"I'm not so concerned about Old Blue chasing cars," starts the old joke, "it's when he brings 'em home and buries 'em in the yard that I start to get worried."
Dusty jokes aside, car chasing is a problem for some dogs. Some car chasers are just answering the instinctive call to the hunt: Anything that moves can serve as prey. Others may be acting on territorial instincts, driving away (no pun intended) the motorized intruder from their turf. Still others -- usually herding breeds or mutts with strong herding instincts -- are trying to get those wayward cars back into the "flock." Basically, any dog will be inclined to give chase to a moving object -- a tossed stick or ball, a passing cat or squirrel -- but the trick is to teach him when chasing is okay: Fetching sticks and catching a ball are fine; trying to fetch the neighbor's cat and catch passing cars aren't.
First, try to figure out why your dog chases cars. Out in the country where things are more spread out and neighbors might live up to a mile apart, letter carriers deliver the mail in little jeeps. A car-chasing dog might view the daily arrival of this red-white-and-blue thing at the end of the access road as a regular attempt to crash his gate. Once the motive for the dog's chasing is understood, the solution may be as easy as introducing the dog to his nemesis. A few friendly encounters -- perhaps punctuated by a favorite game or treat -- and the threat evaporates, as does the car chasing.
Predatory chasing can often be corrected using a leash or a distraction (such as an unpleasant noise) to interrupt the start of the chase. When the dog turns his attention away from the chase, reinforce the behavior with praise (and an occasional treat). Of course, the surefire method to keep a dog from chasing cars is to keep him safely fenced or leashed.
Try giving the dog who sees cars as wayward sheep something more constructive to do with his herding instincts. Give him plenty of exercise, including several long walks or runs each day, or play running and jumping games with a Frisbee. These dogs are good candidates for organized sports like flyball and agility training, too. If you have a herding dog (like a Collie or Sheltie), the best thing to do is train him for herding trials -- after all, it's what they were born and bred to do! Again, this is something you should consider before you adopt a dog from a herding breed. It takes a lot of time to keep a dog like this busy, but you'll both be happier you made the investment.
When to Call the Vet
This type of behavior usually doesn't require any veterinary attention.
Next we'll look at dogs who chew things they shouldn't -- and how to stop them. You no longer have to live in fear that you'll wake up one morning and find your shoes are chewed to pieces.