A dog chasing a pigeon. Here's how to how to stop dog chasing birds using obedience training

How to Stop Your Dog Chasing Birds and Other Wildlife


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We all know the importance of protecting our indigenous wildlife. It’s one thing to practice this ourselves, but how do we get our pups to follow suit? Obedience training a dog to stop chasing birds and other animals (small or large!) can seem like an impossible task.

Thankfully, it isn’t. With patience and consistency, it’s possible to curb their chasing impulses and protect the health and welfare of our feathery, furry, scaly and other-adorned friends. You could save several lives by taking the time to learn.

So, here are tips for dog parents who want to train their pup not to chase or kill birds and other animals.

how to stop dog chasing birds using obedience training

The problem

New Zealand has some of the rarest animals and most delicate ecosystems in the world. Our dotterel/tūturiwhatu, little penguins/kororā, red-billed gulls/tarāpunga and many others are declining in number.

Unfortunately, these can be unknowingly put at risk by pet parents who let their dogs run free in places where there’s wildlife. While dogs may not be the primary cause of the drop in these bird populations, they can contribute to the problem by chasing and harassing birds.

Why? Disrupting the birds in this way can cause them stress, injury, and even death – just as it can other animals.

Though a dog chasing a flock of birds may appear harmless at first, it actually isn’t. During the summer, many birds are busy foraging or nesting and they need every bit of energy they have. Dogs’ innate drive to stalk, chase and grab can scare off seals, penguins and other animals too. They can even maim or kill them (often unintentionally).

It’s not a pup’s fault for doing what their instinct tells them – it’s our responsibility as pet parents to teach them alternative behaviours.

1. Solving how to stop a dog chasing birds and animals requires impulse control

As mentioned, the drive to chase or kill birds and smaller animals is instinctual for many dogs.

Some breeds were bred specifically for hunting and chasing prey, which can make things doubly tough! These include terriers like the Jack Russell, hounds such as the Beagle, retrievers such as the Labrador or Golden Retriever and sighthound breeds like the Greyhound.

What steps should you take?

obedience training

Basic training is a must

You’ll need to focus on making responding to your cue for a behaviour more reinforcing than their instinct to chase or hunt. As Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant and dog trainer Maria Alomajan says, “Remember, we cue a behaviour, we don’t command an animal to do something. Language matters in the world of dog behaviour.”

Start with training behaviours such as “come”, “with me”, “leave it”, “sit” and “drop.” These behaviours are useful when beginning to teach your pup impulse control.

Do simple exercises, such as asking them to wait before eating their food, before going outside or before playing with a toy. Gradually increase the waiting period duration and reward them when they show self-control. You can teach them to wait until you give a learned signal. There are many more scenarios to practice, such as when crossing a street or when waiting to greet a person.

Games are a great way of enhancing learning, so playing things like fetch with a “wait first”, “stay-ok”, “go find” or “sit – stay” (lead on) will help build impulse control. However, refrain from doing this training in the great outdoors.

A word from the expert

As Maria says, “if your dog is off lead because you have a reliable recall or leave it cue, and you’re in an area where wildlife may be present or it’s a new area you’re exploring, please resist engaging in prey based behaviour. By this I mean resist the urge to play fetch in areas where wildlife may be.”

“In this instance, you don’t want to encourage the chase /grab sequence and increase adrenalin in your dog. There are already plenty of other natural reinforcers at the beach to fulfil our dogs. Smells galore, textures like sand, rocks and water, other dogs… just being there as opposed to being at home for a change will stimulate their senses.”

Check out our 5 Easy Dog Training Tricks article for more training tips.

A woman feeding her dog a treat. Here's how to stop dog chasing birds using obedience training

2. Use positive reinforcement to stop a dog chasing

When training, be sure to use positive reinforcement dog training. This a method of obedience training that uses reinforcement and positive feedback instead of punishers to teach your pup desired behaviours. The goal is to teach them certain actions lead to positive outcomes and rewards (such as treats, toys and praise – though very few dogs work just for praise!).

A behaviour that is reinforced will be repeated, and that’s the desired goal here.

Using aversives on your dog for chasing birds and other animals can be counterproductive and may make them more anxious or aggressive. In fact, dogs that are obedience trained using aversive methods – like giving them a smack when they do something wrong – have been shown to be up to 15 times more likely to show stress than dogs who do obedience training with positive reinforcement.

3. How to stop a dog chasing birds and animals? Use a lead

It may sound simple, but keep them on a lead when they’re out in public. There’s no better way to stop them chasing birds than managing their movements. A longline lead can be especially useful for training, especially when teaching recall or other behaviours you later want to be reliable when the dog is off lead. It gives your dog more freedom to explore while maintaining control and supervision.

Leads are even more useful when they’re colour coded. PD recently partnered with the Department of Conservation on its Lead the Way programme, which promotes the use of these:

Coloured leads for the win

The programme’s high quality, locally made leads indicate your dog’s temperament to other pet parents. They’re either green, orange, yellow or red, which means the below:

Green – your pet is happy to be around other pets and people.
Orange – your pet isn’t always comfortable around other pets and people.
Red – your pet doesn’t like socialising with unfamiliar pets or people.
Yellow – your pet is disabled or vulnerable to interactions in some way.

How do you buy a Lead the Way lead? It’s simple – complete a quick quiz that will help you improve your ‘wildlife wise’ knowledge and unlock the ability to purchase a lead for your dog or cat. You’ll not only be helping yourself and other pet owners socialise safely with each other, but you’ll also be very clearly demonstrating your support for the protection of our precious wildlife. Hopefully that encourages others to do the same!

Check our guide on being a responsible pet parent while in the NZ outdoors for more info.

4. Stop a dog chasing things with distractions

When you see birds or animals in the distance, use a toy or treat to distract your dog and redirect their attention away. This can help to reinforce positive behaviour and teach them that there are more interesting things to focus on.

woman takes her dog to dog friendly beach in NZ.

5. How to stop a dog chasing birds and animals: Keep their needs met

Oftentimes, dogs will chase birds and animals due to boredom or excess energy. Ensuring they have enough mental stimulation and exercise may help curb this behaviour. Check out specific dog breed exercise requirements to see how much activity your pup should probably be getting.

Walking them regularly is the simplest way of getting in their steps. You could also read our 4 Tips For Exercising Dogs Without Walking! article and take some pointers from there.

6. Seek professional help to stop the chasing

Obedience training a pup to go against its instinctual behaviour can be tough! If you’re still struggling to stop your dog from chasing birds or other animals, consider seeking the help of a professional dog behaviourist or trainer. They can provide personalised advice and training to help you and your pup overcome any challenges you may be facing.

Contact Companion Animals New Zealand and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers New Zealand to find out about obedience training experts in your area.

PS: Be sure to read our piece In Conversation with Dog Trainer and Canine Behaviour Consultant, Maria Alomajan. She’s an NZ based accredited dog trainer, certified dog behaviour consultant and the only trainer in the country applying Canine Emotional Detox training to her work.

Read more to become more wildlife wise:

We have plenty of articles about dog training and becoming more of an environmentally aware dog owner. Here are just three from our blog:

A woman walking her dog on a lead. Here's how to stop dog chasing birds using obedience training

Ensure they’re insured: It won’t stop it but it will help

Now you know a little more about obedience training and how to stop your dog from chasing birds and animals. Here’s another vital act of responsible dog parenting – getting them insurance cover! You never know when your pup will get into an accident or come down with an illness. Having to choose between your pocket and their medical care is something no pet parent wants to do.

PD Insurance is an award-winning brand that offers value rich, month to month dog insurance for your pup. Why not get a quote now?

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