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Understanding Your Dog's Prey Drive

Understanding your Dog's Prey Drive

Prey drive is the instinctive desire for dogs to find, chase and capture prey. If you have ever wondered why your chihuahua puppy loves chasing ants and bugs, that is predatory behavior aka, prey drive! Wolves, and other hunters, need this instinct to survive out in the wild so it is an extremely useful and deep-seated part of canine genetics. Predatory drive is a big reason that so many of our dogs have such a difficult time focusing on their parents when there are chipmunks, deer, rabbits, or turkeys around.

Consider your Dog's Breed

Take a moment to think about the Pug, Alaskan Husky, Pomeranian, Labrador, or the Australian Cattle Dog. They may not look like they have much in common on the surface but they have all been purposely bred for very specific and very different tasks for generations. Their shapes, sizes, colors, and coats are all vastly different. They do all however share something important to understand dogs. They are all descended from the keen hunter the Gray Wolf. The modern dog shares little in common with the gray wolf but their ancient DNA has left some important characteristics present in our couch mates of today. One of those traits is our dog’s prey drive.

Dog Prey Drive Dog Chasing Cats

The Predatory Chain

Prey drive follows a pretty strict chain of events, commonly referred to as the predatory chain. It starts with scanning and ends with consuming. Wild wolves and other predatory animals need to be able to explore that entire chain while the pet dogs of today do not. Most people would be horrified if Fluffy chased down, captured, and began eating a chipmunk. To varying extents, we have encouraged or discouraged certain parts of the predatory chain for specific tasks using purpose-focused breeding. Labrador retrievers are selected for breeding when their behavior traits include chasing and grabbing, not consuming. That’s why Labradors make great hunting dogs as they’ll hold things in their mouths gently. Pointers are selectively bred for scanning and stalking, but not chasing. Dachshunds are selected for chasing and possessing but not consuming.

Predatory Behavior in Dogs Dog Chasing Birds

Depending on your dog’s breed characteristics, trying to get a handle on their prey drive can be more or less difficult than dogs with different breed characteristics. Trying to get a Terrier, who is purposely bred to flush out and pursue small animals, to focus around small prey may be just as difficult as getting a Beagle to stay calm and focused around fresh animal scent.

A Normal Behavior

Prey drive is a natural part of our beloved pet’s genetic makeup. It’s as natural as a human’s desire to eat potato chips and pizza. It isn't something that should be punished. It isn’t something that dogs or puppies will grow out of. It’s a real and important part of what makes our dogs, dogs! Louise and I have always approached dog training with the mindset of how we can make things work for humans and their dogs. Prey drive is deeply ingrained and therefore very rewarding to our dogs. Chasing stuff is fun! There are so many ways we can use our dog’s prey drive to help with training instead of constantly thinking of it as a hindrance.

If your dog gets obsessed with staring at rock walls because that is where chipmunks live, or can’t contain themselves when there is a herd of deer around, we have an exciting course just for you! Be sure to stay tuned for the details. Subscribe to our email list to stay in the know about our announcements, Click to Subscribe Now.

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