What is dog prey drive? 4 Signs of prey drive & how to control it

Dog chasing after prey. What is dog prey drive?

Prey drive is a natural hunting-related urge for many dogs but, in some cases, it can lead to problems, accidents or injuries for your dog and other animals.

The good news is there are several things we can do to manage our pup’s prey drive.

If you have a furry friend that is always running after birds or other small animals in your backyard or during walks, read on for more information about prey drive and how to help your dog with it.

What is prey drive in dogs?

Prey drive is a dog’s natural instinct to find, chase and catch prey. While prey drive can be confused with aggression, they are not the same. An aggressive dog is driven by strong negative emotions such as fear and involves them trying to distance themselves from the object of their aggression. Prey drive, however, is instinctive and causes a dog to head towards their prey.

Prey drive can be more prevalent in certain breeds – particularly those that have been bred to pursue, chase or hunt including Terriers, Australian Shepherds and Border Collies. But any dog breed can have a high prey drive, so it’s important to know the signs and train your dog to help control their instinct to chase.

Signs of prey drive in dogs

The signs of strong prey drive, as described by GAP, include:

  1. Fixation and staring at prey while at a distance – for example, your dog may be unable to take their eyes off a small dog or bird during a walk.
  2. Stalking or tracking while approaching or following other animals.
  3. Lunging, chasing, grabbing, hovering above or over the shoulder of a small animal.
  4. Signs of high excitement including upright and tense posture, teeth chattering and drooling, quickening of movement, and an upright stiff tail that is wagging quickly.

How can prey drive be reduced or controlled?

The best way to stop your dog from chasing other animals is through training and safety precautions. Many dogs with a reasonable level of prey drive can be engaged with play and games such as fetch, which provides a healthy outlet for their instincts. However, there are a few other important things that you can do in your pooch’s best interest and those around you:

1. Keep your pet safely contained on your property.

Installing a jump-proof fence helps to keep your dog in your yard and stops them from entering an area where they can injure themselves or cause harm to wildlife. Bringing your dog in at night is another effective way to prevent your dog getting up to something they shouldn’t be.

2. Stay alert during walks and redirect your dog’s attention away from prey.

A good habit to get into is staying alert during walks and scanning the environment so you can spot things your dog might want to chase before they do. The key is getting your dog’s attention before, or soon after, they notice something worth chasing. This could be achieved by making eye contact with your dog and holding that eye contact until your pass the animal. It also helps to bring along their favourite treats and toys to distract them until it’s safe.

Expert dog trainer Ryan Tate takes you through the steps on how to control your dog’s prey drive in this helpful video.

3. Train your dog ‘recall’.

If you’re unable to redirect your dog’s attention, recall is a very important skill to have in your training toolbox. It’s something to practice often and in a wide variety of safe places. Use high-value rewards such as toys or treats to make it an exciting cue for your dog to hear and use a long lead while training to keep your dog safe. The more you practice in increasingly distracting areas, the more likely you are to succeed in the real world.

The following video by Ryan Tate describes how you can train your dog the recall command.

For further help with recall, read more here.

4. Consult a professional trainer.

If you feel that your dog is showing high prey drive and it’s difficult for you to manage, it’s time to talk to a professional to get the most effective help.

Prey drive is a common issue for pawrents, but with the right training and knowledge, you can provide the best help for your furry friend.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips for helping with prey drive.

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