A dog with her shadow.

Dear Cesar,

I have a Border Collie and Australian Shepherd mix and she loves to play fetch. But lately my dog has become obsessive with chasing shadows. She will stand in the back yard and stare at shadows all day and chase the shadows. Even when we bring her inside she will find a shadow on the wall and bark at it and chase it forever and not stop. I can get on to her and she will stop for a minute until I turn my head and go back to it or find another one to drool over that is closer to her. She has never done this before. She is getting so obsessive with chasing shadows that we really have to try to get her attention. What should I do? This is a really sad situation and people are really starting to think she is weird. Everybody asks what is wrong with my dog and I say nothing, she just created some dog obsession with shadows. But she is such a good dog and so smart! I hate to see my dog this; it really makes me sad! Will you please help! Thanks, Jerod.

Cesar Millan’s Answer:

Hi Jerod,

When dogs have fixations and obsessions, such as your Border Collie with her shadow obsession, it usually means one of two things: that they have unreleased energy they need to get rid of or they have an insecurity of some sort.

From your email, it doesn’t sound like she is insecure. So, two questions come to mind – how much are you exercising your dog? And are you giving her enough mental stimulation? Border Collies and Australian Shepherds both need a lot of mental stimulation and are known for their innate intuition and acute sensitivity, so in order to fulfill her instinctual needs, you may need to invest more time in her exercise routine, and even better, look into herding classes or get her into sheepdog trials.

Your dog sees the shadow as something she has to have, and in this case, she can never really get it, so she keeps at it.  It is important that you practice activities that encourage calm submission. You also need to condition your dog’s brain to react differently to shadows.  When on the walk, don’t give her the option to look down at any shadows.  Keep her focused on the walk alone. Make this her mental challenge instead! You could try putting a dog backpack on your dog with water bottles for added weight to get her focused on carrying things instead of chasing shadows. She is telling you she is bored. Also, keep in mind that dog obsessive behavior is in part boredom, and in part, routine.

Think of this as a dog discipline ritual. When a dog is fixated and obsessed, the brain is closed. This stubborn state of mind makes it difficult to correct the bad dog behavior, so the key here is to snap her out of this state of mind before it escalates into a dog obsession. When a dog is aggressive and bites, we sometimes use a muzzle in the rehabilitation process. One, it keeps the situation safe, and two, the muzzle is a device to help convey the message. The redirection or device is what allows the brain to be open and therefore, able to be corrected. So, with the shadows, you need to find a device that helps you redirect and convey the message. One suggestion — try dog goggles. When the dog becomes interested in a shadow, put the goggles on. (You can also try an Elizabethan cone collar or a can filled with coins that make a loud noise.) And say a word, like “no” that she can associate with this action. Once she is calm again, remove the dog goggles. Then every time she looks, repeat this. It teaches her that there is a consequence to this problem dog behavior. Eventually, she will learn that just seeing the goggles and hearing the word “no” means to stop this — that effectively becomes the redirection.

Also make sure that you are not condoning the bad dog behavior in any subconscious way.  It is important to remember not to feel sorry for her.  She needs a pack leader who can take control of the situation.  So encourage a calm-submissive state before engaging in any activity, be it playing fetch, feeding, or giving affection.  Once your dog understands she they must be quiet and respectful before any dog activity, they will not be so overexcited and dog obsessive with the things around them.

Stay calm and assertive,

Cesar Millan

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