Explained: Why Your Dog Chases Cars

Written by Sharon Parry
Updated: October 15, 2022
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Some dog behaviors are potentially dangerous for the dog and everyone around them. Chasing cars is one of those behaviors. This is something that you need to actively prevent because it can result in a serious injury.

So, why do dogs chase cars? Here we examine the main reasons and use them to compile some tips on how you can prevent it from happening.

Why Do Dogs Chase Cars?

Obviously, cars are a fairly recent invention and ancient wild dog breeds would have had no cars to chase. So, there must be something about cars that triggers other deep-seated behaviors. Dog behavior experts think that these are the main reasons that dogs chase cars.

It’s Part of Their Predatory Instinct

In the wild, dogs are predators. They need to hunt down animals so that they can eat to survive. Therefore, this instinct is very strong – it’s called prey drive and all dogs will have it to some extent. Some breeds have a particularly strong prey drive and they are the dogs that have been bred by humans as hunting dogs. The terriers, hounds, and sporting dogs (such as the Cocker Spaniels) are typical examples. We have bred them because we want them to chase small animals like rabbits, birds, or foxes.

To dogs, a passing car looks like something that they should chase. They can mistake the wheels and hubcaps for small animals and their prey drive makes them run after them.

How to prevent it: Prey drive is a very strong instinct and is hard to control. You could try some impulse control games using fetch toys and teaching your dog that they only give chase when you tell them they can.

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They are Trying to Play

Most dogs love to have fun. For some dogs, chasing cars is a fun game and they do it because they enjoy it. These dogs also often enjoy chasing leaves and shadows.

Running after a car may not seem like much fun to you but the thrill of racing down the road, barking like mad, may be too much for your dog to resist.

How to prevent it: Some owners find that they need to install a dog-proof fence to make sure that their pooch cannot escape. Most dogs will grow out of this phase. It may help if you give them plenty of toys so that they have lots of other things to think about!

Territorial Protection

You may not have got a dog because you wanted your territory protected but your dog does not know that. A combination of years of breeding and natural instinct drives some dogs to perceive a car as a very large and very noisy intruder. They see it as their duty to drive it away.

How to prevent it: This takes some time and gradual exposure to cars under controlled circumstances. Consult a dog trainer or read a book on dog training to learn the techniques. It will involve gradually exposing your pooch to this trigger, starting at a distance. Eventually, they will learn to ignore cars altogether.

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Boredom and excitement

To a bored dog, a moving car is highly exciting. It makes a loud noise, there is light bouncing off lots of shiny surfaces and it moves very quickly. Many dogs are constantly looking for a ‘job’ and chasing cars is better than nothing!

How to prevent it: Give your dog a job! Many breeds, such as the German Shepherds, are happiest when they have a task to complete. Interactive toys are very useful for this when you are at home. They stimulate your dog mentally so they don’t have much time to notice cars.  

To Stop You From Leaving

If every time you leave your dog you climb into your car, they will soon learn that the car is something that takes their beloved humans away. They give chase because they want to come with you!

How to prevent it: You could take your dog with you as much as possible. You will need a harness and dog seat belt or a suitable dog crate. You also need to tackle the issue of separation anxiety by consulting a dog trainer.

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Activities for Dogs That Chase Cars

Many of the reasons listed above can be tackled with some activities for your dog. You can give them the chasing experience that they love without risking their safety. Here are a few ideas:

  • Fetch: Invest in fetch toy and find a wide, open space so that you can throw it far away. Try to teach your dog to wait for your command before they start chasing.
  • Tug: Tug of war is a favorite game for many dogs. It makes them think and uses up a lot of energy and excitement. You can also teach impulse control by making them drop the tug toy when you tell them. Always have plenty of tasty treats to reward them.
  • Tag: This one will keep you fit too and builds engagement with your dog. Find a safe enclosed area and let your dog off its leash. Encourage them to chase you when you run and reward them for following you. Then, you can build in some recall commands such as “Come’.

You could also try some organized dog sports and activities. Two excellent options are Lure Coursing and Fast Coursing Ability Tests. In both activities, there is a mechanically operated lure that moves quickly on the ground. Dogs get to indulge their prey drive in a safe environment.

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What Not to Do if Your Dog Chases Cars

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do that will make this situation worse. Here are the main things that you should avoid if your dog likes to chase cars.

Take Your Dog Near Cars

Obviously, there may be occasions when you cannot avoid your dog being near traffic. However, do not go out of your way to expose them to this environment until they are ready. Try to pick alternative routes and areas for walks and recreation.

Physically Punish Your Dog

Physical punishment is both cruel and ineffective. Dogs act out of instinct and are not being ‘naughty’ on purpose. You may get your dog to not chase cars when you are around, out of fear, but they will still do it when you are not there. Physical punishment ruins trust between a human and a dog and can lead to other behavioral issues including aggression.

Allow Your Dog to Chase Cars

Untethered dogs chasing cars is very dangerous. Tethered dogs chasing cars is also very dangerous. They will be able to run so far and will then be brought to a very sudden stop. This can cause damage to their neck and spine. For the same reason, you should not leave your dog unsupervised outside.

Use Scare Tactics

By this we mean doing things like driving at a dog, bumping them with a car on purpose, or throwing something at them out of a car window. This simply does not work and is a terrible training technique. You could also end up injuring yourself or the dog.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Artem Avetisyan/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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