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?