We had a major wake-up call last week. According to our normal routine, we let our dogs out in the backyard right before bedtime so they could do their business before we all tuck in for the night. There was a loud commotion and when we called the dogs back in, our male had blood on his muzzle. I washed him off while my husband went looking for the victim, which turned out to be an unfortunate possum. Needless to say, nobody got to bed on time that night.
I knew Al had a strong prey drive, but I didn’t realize the full extent of his instinct. As responsible pet owners, we began to research the issue and learned that there are five sequential steps to the standard prey drive: the search, the eye stalk, the chase, the grab bite, and the kill bite. Sadly, our pup had quickly escalated through all five steps.
A strong prey drive is a natural instinct for dogs because they are predators and hunters. Even so, not all dog breeds feel each stage of their prey drive with the same power. For example, Beagles naturally have a strong desire to search, Border Collies are known for intense eye stalking, and Greyhounds have a powerful draw to chase. Prey drive is a scent driven instinct, and all dogs primarily experience the world through their noses.
In the book Hands on Dog Training, Gloria Post offers suggestions and training techniques to help distract your dog and help him ignore the stimulus that ignites his prey drive. Additionally, she offers substitutes that fulfill your dog’s need to chase prey. Post asserts that it’s incorrect to discipline your dog when you know he is about to give chase. Instead you should learn ways to redirect his attention.
If your dog has a strong prey drive, get in the habit of scanning your surroundings when you walk your dogs. Look far in front of your path to see if there are possible prey animals in the dog’s sight line. When you do come across a neighborhood cat or a feisty squirrel, get your dog’s attention and keep eye contact with him as you calmly walk past the prey. The best way to engage your dog in this situation is by offering his favorite dog treats, such as CANIDAE Pure Heaven biscuits. The goal is for you to condition your dog to associate eye contact with you as a more desirable activity than chasing the passing prey.
Another skill to work on is your dog’s recall abilities; you want him to immediately come to you when called. The easiest way to teach recall is to start out in an environment with no distractions, and be generous with praise and treats when your dog responds properly. Once your dog has mastered the “come” command in a controlled setting, gradually increase the diversions until he’s able to respond quickly in locations where prey animals are lurking. The article How to Get Your Dog to Respond Quicker to Commands offers additional advice on this subject.
Activities that tire your dog out are always a good idea, but incorporating mentally stimulating games into the mix is especially helpful for dogs with a strong prey drive. If you want to go the organized route, participating in a search-and-rescue group, learning nose work and tracking, or taking agility classes are all good ideas. For a less formal approach, think of any activity where you can challenge your dog’s senses. Try using a treat ball or hiding some CANIDAE treats around the house and instructing your dog to find them.
There are many reasons to manage your dog’s prey drive. One reason is for the protection of the prey, but another concern is that the prey itself can be harmful to your pet, like snakes or rabid raccoons. Another thing to consider is the possibility that your pet could chase a cat or a squirrel into the street where he could be hit by a car. So even though chasing prey is inherent in many dogs, it’s important to take measures to curb it – for your sake and the sake of your dog.
Top photo by Gina Pina
Middle photo by vidalia_11
Bottom photo by Tony Alter
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell