Predatory Behaviour – Prey Drive

Every dog has prey drive.  How strong the drive is and how they exhibit it is determined by genetics and strengthened by training.

Many domestic breeds are skilled hunters having been bred to fulfil certain human requirements.  Terriers are excellent ratters.  Sighthounds such as Greyhounds are skilled chasers.  Labradors and Weimaraners are adept at flushing and retrieving birds.  Heelers and Collies will round up people and other animals and may nip heels.

Unlike aggression and fear aggression, prey drive is not emotionally driven.  Where aggression is about creating space and distance, prey drive is about decreasing distance.

The full predatory sequence is:

Eye > Orient > Stalk > Chase > Grab/bite > Kill/bite > Dissect > Consume

A number of factors will determine how far along the predatory sequence a dog will go.  These can include genetics and training.  For some dogs, a switch will flip as deeper instincts take over making it difficult to recall / distract dogs.  This is sometimes referred to as drift.

Things to look for:

  • Dog becoming excited & difficult to distract
  • Shaking, trembling, fixed stare
  • May be unable to take their eyes off the small animal
  • Neck arched, tail up, stiff stance
  • Some dogs will try to encourage a small animal to move by nudging or placing a paw on it.
  • The dog may vocalise if it can’t get to its intended target

If you see any of these signs, immediately take control & remove your dog from the situation. It is likely to escalate very quickly.

Does my dog have prey drive?

Many dogs love shaking and disembowelling stuffed toys.  This doesn’t usually translate to live animals or people.

Herding breeds eye, stalk and chase their ‘prey’.  They will nip at heels to encourage the ‘prey’ to move but do not usually go further in the sequence to killing.

If your dog flips over from chase to grab, bite and kill part of the sequence quickly, he/she needs to be monitored around animals and small children.

What is the difference between high ‘chase’ drive and ‘prey drive’?

Some dogs just like to chase toys, birds or people, but are not actually interested in catching what they are chasing.  This does not mean that they have high prey drive. The chase is the game. 

What should I do if my dog has high prey drive?

If your dog has killed a small animal or bird or bitten a child, it is vital to responsibly manage your dog.

Your dog will need to be on lead in public.  You will need to have excellent recall.

To protect your dog, it is suggested that you find a good positive trainer to help you with recall, learning the ‘leave it’ cue and finding out the best way for you to break the sequence before or during the chase.

Sports such as flyball, agility and treibball provide some high prey dogs with a way to run and chase in a positive environment.  It will also help you communicate with your dog in a heightened state.

Dog is focused with ears up.
The dogs are focused and up like meerkats.
Ears are up, body tense and eyes fixed.
Body tense, eyes fixed and body down low.

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