacking Animals
I would advise against removing prey drive, and instead orient the dog's attention towards you. You must, therefore, become more interesting than a squirrel, rat, mouse, or anything that crawls. How do you accomplish that? Offer things that are more interesting or at least as interesting as rats, mice, or squirrels.
In the following step-by-step guide, I will teach you the ''leave it" command and show you how to get your dog to focus more on you and learn to leave crawling critters alone.
8 Steps to Keep Your Dog From Chasing Small Animals
1. Plan Ahead
- As a first step, you must train your dog to stop pulling towards other animals when she meets them on walks. I really like using the Easy Walk Harness by Premier, and I highly recommend it. This harness has a front attachment that helps prevent pulling and lunging behaviors. It can be a great training tool.
- Invest in tasty treats that your dog loves. These can include slices of hot dogs, freeze-dried liver, steak, boneless and skinless chicken, and oven-cooked chicken livers. Keep small bites of these foods handy by putting them in a fanny pack or treat pouch worn around your waist.
2. Train Your Dog to Focus
- Make a sound with your mouth. This sound can be anything — a whistle, a smacking noise, etc.
- Place a treat at your eye level and give your dog the treat as soon as she looks at you.
- The sequence is as such: You make a sound with your mouth with a treat held at your eye level. The second your dog looks at you, the treat is delivered. Timing is very important with this exercise, so make sure there is no delay between the moment she makes eye contact and the moment you hand her a treat.
- Do this 10-15 times until your dog gets the hang of it.
- Now, every time you make the noise, your dog associates it with receiving a treat and will come running to you with anticipation. This is a classical conditioning exercise that teaches your dog to focus on you.
- Once your dog gets the hang of it, try to do it from across the room. If she drops everything she's doing and comes running, you can then practice the exercise around other animals.
3. Train Her Under Threshold
- Keep her at a distance from a cage with an animal in it (a rat, hamster, chicken, etc.). Keep her muzzled if you cannot trust her.
- Find a distance from which she does not react (this distance is "under the threshold"). Then, make the noise with your mouth.
- If she looks at you, give her a treat.
- If she is too aroused to take your treat, then she is too close, and you will need to work with her from a distance that is farther away.
4. Train Her With an Animal in a Cage
- Bring her closer and closer to the cage over the course of a few days while performing the same routine.
- When she gets too close to the cage, say "leave it'' in a firm voice, accompanied by a small tug of her leash.
- Then, make the noise with your mouth and the moment she looks at you, give her a treat and shower her with loving attention (e.g. lots of belly scratches). You need to be the most entertaining thing in that room — more entertaining than the animal in the cage.
5. Train Her Using a Stuffed Animal
- Get a squeaky toy that looks like a rat or a stuffed animal that resembles the animal your dog loves to chase.
- Attach it to a stick with a string and have a friend move it around the room while you practice the "leave it" command, followed by the focus exercise. You will know that you are successful when your dog listens to the command and focuses her attention on you despite the distraction.
- Always enthusiastically praise her for listening to the "leave it" command.
6. Make Your Dog Think You Are Always Watching
- Now, try leaving the squeaky toy in the middle of the room and step away from it.
- When you see your dog getting close to it, say ''leave it'' and make the noise with your mouth from across the room.
- You can also try to leave the toy unattended. Then, hide somewhere in the room and secretly watch her. The moment she sneaks over to the toy, say ''leave it,'' followed by the noise. If she comes to you, praise her and give her treats!
- If you do this often enough, she will begin to think that you can always catch her even when she thinks she is alone. Ultimately, she should feel like you are omnipresent!
Important Note: Never let her play with this toy. It is for training purposes only and must be treated as if it is a real mouse/cat/squirrel/small dog.
7. Try the Exercise in a Real-Life Situation
- If she is doing well, then you can decide if you ever want to expose her to a real animal. You should keep her muzzled and on the leash if you decide to practice this.
- You can also use the ''leave it'' and focus exercise when going on walks. If she does not listen, simply wriggle the treat in front of her nose, then drop it on the ground.
Consider Working With a Professional
Do not try the e-collar or citronella spray collar to train dogs that attack other animals. These training tools only tell your dog what NOT to do, but do not give him/her something to DO instead. This is setting your dog up for failure.
Please consult a dog behaviorist if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors. Only a dog behaviorist is able to offer the most appropriate behavior modification program tailored for your dog. Use extreme caution and make safety your top priority.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My neighbor has cats. I’m not sure how my dog will react to cats, but he chased one of the young cats once (I was not there; he was with a family member). The cat got away just fine. I am worried one day he might catch a kitten and hurt it before I can get him to leave it. The kittens explore our yard, and one day, though they are fast, I worry they will get trapped and caught. What do I do?
Answer: If your dog is kept outdoors unsupervised and the kittens are kept outdoors unsupervised, there is not much you can do other than strict management. That means that the cat owner must find a way that the kittens don't make it to your yard, and you have to find a way that your dog doesn't harm if they "happen" to enter your yard.
It's the responsibility of the cat owner to ensure the safety of his cats and fix any gaps in the fence (or install a new fence altogether) that is cat and kitten proof. There are now companies that erect special fences or cat containment systems purposely made for cats.
I wished there was a sure proof way to prevent mishaps, but there's not much you can do. Sure, you can work on training your dog to leave the kittens alone, by keeping your dog on leash when the kittens are in the yard and training a solid "leave it" until your dog responds reliably even off leash, but if your dog is left unsupervised most of the day, he may learn that the kittens must be left alone only when you are present.
Question: We live out in the country where our husky, Rock, usually roams free. He has caught a fawn and injured it but to our knowledge, not hurt anything else, that is until yesterday when he got a neighbor's bantam chicken. What adjustments should be made to help him? I hate having him on a run wire, but that's where he is until I figure out what to do.
Answer: Keep him inside the home with you if this is possible. Most dogs crave being with their families, and this also keeps them out of trouble.
Leeor on July 09, 2020:
How do I get baby bunnies and their mom to leave my yard before my dogs kill another from their family? Also how do I know if there’s any more in my yard?
Sara James on April 07, 2020:
My dog is a big victorian bulldog ,lady, and is very built.Recently she has killed 2 of my smaller dogs 1 was a toy poodle and the other was too.A while back we got a new puppy bulldog that she took care of as her own puppy but once she got older, after lady killed both of my poodles, about a couple months later after the poodles died she started fighting my other smaller bulldog, torta, and now we have to keep them apart from each other or they will fight.
Lady doesnt hurt torta like she did our poodles but she does try to and even latches on to her neck and trys to pick her up with her mouth like a toy that she has.But we have another bulldog, brewtus, and he is about her size, they are not the same breed, but she doesnt hurt him or anything in fact she actually plays with him.
Its not only Torta that lady attacks it is also other dogs that she sees especially smaller ones.She sees other dogs and starts to want to attack them. She has even killed some of our neighbors cats and some birds that come to our backyard. It is so bad that we have to keep her tied up just to keep her from jumping the backyard.I dont know what is causing this type of behavior or how to stop it.But she is very friendly with other people its just dogs that she does not like. I just want to be able to trust her around other dogs and let her be free to roam around my backyard but i dont know what causes this aggression towards other dogs and animals.
Nikki on January 23, 2020:
Hi, I have a male labradoodle and we recently acquired a Rainbow Lorikeet I can not get him to stay away from the cage. He will not break his focus for anything. Do you think this method would work for him he is not a food-motivated dog either
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 17, 2019:
Hi Sarah, true, there are many dog breeds with higher prey drives out there. I have applied the same training to terriers and hounds and it still works if you are determined and have the time and patience to train and work on providing outlets to the high prey drive.
Sarah Richards on November 23, 2019:
To be fair Rotti's prey drive around small animals is pretty easy to curb compared to alot of the terrier ratter breeds. I trust my rotti x wolf hound but never my terrier with small animals. The large dog protects smaller animals. I have found this true of german shepards I have owned in the past also. Guard shepard breeds are bred to protect livestock, home and owners and their other animals.
Kelpie and sheep working dogs and little terrier ratter type dogs are so obsessive it is much more work it is very tiring. Not saying it cant be done but Rotti's are easy by comparrison.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 29, 2019:
This is tricky with huskies due to their history. In the winter, huskies were often set free to fend for themselves and this entailed hunting on critters. Prey drive is very strong in this breed. He should always be on leash when outside with you or a long line so that he is under control. Without you around, it's very likely he will repeat what he did in the past and risk potentially killing animals. Just Google "my husky killed my cats" for an idea of how widespread this issue is.
Rachel L. on July 28, 2019:
Hi, I have an 8 month old male Siberian Husky. We live out on a farm that has some "wild"/farm cats. Unfortunately he has already injured a cat and few kittens despite introducing him to cats and training. He has also caught a few birds. Any advice on how to stop this? We would hate to have him tied up or in a fence all the time.
Patricia evans on August 01, 2018:
I have a female pit bull.Very gental and loving.Very good around other animals and people and children.Walks daily theough park on trails with me.Never had no problems what so ever.Then all of a sudden she has attacked a pot belly pig out of the blue.Im not inderstanding this action out of her.And why.She was gave to me and Ive had her for a feq months.Can you explain.
Adriane vada REnee Hofmeister on April 10, 2018:
I have 1 boxer who is 5,a boxer that is 8,and a chocolate lab mix with piple and he is 14. How do i stop them from killing or chasing?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 13, 2015:
What breed is this puppy? it might be your puppy just wants to play. Training a "leave it" command my be helpful, but it's always good to practice caution as it's very easy for a bird to injure a bird even non intently.
CATHERINE METZLER on August 11, 2015:
my puppy is very hyper she has seen my pet bird up close many times we have only had her for 1 month she has been told not to hurt the bird most times she leaves him alone he is used to dogs, for no reason she tried to bite him she only got his tail, if she does it again the dog will be put up for adoption or sold!!!! the bird was here first he loves dogs i will not tolerate this type of behavior!!!
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 03, 2011:
We have a young Siberian Husky. She wants to chase squirrels and other things. I think it is an instinct to just chase things.
Teylina on June 01, 2011:
Hope some people besides me who need it, read this! Good info! Well done!
suejanet on June 01, 2011:
Thanks for this good information.