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Squirrel! 3 Ways to avoid making your dog's prey drive worse.

Squirrel! 3 Ways to avoid making your dog's prey drive worse.

What is a surefire way to send your dog running away, completely lost in the moment of the hunt, unable to listen to your cue to, “Come back!” Perhaps the dreaded squirrel! Unfortunately, your dog is not ignoring your pleas to come back. They are just following their primitive brain and their prey drive instincts are completely taking over. Once your dog has finished chasing that chipmunk and has returned to you, happy as can be, you are left wondering, “What can I do about my dog’s prey drive?” or perhaps, “What have I done wrong? Did I do something to make this worse?”

There are some common mistakes many dog parents unknowingly make that can take a very common and manageable problem to something that reads closer to an obsession. No pet parent intends to encourage their dog to chase deer or other wildlife. However, to begin to see the light at the end of the prey drive tunnel, we need to start to see things from the dog’s perspective to affect real change.

Giving the dog too much freedom, too soon.

Dog chasing birds prey drive

The off leash walk. It’s a dream of many dog parents. Walking through the woods with your happy dog exploring yet responding to you right away. Skipping through the streams and ignoring every creature of all sizes until you are both tired, satisfied, and happy. For many the reality of their dog’s off leash behavior is quite different. Often the handler is walking along, ears open and eyes peeled for any little motion or sign of wildlife. When they call their dog back it’s more with a sense of hope or desperation than anything else. More often than not the appearance of any animal sends the dog off running into the woods and the handler desperately running after. The off leash dream IS achievable for most dogs, we are just often too quick to jump to that point. When we have our dogs off leash before they are ready for that responsibility, they get to practice predatory behavior. Very natural for dogs yes, but the practice still makes perfect. If they get to chase squirrels or deer, they get to realize how fun that is! Over time they start to develop strategies and begin to always be on the lookout for opportunities to do so. Giving them their off leash freedom before they have proved they are ready, can lead to difficulties down the line.

Read more on our suggested use of longlines for off leash training in our blog post here.

Will my dog grow out of their prey drive?

We hear it often. “I know this is just a puppy thing” or, “Once they are spayed or neutered it will go away, right?” Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that your dog will not just grow out of it. Like your teenager keeps telling you, it’s not just a phase. It’s who they are. Prey drive isn’t something that your dog naturally grows out of. It takes time, patience, understanding, and consistency. Your dog won’t naturally stop, but you are more than capable of helping them get past the need to immediately act on this instinct and move towards more focus around wildlife. (psst- we are going to show you how!)

Dog chasing chickens prey drive

If I punish my dog for practicing prey drive, it will go away.

As we have stated above, your dog’s prey drive is a natural and very normal behavior. Punishing it is not only unfair, it does not work in the long run. Not only will the punishment have to be harsh enough to stop something instinctual, but there is one thing that you will always have to keep in mind. YOUR DOG WILL NEVER WANT TO STOP HUNTING! Punishment will suppress behavior, but it will not change it. As soon as a dog who has been punished for practicing their prey drive gets the chance to participate in a fun chase, they will take it. Leading to a dog who is frustrated and always looking for a safer way to play. If a dog takes off running for a turkey but doesn’t listen when you call them to you, but once they return from the fun chase they are punished, all they will learn is that returning to Mom or Dad can be scary sometimes! That won’t help anyone when our goal is to get our dogs to stop chasing squirrels and come back.

So there you have it. The three biggest mistakes we all make when trying to address our dog’s predatory instincts. If this has your head spinning or maybe, just a little curious then please join us in our free upcoming webinar, Wild at Heart: Understanding dogs with prey drive, where we’ll dive deeper and open up the conversation for questions. This is a free opportunity and we’d love to show you just how you and your dog can enjoy your walks together, as a team- no longer fighting each other! Click here to sign up.

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