Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dog talk with Uncle Matty: The thrill of the chase

From where the dog sits, there’s not much that beats the thrill of the chase. It’s in their blood — the prey drive, the chase instinct. It’s an urge once based on survival, one passed on from the dog’s early brethren: the wolf.

But times have changed. For the African spotted dog, also known as the painted wolf, the chase is still wrapped up in the kill, or survival. For your dog and my dog, the thing most likely to be killed by the chase is your dog or my dog.

As humans, we are blessed with the ability to connect dots, to weigh possibilities, to foresee consequences. And yet so many of us fail to consider the consequences of our dogs running loose in an increasingly close and crowded world.

It’s thought that hundreds of thousands of dogs are killed on U.S. roads every year. Liberal estimates reach a million. Some of these dogs were strays. Some were even wild. But many were chasing balls tossed by their owners, or taking advantage of an open front door, or freely wandering their neighborhood as they were permitted to do day after day.

I’ve known dogs who were permanently maimed by a run-in with a car. I’ve seen dogs hit by cars right before my eyes. One such dog was in an open garage with his owner when a dog on a leash, out for a run with his owner who was on a bicycle, trotted across his sightline. The scene was irresistible to the unleashed dog, and he ran smack into an SUV. The dog’s owner was in shock. The driver was hysterical. The dog was lucky. He survived. The other incidents I’ve witnessed did not turn out so well.

But it’s not just dogs who get hurt in these stories.

When people driving cars see dogs loose in the street, they swerve, they slam on their brakes, they do what they can to avoid hitting the dog. In doing so, they bring injury to themselves and others in the form of traffic accidents and collisions with joggers, cyclists, pedestrians and other animals on sidewalks or in intersections.

There have also been legal cases where a loose dog chased a person into the street, and that person was then hit by a car. It is the owner, not the dog, who is sued — and possibly charged — in those instances. For most of us, being the cause of the death of a person is a huge burden to shoulder, regardless of whether the offense is determined punishable by law.

And being the cause of the death of your own dog is no easier to bear. When a domestic dog is killed by a car, it almost always could have been prevented.

To dramatically increase the odds that you’ll never have to feel the painful regret that comes with losing a dog this way, take these simple steps:

• Add a screen door to any doorway that opens to a road or unsecured area.
• Secure any yard the dog spends time in with a fence he cannot jump over or otherwise get around.
• Keep your dog on a leash whenever he isn’t inside your home or in a secure yard. If his leash attaches to a collar, make sure the collar fits properly: loose enough to breathe comfortably, but not so loose that he can slip out of it.
• Teach your dog the “stay” and “place” commands. “Place” should be a good six feet from the door.

In Africa, the chase still has its place. Out of Africa, the chase, wild and unbounded, is better gone to the wolves.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Matthew Margolis


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