Oh deer…

If you have spoken to me recently, chances are we have spoken about predatory chasing, either because this is one of the main focuses of my own training just now, or because your dog has an issue with it (concerns about predatory chasing being common around here, lots of working breeds in pet homes surrounded by wildlife).

Now, I’m sure most of you have a sinking feeling when you’re out walking and spot a deer in the distance. It’s either time to recall and go on-lead, or time to engage in a grand chase where you try to persuade your dog that leaving the deer and coming back to you is in their best interests. Not me! I actively seek them out (by which I mean I walk in the fields behind my house, there are literally deer in every field).

It is incredibly important to me that my dogs don’t chase other animals: for their own safety, for the safety of the animal they are chasing, to prevent accidents and so on. It’s impossible to avoid wild animals around here, and as Islay is going to be a working dog when she’s all grown up, it’s even more important that she doesn’t chase deer when she’s working at a distance, hunting for game birds. GSPs are used for deer hunting in some parts and are more than capable of running one down.

I know I go on about scentwork a lot, but it teaches so many important skills to dog and handler. Identifying scent, engaging/disengaging, and most importantly, that scent is most rewarding when you work with your human, not against them. I have used scenting games for many years to engage my dogs and teach them to work with me. More recently, we have also gone to scentwork classes and competed, which is just one of the most enjoyable things I have done with my dogs.

When I walking the dogs yesterday, I spotted a deer a few metres away wandering down the gap between hedgerow and field and took the opportunity to practice some engage/disengage from the scent. You’ll notice a few things in this video. Firstly, that Islay is on a long line, because I’m not 100% confident in her behaviour around wildlife yet. You will also notice that even though the dogs can clearly detect the scent of fresh deer, their arousal is very low and they are showing very little desire to chase down the scent. I let them find the scent, reward them for it (they’re working for me after all) and then tell them to “leave it” and they get sprinkles (high value food scattered on the ground) on recall. In other words, leaving the scent is rewarded with scenting for food. The deer becomes very boring in this game. Finding its scent and letting me know is much more rewarding.

This isn’t a quick fix for predatory chasing, but it is part of an on-going package of training involving recall, leave it, scentwork, impulse control and much more. It has taken hundreds of hours to get this far. Why? Because I want to be able to walk my dogs knowing they, and other animals, are safe.

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