All About Your Dog's Prey Drive and How to Manage It

All About Your Dog's Prey Drive and How to Manage It

Do you often see cozy videos of dogs and cats peacefully sleeping together? Perhaps that makes you look at your own dog and think about their proclivity for chasing down cats, birds, or even toads with their maw wide open. Though such behavior may be a mystery to you, and you may even be worried about it, it should appease you to learn about your dog’s natural prey drive.

Understanding your dog's prey drive and how to manage it is essential if you want to be a responsible dog owner. Here’s PrideBites’ guide to the phenomenon of prey drive and what a dog owner like yourself should be able to do about it with sufficient training and training essentials like customizable dog collars.

Prey Drive, Explained

Prey drive is an inherent instinct in dogs which is deeply rooted in their evolutionary history. It refers to their innate desire to pursue, chase, and capture prey. In the wild, this instinct was crucial for a dog's survival as they hunted for food. While domestication has transformed dogs into our loyal companions, this instinct still lingers within them.

Prey drive can manifest in various ways, from a playful game of fetch to chasing a squirrel in the park. But it’s important for an owner to understand the difference between prey drive and aggression and to not interchange the two.  

Prey Drive vs. Aggression

In essence, prey drive is a natural hunting instinct that can be distinguished by a dog’s predatory motor pattern. This predatory sequence boils down to the following steps, in this order:

  1. Orient
  2. Eye
  3. Stalk
  4. Chase
  5. Grab-bite
  6. Kill-bite
  7. Dissect
  8. Consume

While most dogs typically won’t complete the sequence, it can still be worrying to observe these patterns of behavior in your pooch for fear of what they might do to other animals. But remember that prey drive is a natural behavior that you would want to control or manage, but not eliminate altogether.

Aggression, on the other hand, is behavior related to attacking or impending attacks. Oftentimes, it is a reaction to fear and may involve the dog wanting to create distance between them and another animal or person—unlike their prey drive, which entails wanting to close that distance. Some of the signs of aggression in dogs are baring of teeth, licking, growling, lip curling, tail tucking, and yawning.

Ultimately, you’ll want to monitor your dog's behavior to discern whether they’re expressing their prey drive or aggression so that you can address either of these issues properly.

Signs that Your Dog Has a High Prey Drive

Dogs with a strong prey drive exhibit the following key behaviors:

  • Intense focus. They become highly focused on a moving object or animal. Often, high-prey dogs ignore everything else around them.
  • Stalking behavior. Dogs with a high prey drive may crouch, lower their bodies, and move stealthily when observing potential prey.
  • Chasing instinct. Your dog may not be able to resist the urge to chase small animals, such as birds, squirrels, or even toys.
  • Pouncing and grabbing. If they catch their "prey," they may pounce on it and attempt to grab it.

Breeds with a High Prey Drive

Certain dog breeds are more predisposed to having a high prey drive due to their historical roles as hunters or herders. Breeds like terriers, border collies, and greyhounds, for example, are often associated with a strong prey drive. But individual variation exists even within these breeds. In short, you can’t expect all dogs from these breeds to have the same level of prey drive.

Managing Your Dog's Prey Drive

However predisposed your dog may be to having a strong prey drive, if they do show it, you’ll want to know how to manage it so that you can oversee the safety of other animals and people as well as that of your pet. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this instinct:

  • Train and socialize your dog. Start training and socializing your dog from an early age and introduce them to various environments, people, and animals. Positive early experiences can shape their behavior and not make it as easy for them to give in to destruction due to their prey drive.
  • Teach your dog obedience commands. Basic commands like "leave it," "stay," and "recall" are invaluable for controlling prey drive. Essentially, these commands will allow you to redirect your dog's focus and maintain control in different situations.
  • Provide your dog with healthy outlets for their energy. A tired dog is less likely to exhibit and give in to an intense prey drive. Regular exercise and mental stimulation are recommended to help burn off excess energy and keep your dog calm and content.
  • Utilize safety measures. Use leashes, martingale collars, or other safety tools to prevent accidents. In situations where prey drive might be triggered, these precautions can help you intervene.
  • Be consistent and patient with your training and expectations. It’s important to understand that it takes time to modify behavior. Exercise patience when training your dog around their prey drive.
  • Seek professional help. If your dog's prey drive is causing significant problems or if you're unsure how to manage it effectively, consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide tailored guidance based on your dog's specific needs and circumstances.

A dog's prey drive is an instinct deeply ingrained in their DNA, and that’s a fact that you can’t ignore as their owner. With the right approach, however, you’ll be able to help them tame this instinct and help them nurture positive relationships with other animals, other people, and their immediate environment.