Understanding Prey Drive

Understanding Prey Drive

In the simplest form of the term, prey drive refers to the desire to chase and capture moving objects.  Today’s domesticated dogs don’t have to chase down their prey in order to survive anymore, but our dogs’ pupils still dilate and their head and ears learn forward when they spot that prey!  Whether it’s a squirrel at the park, a group of dogs playing, or a neighborhood cat that causes our dogs to react this way, the natural drive to chase anything that moves affects all of our dogs to one level or another.

Dog owners often confuse prey drive with aggression; they are two very different things.  Although it needs to be controlled and harnessed, a dog with high levels of prey drive can be a lot of fun!  Prey drive is what makes dogs chase a disc, it’s very useful in agility training, lure coursing, bite work, obedience training and a lot of other dog sports.  On the other hand, prey drive can be difficult to manage when a dog lunges at a cat while on a walk, bolts out of the door at the first sight of a rabbit, and just makes up a variety of frustrating and unsafe situations for us and our dogs.

One of the most useful assets in controlling prey drive is a solid recall.  Coming when called will get your dog back mid stride.  Although a chemical change does occur in a dog’s brain during prey drive, it’s still very possible to override that and have an effective recall; it just takes a lot of training in order to be able to effectively interrupt it.  Besides a recall command, a solid sit and down stay, along with a focused heel, can also be used to managed high prey drive dogs.  Prey drive is good, but great training is better!

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