I started writing this post almost a year ago but then put it off, hoping that I wouldn’t need to because it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. At the time, I was pretty upset about it.

Around this time last year, Zara started “hunting” or chasing shadows and reflections. It started when Zara and I went to watch my sister finish a race in DC and when we were hanging out afterwards, Zara noticed the reflection from her watch. She was trying to pounce on it. We thought it was funny at the time, so we started moving it around on purpose to get her to chase it. The next weekend, we were away in Raleigh, North Carolina and Zara noticed some shadows on the ground that were moving and started chasing those as well. We started moving our hands around to entertain her. It kept her occupied while we were sitting outside.

A few weeks later, I was on the internet and I stumbled across something that said that chasing/hunting shadows was an obsessive behavior for dogs and should not be encouraged. I immediately started doing more Googling and was alarmed to find that some dogs can become so obsessed with shadow chasing that they won’t eat, won’t sleep, etc. I felt so bad, because we had encouraged Zara to do it. I felt like I had ruined her. At the time, she was about six months old and besides that, the leash pulling, and poop eating, I felt that we done a pretty good job raising her so far. I was so afraid that my sweet puppy was destined to a life of OCD.

Soon after, we took her to the dog park with our friends and we were standing in one place on a sunny day. Instead of playing with the other dogs, Zara just stood near us, chasing shadows and wagging her tail. She couldn’t be snapped out of it. That made me feel worse, because she loved the dog park! She loved nothing more than running around and chasing other dogs.

I spent some time researching what we could do about it and came across Cesar Milan’s article about shadow chasing. Before we got Zara, Chris and I had watched a lot of Cesar’s TV show and respected his opinion on dog training. Cesar said that chasing shadows could be a result of insecurity/anxiety or not enough exercise or mental stimulation. I really didn’t think any of these were true. Zara hasn’t shown much insecurity/anxiety. Sometimes she gets scared of things but I’ve never seen her chase shadows as a response. As for the exercise part, that couldn’t be true either. Over the past year, there’s been days when she will start chasing shadows in the house at night after she’s gotten hours of off-leash exercise that day.

Regardless, we needed a way to stop it. We did buy the dog goggles (Doggles) but they didn’t really bother her enough to stop her from doing it. However, a metal can with coins in it has helped. She doesn’t like the noise, so if we see her chasing shadows, we grab the can, shake it, and say “No shadows!” This is one of the only things that will snap her out it. But it does work. It redirects her attention to something else.

Obviously we can’t carry a can of coins around with us everywhere. By now, Zara knows what “no shadows” means. But if she starts doing it at the dog park, I get her to move. That’s the key. If I just let her stay in one spot, she will probably hunt shadows for hours. But she doesn’t do it while we’re walking or moving around.

The winter was a bit easier for us to deal with this behavior because the sunlight is not as strong and there’s less of it. Now that spring is here, I’ve noticed an uptick in this behavior again. She’s been doing it in the yard, running after the reflection of the glass front door as it closes. While I still feel sad that she does this, we just try to be really consist about discouraging it. I also do not let anyone encourage it. Occasionally people will notice that she’s doing it while we are out and about and they wave their hands back and forth to make her chase their hand shadows. They think it’s funny, like we did. But I always ask them (politely) to stop, even if they are complete strangers. I can imagine how this behavior can escalate and I don’t want that to happen.

I know Zara is not the only dog that does this. We’ve actually met other owners who have shadow-chasing vizslas. I do feel a little better knowing that she’s not the only one. However, that doesn’t mean I want her to keep doing it. I just have to hope that with consistency and patience, it won’t get any worse. I have yet to see it affect her eating, sleeping, or playing habits, so that’s good.

Does anyone else have a dog that does this?

 

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • charlotte says:

    I hope that this is a recent post! Of course I could check, but I’m dealing with the exact (!!) same thing with my German shorthair. Only shadows at the dog park. It makes me so sad, she doesn’t want to play with me or other dogs anymore. She is 11 months old, and I am desperate to help her snap out of this. Like you, at first I thought it was cute, she was on point with her shadow, but now it’s escalated to where she won’t eat or use the bathroom when in a shadow hunt. She is an amazing (!!!) dog. I miss her:(

    Have you had any recent success with your vizla?

    • Michaela says:

      Hi just want to say I have the same issue with our lovely springer spaniel, he is one this month and has been having this obsession for about 4-5 months now. It’s really hard work taking him out as he also pulls on his lead. I stop when he pulls but he just distracts himself with the shadows. He won’t chase a ball he just runs after the shadow of my arm throwing the ball!

      I think a combination of things caused this. Him chasing birds, esp black ones as they look like shadows, the kids pointing a laser pen, although this was only a couple of times and lack of exercise during the winter months when it was not possible to get out for two walks a day. Knowing what may have caused it doesn’t help though and I really need ways to counter his behaviour. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Pat says:

    My labrador does this as well. It actually gives other dogs anxiety at dog parks so please don’t take a shadow chaser in the mid day… I’ve seen first hand how it sets other dogs off and they’ll get more aggressive with each other.
    For her though I avoid shadows as much as possible. If there is one it’s easier to redirect and correct if it’s been a while. If I let her just stand in a yard mid day and allow her to chase them it becomes more obsessive and takes a few weeks to level back from.
    It’s worked well for us, they need a larger reward to really snap them out of it but there is no larger reward. You can try some of the same ideas behind conditioning with dog reactive issues or food aggression (The same mode of thought in training with those but with shadows instead) and may see a bit of improvement but I do not think it will ever go away. The moment they’re allowed to chase a few shadows continuously training will go out the window. There is no bigger stimuli than rewarding a tick.
    So just keeping the shadows at a minimum and correcting her from the chase works best. Once a shadow chaser always a shadow chaser in my opinion.

    • Terry Ann says:

      Hey Pat! I wrote this post 5 years ago and I’m happy to say that Zara’s life is not very affected by shadow-chasing. She does still do it, but it’s in limited contexts. If we’re standing around and she starts to do it, I redirect her. After using the can of coins and “no shadows!” for several months, she now knows what “no shadows” means and will stop. In other contexts, it’s hard to stop, like if we’re out to dinner and she’s under a shadowy table, but for the most part, it’s been okay. I do agree that you have to be proactive and nip the behavior in the bud as much as possible. Since we only actively let her chase shadows for a few weeks, I don’t think it did too much damage. Also, I’ve noticed that having a second dog helps. She used to do it when she was bored, but oftentimes, she’ll now play with Colombo! Hope your dog is doing well.

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