Dogs tend to take off like a shot after any small prey animal, but they may also do this for larger mammals, like deer. This can pose some difficulty and danger to both you and your local wildlife.
So why do dogs chase deer, and what can you do about it? Read on to find out.
Why Do Dogs Chase Deer?
Dogs chase deer because of their instincts to either hunt, herd, or chase fast-moving prey animals. This harkens back to either their breed’s genetics or their time spent in the wild.
3 Reasons Why Dogs Chase Deer
1. Prey Drive
Dogs in the wild spent a long time honing their abilities to hunt down wild prey. These instincts, called a prey drive, are present in many dog breeds today, especially sighthounds and other hunting breeds.
It’s an intrinsic part of their genes. When they see a prey animal run, they’re inclined to chase and catch it as their natural instincts kick in.
2. Herding Instinct
Not all dogs learned to chase animals to kill and eat them. Some were bred as herding breeds, designed to chase livestock and keep them in check.
Once again, this is an intrinsic part of their genes. The sight of an animal wandering around can trigger their instincts to herd the animal, even when that’s not what they’re supposed to do!
3. Play Chasing
Lots of dogs, even those with minimal hunting and herding instincts, just enjoy chasing things for fun. The fast rushing by of a deer can trigger any instinct that encourages chasing.
When the deer continues running, a dog takes this as encouragement for what it perceives as a game of chase.
Can A Deer Outrun A Dog?
On average, deer can typically outrun dogs. Most dogs aren’t able to run more than about 30 miles an hour, and deer can reach speeds of around 10 miles an hour faster than that.
Many dogs also tend to favor bursts of speed over long-distance running, while deer can run for longer periods of time to avoid predators in the wild.
However, this depends on many other factors. Some dogs are capable of very high speeds that would allow them to overtake deer.
These breeds include the Sloughi, Saluki, Ibizan Hound, Afghan Hound, and Vizsla, among others bred to chase and catch deer and deer-like mammals.
There are also other things to consider, like the fitness and health of both the individual dog and deer.
A sick deer or very young deer may be unable to outrun a dog, while an unhealthy dog of a prey-hunting breed may be unable to keep up with a deer.
Can A Deer Hurt Your Dog?
It can seem strange to think that a deer may be able to hurt your dog, especially since deer are herbivorous prey animals.
For the most part, it’s true that a deer would not go out of its way to attack a dog, and most deer will focus on fleeing instead of fighting when confronted by a dog.
However, a panicking deer seeking to defend itself or its children may opt to attack if it feels threatened by a dog.
Despite looking harmless, deer have strong kicks and can bite quite fiercely. Male deer also have antlers that they can use to gouge at attacking dogs.
Essentially, while it’s unlikely that a deer will try to hurt a random dog, it can and will if it feels it has to do so to defend itself or its young.
A dog may also end up getting hurt while chasing deer through other means, such as by being too excited to notice dangerous terrain or oncoming vehicles.
Can Your Dog Hurt A Deer?
Yes, dogs can hurt a deer. While them being able to catch up to a deer is unlikely, it’s always possible in certain circumstances.
Upon catching a deer, a dog’s prey drive may lead it to kill the animal. Even a dog that doesn’t want to kill a deer may do so accidentally or may otherwise injure the mammals with rough play.
In addition, dogs don’t need to physically harm deer to hurt them. The stress from running away from a dog can make a deer sick or render it too tired to run again when a real predator shows up.
Many states have laws protecting deer and other wildlife from dogs, and even states without these laws typically advise against allowing dogs to chase deer.
There have been many cases where a dog being allowed to chase wildlife has resulted in unbalanced ecosystems and, therefore, harm to the wider environment.
How To Stop A Dog From Chasing Deer
Step 1: Take Precautionary Measures
The first thing you must absolutely do when you notice that your dog has a chasing problem is to take precautionary measures.
Set up a strong, sturdy fence that your dog cannot hop over, squeeze through, or break through. If your dog begins digging a hole underneath it, have it covered quickly and patch any holes or breaks in the fence as soon as possible.
When walking your dog, always use a leash to maintain control over your dog’s movements and behaviors. Even the most well-trained dog should stay on a leash as much as possible, especially in areas where prey animals are likely to be seen.
Finally, ensure that your dog has enough daily avenues to take out its chase energy.
Playing games like fetch, tug, and hide-and-seek can engage and entertain instinctual desires to reduce your dog’s desire to chase real prey when it sees them.
Step 2: Train Common “Focus” Commands
Stopping a dog from following its drive to chase deer can be quite an arduous task, but it’s made easier when your dog already knows basic commands that take focus.
For example, commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “watch me” command the attention of a dog, directing its focus onto you.
If your dog doesn’t know how to respond to its name followed by a command in a reliable way, you should work on that first.
If possible, ensure your dog gets quite proficient in these commands and can respond reliably under pressure and stress.
Other commands like “come”, “drop”, and “leave it” can also be vital tools for your command arsenal.
Step 3: Expose Your Dog To Prey Animals
Once your dog reliably responds to commands, leash your dog and begin practical training.
Go to a place where you are likely to see prey animals, like squirrels and birds. Bring some treats with you, preferably high-value ones.
Whenever your dog begins to take notice of a prey animal, say your dog’s name and issue your chosen focus command. It can be “Watch me”, “Come, “Leave it”, or even just “Sit”.
When your dog focuses on you, immediately reward it with lots of praise and a couple of treats. Then, redirect your dog with a game or toy to take its energy out on.
Continue this training for a few instances, or until you know your dog is tiring. Most dogs benefit from short but frequent training sessions. Over time, your dog will be able to be reliably redirected from its prey drive with all prey animals, including deer.
It’s in a dog’s natural instinct to chase deer, but this impulse can lead to harm befalling your dog, the deer, or your local ecosystem.
You can train a dog to be redirected from its interest in prey with treats and commands, but you should also do what you can to reduce the accessibility of chase triggers for your dog.