Why Do Golden Retrievers Like To Chase Things?


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Some dogs love to chase things, whether it’s bikes, skates, skateboards, small animals, balls, or cars, and my Golden Retriever is no exception. So, this puzzling behavior got me wondering why Golden Retrievers love to chase things? Let’s take a look at why this behavior occurs.

Many Golden Retrievers like to chase things because they have retained a natural canine instinct to chase moving objects. That drive is descended from the ancestral wolf that chased animals for food. In addition, chasing objects can be fun and self-gratifying, reinforcing the behavior.

The Love Of Chasing Things

In a previous article I wrote on the Golden Retriever prey drive, I noted that all dogs had retained elements of a prey drive. Of course, these natural urges are more latent in some breeds than in others.

For Golden Retrievers, some aspects of the prey drive were selectively bred to be enhanced to assist hunters, and other prey drives were softened. For example, the prey drive consists of seven elements: 

  • Search 
  • Stalk
  • Chase
  • Bite Hold and Bite-Kill
  • Dissect
  • Consume

Golden Retrievers, as hunting companions, were bred to be high on search, stalk, chase, and a soft bite hold, but hunters did not want the dog to dissect or consume the birds. So, when watching a Golden Retriever, you will see it employ these aspects of the prey drive as it seeks out, then fetches, and returns the game bird.

The dog does not try to bite-kill (shake or bite hard) as it was bred to bite and hold softly. Nor does it dissect and consume, as the hunters intend to do that later on when preparing it as a meal. 

Likewise, as flushers, Golden Retrievers were bred to search, stalk and chase game birds such as pheasants out of the dense brush so hunters could do their thing once the bird was flushed out.

So, the dog has an innate drive left over from the ancestral wolf, plus selectively breeding to enhance some aspects of the drive while softening others. 

However, we live in a modern world where fast-moving objects such as cars, motorcycles, skateboards, and bikes are commonplace. While a dog’s prey drive is often at the core of the urge to chase objects, there are other reasons as well. 

In the following sections, we’ll examine why your Golden Retriever likes to chase small animals, toys like frisbees and balls, things with wheels (like cars and bikes), and why they want to chase their tails. 

If you want to learn about the Golden Retriever prey drive in more detail, check out this post: The Golden Retriever Prey Drive: Is It High or Low?

Why Do Golden Retrievers Like to Chase Squirrels, Rabbit, Cats, and Birds? 

What do animals like cats, rabbits, squirrels, and birds have in common? Aside from being small and having fur or feathers, they move quickly and erratically. 

As discussed earlier, wolves would often chase small animals such as squirrels, rabbits, cats, and birds, and even larger animals like caribou or deer. Many Golden Retrievers have retained this hardwired predatorial drive to chase. 

Chasing birds is an example of a hard-wired prey drive leftover from the ancestral wolf

So, a robust instinctual urge to chase is somewhere in the deep recesses of a Golden Retriever’s DNA. And that instinct is often triggered when a small animal darts across a Golden Retriever’s path or is in its sightline.

But that does not mean the Golden Retriever will necessarily kill the animal if it catches it. The Golden Retriever was also bred to softly hold prey (downed birds) in its mouth when returning it to hunters. Therefore, soft mouths are a characteristic of Golden Retrievers. 

The soft mouths of Golden Retrievers are an example of selective breeding to enhance certain traits that are useful for a job or sporting purpose (such as retrieving downed waterfowl without damaging the bird). While at the same time softening undesirable traits such as bite kill, dissect, and eat. 

Another example is the herding dogs which are very high in the stalk and chase, but their nips are not meant to be fatal or damaging. The bite was softened to align with the dog’s work purpose of herding.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Like to Chase Balls, Sticks, and Frisbees? 

The desire to chase toys that are thrown is driven by the same reasons that Golden Retrievers like to hunt small animals, prey drive. 

Toys, especially balls, move quickly and erratically and have motions similar to panicked, fast-moving prey. Frisbee’s float in the air much like birds.

Toy, like frisbees and balls, can mimic prey with fast and erratic movements

As well, Golden Retrievers were bred to chase and retrieve. It is a very natural activity for them as sporting dogs. As hunting companions, retrieving toys and then duck dummies are still taught as the foundational skill. 

Plus, toys also add a human factor. Whereas a Golden Retriever may chase a small animal out of a natural canine urge, toys are chased as a byproduct of a person throwing the toy. 

Golden Retrievers were also bred to work cooperatively with humans. They enjoy the social aspect and the play. So, chasing toys allows the dog to meet these social needs, and it’s fun! They enjoy it. 

So, toys are highly enjoyable for Golden Retrievers as it meets multiple layers of the dog’s inner drivers. 

Interested in why Golden Retrievers love balls so much, then check out this post: The Golden Retrievers Obsession With Balls: Solved!

Why Do Golden Retrievers Like to Chase Bikes, Cars, Motorcycles, or Skateboards? 

Like the animals and toys discussed previously, things with wheels move. And movement is a big trigger for animals with a strong instinctual drive to chase. 

We may find it bewildering that a dog chases a car like he chases a squirrel or ball. But, to the dog, that chasing behavior is driven by (pun intended) a strong instinctual urge. The activity can also be fun and self-gratifying for some dogs, reinforcing the behavior. 

Chasing cars for dogs is so ingrained in some dogs that you often will find farm dogs or dogs in the backyard alongside roads, crouched down and waiting for a car to pass by so it can chase. That waiting behavior is the stalking sequence of the prey drive. 

Additionally, cars and motorcycles especially can be noisy, as can skateboards, scooters, and bicycles, but to a lesser degree. So, there is also an auditory component that triggers excitement in some dogs. 

That noise may also scare the dog, which may cause reactive behavior such as lunging and chasing. Reactive behavior is fear-based and triggers a flight or fight response. 

Did you know that if your dog is barking while chasing, it most likely is NOT predatorial driven? Instead, according to professional dog trainer Adriene Farricelli, it is most likely territorial aggression or reactivity (fear-driven) behavior. That’s because instinctually, dogs know that barking would scare off prey, which would be counterproductive in capturing it.

Regardless of the underlying motivation, chasing things with wheels is dangerous to both dogs and humans. Obviously, the dog can get injured or killed if hit by any wheeled vehicle, but bikers and skateboarders could be bitten or injured due to a fall. 

A car may also swerve to avoid the dog, causing an accident. 

Some dogs like to chase anything that moves, including bikes

If your Golden Retriever is predisposed to chasing things with wheels, then as a first step, manage the behavior. The key to managing behavior is to put tools in place to protect the dog, yourself, and others and to reduce or eliminate the opportunity for the behavior to occur.

As the first step of management, make sure the dog cannot get out of the yard, and on walks, always ensure the dog is securely leashed and under control. If you are using a collar, and the dog is pulling so hard as to choke himself, or there is potential to get away, consider a harness

Always be aware of windows of opportunity for your dog. Be sure you watch doors so the dog doesn’t inadvertently get out. Cars are frequent, and once your dog is out and the chase is on, good luck catching it. 

Shading can be put on fences which helps obscure any movement of cars driving by. Often dogs can see through wire fences or even wooden fences with wide enough openings. Therefore, shading alone can often reduce chasing behavior along the fence. 

If you’re at a dog park, be careful of people entering and the dog being able to scoot out the door when people are coming and going.

You may also need to find a route and time on walks where there is less traffic. High traffic often means a non-stop source of auditory and movement stimulation for chasers, and opportunities are aplenty for trying to chase. 

Next, de-escalating the behavior needs to be addressed through training. If the behavior is very ingrained, then contact a professional dog trainer on ways to deal with the issue. A professional trainer can also determine if the behavior is reactive or prey-driven. 

The first key in managing chasing behavior on walks was to observe the dog’s body language. Often the dog will present signs that it is about to chase. Signs might include a fixed start, pricked ears, wrinkled forehead, tensed body, or a sudden stop.

Often, bikes and skateboards can be addressed easier through training than cars. This is because those situations are usually easier to control and anticipate.

For example, my Golden Retriever likes to chase things with wheels, toys, and furry animals – he has a powerful prey drive. So, I dealt with this by first managing the behavior by using a harness to have firm control over BAR.

Next, by anticipating the signs that he was about to chase, I would ask BAR to sit off to the side before the bike arrived (alternate behavior), and I would reward him generously while he remained calm. I would also do this with joggers and walkers too to reinforce the behavior.

Did you know that most dogs will not chase a bike or skateboard while it is approaching but will wait until the trigger is slightly past them? Always be aware of your dog’s body language for signs it is about to chase or lunge and keep your eye on the dog at all times.

I continued this at every opportunity, and now the bikes, skateboards, and scooters have been largely desensitized. Now Bailey will calmly go into a sit and stay when asked anytime a wheeled object or jogger comes by. Today, BAR rarely shows signs of chasing when he sees a bike or skateboard.

However, cars and small animals are obviously much more difficult. Cars because of their frequency and loudness, and small animals because often they are unpredictable and unexpected, darting out of nowhere.  

However, I’ve been employing the same technique with some success. I’ve also modified my route and walk in the early morning when traffic is minimal. 

I used Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training For Dogs to teach Bailey his basic obedience skills and to manage and train his chasing behavior. You can read my review on her course here if you’re interested: Online Dog Training Courses: These Are The Ones To Buy

Why Do Golden Retrievers Chase Their Tails? 

Lastly, why do Golden Retrievers chase their tails? Is this a prey-driven behavior too? Doubtful. I’m sure a Golden Retriever has some understanding that the tail is its own, just like it does with its paws. So, why, then, do Golden Retrievers chase their tails? 

Golden Retrievers may often chase their tails for multiple reasons, including boredom, attention-seeking, and play. The dog’s tail may also be itchy, or there may be a painful area or injury. Behavioral issues such as anxiety or a compulsive disorder could also be a factor for some dogs. 

Obviously, the exact reason a Golden Retriever chases its tail is unknown. After all, they can’t tell us. I’ve asked my Golden Retriever, and other than looking at me with a “huh, I still haven’t got a response. 

So, we theorize, guess, and hypothesize. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across a study on the topic yet, and I suspect I never will. 

So, why do they do it? 

Play

Play seems like the most obvious one. After all, most puppies will chase their tails and often even engage in a full-on playfight with the tail. 

And, I suspect boredom plays a role in this one too. As humans, we have our handy cellphones to pass the time with. 

For the Golden Retriever, it’s the tail. Think about it. If your dog is bored, it has a ready-made toy to pass its time with. 

Golden Retrievers, in particular, are high-energy dogs. They are smart too. So, they need a lot of mental and physical stimulation. If they don’t get enough stimulation, they have a lot of pent-up energy, which needs to go somewhere. 

Tail chasing may be one of the ways they amuse themselves and, at the same time, expend some excess energy due to boredom. 

Attention Seeking

Who of us doesn’t think a puppy chasing its tail is amusing and adorable. Typically, we laugh when our puppy does it and give it attention. 

That is called positive reinforcement. Your little Golden Retriever puppy is rewarded for doing something we find funny by getting laughs, pets, and hugs. So, next time he has a ready-made behavior to get your attention and to get you to engage with him. 

Bailey chases his tail when he is bored (play) and sometimes to get attention (like a belly rub)

Even if you reprimand (not sure why anyone would), that is also attention. It may be negative attention, but it is still attention nevertheless. 

Don’t believe me? Kids are notorious for acting out to get attention. But, unfortunately, bad behavior is much better at getting it than good. 

So, if tail chasing is undesirable to you for some reason, then skip the punishment. Instead, just ignore it. Ignoring it will be more effective if it is indeed an attention-seeking behavior. 

Health-Related

Often tail chasing can be medical or health-related. For example, parasites, rash, and hotspots can cause an itch that drives a dog nuts. 

Often, a telltale sign is they will abruptly drop everything to chase their tails and then bite or chew on them when they catch them. This is often a sign of an itchy tail. 

However, it may also be pain-related. Dogs will often chew areas of pain, or that feel uncomfortable. It could be from medical issues affecting the tail or the hindquarters. 

And that includes injury. If your dog’s tail was stepped on or caught in a door, it could be bothering the dog. 

If you suspect the dog has a very itchy tail or is biting its tail repeatedly, the best course is to have your vet check the dog out. Better safe than sorry. 

Anxiety or Compulsive Disorders

Often tail chasing is caused by anxiety. As a result, the dog feels anxious, and tail-chasing then is a soothing behavior that helps calm the dog. 

As humans, we engage in similar behaviors when stressed or anxious. For example, we may tap our feet, twirl our hair or bite our nails. Each of these behaviors is a coping mechanism to alleviate the anxiety and is often automatic and beyond comprehension unless someone points it out. 

However, some of those anxiety-reducing behaviors in humans can lead to a compulsive disorder. For example, someone who bites their nails as a soothing behavior during stress may find that behavior is problematic if they bite them to the degree of bleeding.

Your Golden Retriever may be doing the same with tail chasing. Now, if it is compulsive behavior, it would frequently happen. If your dog chases its tail on occasion, I don’t think you have to worry about obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Disrupting the behavior and redirecting, such as playing with a toy or a training session, can often work well with tail chasing. 

But, as a first step, always talk to your vet to rule out any medical or pain issues. Next, you can try some training interventions to address the problem. Finally, if that doesn’t work, contact a professional dog trainer.

Lastly, if the behavior is infrequent, then just ignore it. Your dog may be amusing itself, just like you might be doing right now by reading this post on your mobile. 

Final Thoughts

Except for tail chasing, Golden Retrievers often chase things out of a strong natural urge left over from their days as wolves. Quick moving objects such as small furry animals, toys, and even wheeled objects like cars and skateboards can trigger that prey drive sequence. 

Chasing behaviors that put the dog or others in danger should be managed, such as chasing cars, bikes, or skateboards. Otherwise, games such as fetch are great ways to satisfy their innate drives while also stimulating them mentally and burning some excess energy. 

So, break out the tennis ball or frisbee and put that chase drive to work. 

Woof-woof!


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