Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Benson Blu — ‘BB’

Getting an aggressive dog to walk away.

Diana's Blu is being trained not to chase other animals. —Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dogcharmer,

What is the best way to train one’s dog not to chase other animals: birds, squirrels, cats, etc.?



Dear Diana,

Antelope and zebras are prey animals that often serve as meals for their predatory counterparts, lions and tigers. A year or so ago, I remember hearing about a pony on our Island that was killed by a dog. Dogs are predatory; horses are prey animals. I believe it’s one of the reasons horses sleep standing up. When I toured Iceland, which is serious horse country, I noticed lots of horses lying down, with another horse standing nearby. When I asked my horse-expert friend Annie about it, she told me it’s common because there are no predators there that horses have to worry about. She also told me it’s in the nature of prey animals to look out for each other, hence the horse standing nearby guarding, just in case.

Canine predatory aggression is something I’ve had to confront a thousand times! It’s inherent in all dogs, but varies greatly due to their domestication. My Doberman, Michelle, would stand under our parakeet cage and whine, which was my cue to let the birds out. They loved each other! Michelle would lie down, and the birds would immediately fly down to her and climb all over her. My other Dobe, Mike, would have killed and eaten the parakeets in a heartbeat if given the chance.

So once again, we’re talking about the “leave it” command. One of the new types of “leave it” commands that’s being touted is called “walk away.” In a happy voice you say, “Walk away,” and toss some treats on the floor as you point to them. After a few times BB will know to look for those treats when you say, “Walk away,” which is very positive because there’s no conflict at this point. Next, place a low-value (to the dog) toy on the floor, and when he sniffs it, tell him “Walk away” as you toss treats a few feet from the toy. BB “leaves” the toy for the more attractive treats. Do this multiple times with different objects, until BB immediately leaves the toys for the tossed treats when he hears the cue “Walk away.” With many, many repetitions, increase the “value” of the toy from which he has to “walk away” to get the more valuable treat (at this point, steak might be needed to get him to leave a piece of bread).

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