Traveling Dog Lady: Car-chasing hound - do you have a reactive or fearful dog?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Car-chasing hound - do you have a reactive or fearful dog?

I'm taking part in the WOOF Support Blog Hop today.  This is where reactive dogs and their owners can come together to share similar experiences.  

Are you a reactive/fearful dog or its owner?  
Then please join and share your story.  

The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, February 16th on Oz the Terrier's blog as well as on co-hosts Roxy the Traveling Dog and Wag 'n' Woof Pets blogs.

Gosh, where do I start?  All of my dogs are presently, or have been in the past, reactive or fearful dogs! Hobie, in particular, and Timba, both had fears of various things from thunder to fireworks and even balloons and kites.  And I am their fearful owner.  There, I finally admitted it -- I'm fearful when I socialize my dog(s) in any situation that involves other humans.  I try to see the humor in it; that's how I get through life in a fearful state.

But dogs are perceptive little creatures, and something you can successfully hide from other humans (maybe?) you can't hide from a dog.  Dogs are all about your energy, and if you're afraid, they know. People say that about horses, but it's true about dogs as well.  Probably cats too, who knows?

So back to the reactive dogs.  Hobie is aging and reacts to sounds around the house (mostly when the other two dogs bark because they are reacting to something!).  When he was younger, it was hard to take him and Hector on walks because they would react to other dogs, and they'd drag me down the road in an attempt to "greet".  One time Hobie and another dog's leash got tangled together and the two dogs' heads got pulled towards each other, then they sorta "got into it" until I stepped in and untangled the leashes... the other dog's owner threatened to call the police. Aye carumba! Seriously?  She was the one using a flexi-leash, and I stuck my hands on the necks of two fighting dogs whose heads were an inch apart!  I should've gotten rewarded for being a hero.  I walked Hobie back home, crying and shaking.  The woman said she was sending the police to my house (that never transpired).  And you wonder why I'm afraid?

Did you.... h-h-H-H-HEAR something?!  

Cooper is somewhat disabled (we have to be careful not to over-exert him as his single front leg takes the brunt of all activity).  So, he stays home a lot, and reacts to anything and everything going past the house.  We live on a dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  You'd think there wouldn't be anything going past the house.  No, it's like Grand Central Station around here.  Oil deliveries, visitors, spring water deliveries, people walking and riding bikes, lawnmowers, boats on trailers, snowblowers, snowmobiles, snow plows, people with snow shovels, Fedex, UPS, USPS!  Cooper has no concept of "inside voice".  He is the smallest of our three dogs, but has the loudest and deepest "bellow" of any dog I've ever met... and we've had several honorary members of The Hound Group, so you can only imagine how loud are said bellows.

I will belllloooooowwwwwwwwww at the windooooowwwww!
(while balancing on one leg)
Cooper on high-alert on Cape Cod

Charlie Brown is currently the most reactive of the family, and this post is really about him.  He's the able-bodied one -- the one I should be taking on walks, if only I was not so fearful (putting the weather and humongous snowbanks aside as today's excuse, for the moment, of course).  So anyway, Charlie reacts and chases every car, bicycle and motorcycle that goes past us -- in any situation.  If he is inside the car, he goes ballistic barking when any of those items goes near the car.

The twins, waiting for action on the dirt road

Motorcycles and bicycles he will bark at, even if we are in the car and moving.  He does not bark at other cars when we're moving.  When at home, he fence-runs whenever one of the aforementioned goes past the house. This is true at both of our houses -- each of them happen to be on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere. At our home on Cape Cod, he fence-chases people carrying surfboards, beach chairs, or pushing strollers.  He will also bark at someone just walking by with nothing in their hands. Runners are of particular concern.  So is anyone wearing pink clothing.  I don't even need to mention this, but anyone walking a dog gets immediate attention!

At the fence, ready to react

Now, what's really funny and strange about this is, I find myself constantly apologizing to people as they're walking by our property.  100% of the time, the humans have all told me to stop worrying, "he's so cute", he's "just doing his job" (a police officer actually said that!  I thought he was coming by the house to give us a citation!), "can I pat him?", "oh my daughter/son loves dogs" (as the small child is standing there clapping hands and giggling), and of course, "What kind of dog is that?"  Everything except, "you better call off your dog, or I'm gonna report you!"  I suppose I should be grateful.  When I had black dogs (and they didn't have any bad behaviors!!), people were not so nice.  Funny, eh?

The hunter spots a squirrel
I should mention that Charlie is a hound-mix, he looks more like a foxhound, and he "trees" small animals which is a coonhound behavior.  When he trees a squirrel [his favorite] he barks repeatedly. These are short barks, repeated while propping his front legs against the tree or fence.  He will only stop when I walk all the way over to him and congratulate him.  This is a fascinating inherent behavior that he was not taught, he just does it because it comes naturally.  He has no interest in hurting or catching the squirrel.  He is just sounding the alarm:  "Squirrel!  squirrel!" Charlie is like no dog I have ever had before. He is smart in a very different way from all those Labs we had before him, and it's taken us a couple of years to figure out what the heck he is trying to say and do.  A fascinating process! You get the dog you need, not the dog you want!

ooooooo!  Squirrrrrellllll!

Charlie "treeing" a squirrel

Imagine being out on a walk with Charlie on leash.  He is now 85-90 pounds, and very tall.  I'm no sludge, but I'm also no spring chicken.  I somehow manage to hold onto him when he lunges at EVERY car (no exceptions).  If a cyclist or runner goes by, or a person carrying a board or chair, it's pretty bad.  We have no sidewalks in either of the two communities where we live.  We could walk in the woods, but in order to get to the woods, we have to either drive, or walk on the road with no sidewalks.  On Cape Cod, we go to a park where other dogs gather.  It's not a dog park, it's a people park where dogs are welcome.  Charlie does great in that situation, although when we first pull into the parking lot it is pandemonium getting him out of the car.

Scoping out the parking lot at the beach in Truro

Does anyone else out there have a dog obsessed with chasing humans in cars or on bikes, etc?  If so, I'd like to hear suggestions on how to cure him of this -- because it's a new one on me. None of my previous dogs had this problem, so I'm stumped.  I would love to be able to walk my dog and get us both some exercise!


  1. Thank you for joining our hop and sharing your story! I can honestly say, Oz is not particular to golf carts (and yes, we live in Florida); he used to bark at them whenever they went past. However, now that I have been training with him on walks using the "Look" command (where he looks at me), the golf carts can cruise on by without any issue. Other dogs, on the other hand, it is currently hit-or-miss...hence, we are still working on our issues. Maybe someone else has similar experiences and let you know what they have done to re-train.
    Oz and Gina

    1. It's funny the things we forget. I always used to use the "look!" command with our previous dog, Hector. I'll have to teach that one to Charlie Brown and see if it helps. Hobie and Hector were always difficult to deal with when other dogs approached on our walks. I used to avoid, avoid, avoid -- walk late at night or super early in the morning, run into the woods and hide, stuff like that. These issues with Charlie are all new to me! Thanks for the feedback about the golf carts :)

  2. We use to have a dog (has passed) that loved to chase trailers when they went by. He had one of his legs to get run over and had to be stitched up, luckily no break. He did not learn his lesson either :( We finally resorted to an underground electrical fence so he couldn't reach the road.

  3. Both Leo and Isis had huge problems with bicycles. Not chasing, but barking and lunging at them. I think it's a fear of fast-moving people on wheels, and I find it extremely hard to "fix." We practice avoidance. ;)

    I tried to socialize Leo to these things from the time we got him. Next time I have a puppy, I'm going to click and treat for bicycles from the very first walk, in hopes that they'll look to me instead of bark and lunge.

    The drive to chase cars (or anything moving quickly in the other direction) can be instinctive. I imagine it's as hard to curb as fear of bicycles. All I can suggest is practicing being really far away from the trigger, and clicking and treating for calm (not barking and lunging or trying to chase), gradually moving closer and closer.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks! I had thought maybe it was instinctive, too. That's why I included the squirrel-treeing/chasing photos -- he does that all the time. He's really a good dog, most of the time :)

  4. Charlie is a big cutie! I agree with Kari that car and bike chasing (or going after things in general that move fast, or 'run away') is usually instinctive. Some dogs have a stronger 'prey drive' than others, although this definitely doesn't mean they will attack things, but it can still put them in harms way. I think this can be a bit tricky to deal with because unlike fully learned behaviours, it's sort of hard wired. I would go for avoidance, but if you do decide to work on modifying this behaviour I'd love to hear what you try and how it goes. Best of luck :)

  5. I don't know, but my thoughts would agree with some of the others...perhaps the "look" command could distract him just as some of us have tried/are trying to do with our leash reactive dogs.
    We had a dog in the past who was not fearful in any way, but she liked to chase cars. Unfortunately, we lost her that way when she was in the care of our neighbor. I wish we had known enough back then to try to work to cure her of that...she did have great recall when she was with us, but not with our neighbor (he had her on a leash but she broke free).
    Thank you for joining our hop and sharing your story. Our golden retriever is also fearful of thunderstorms, wind, etc. but walks well and loves other people and dogs.
    I think it's great that you have understanding people walking by your home on Cape Cod...that's so great especially after the episode you had with Hobie and that other person!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Jan,
      Sorry about your pup you lost from car chasing :(

  6. Thank you all for the great feedback! I used to avoid, avoid, avoid when I walked H&H as they were dog reactive (and didn't react to any bikes or cars or anything like that). But someone criticized that and said you'll never solve the problem if you avoid, so I've been putting us in very uncomfortable situations trying to "work through it". I like Joanna's term "hard-wired", that is exactly what it is. I've had Charlie since he was 10 weeks old, he lived on a farm with his foster family & there was no traffic so there's no way he learned this it is just in him. I feel so much better, and yes, I now have "permission to avoid" !!

    Regarding thunderstorm, wind, weather fears: Hobie (yellow Lab mix, so close to retriever) and my friend's dog (also a golden) have terrible fears of storms and fireworks. Hobie is now hard of hearing, and also my two hounds have no fear of storms, so I think between those two things he is no longer storm phobic. I have pictures of him hiding in the bathtub and shower stall during storms! Poor thing. I used to go down into the basement with him and "hide in the bomb shelter" during fireworks here on the lake!! The lengths we will go to for our fur babies.

    Yes, Jan, I am very lucky people are so understanding. I think they're in "vacation mode" so they don't mind as much as if they lived there permanently. The person we got into the conflict with DOES live there permanently. We have made up since then and are on more neighborly terms now. :)


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