My dog Sasha brought me a dead rat the other day. Fortunately, I was able to see the rodent in her mouth as she approached the door and I stopped her from bringing it in the house. Sasha, an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie mix, plopped the rat on the doormat with a satisfied look. You could just see by the glint in her eyes how pleased she was with herself. I told my husband there was a dead rat on the doorstop that needed to be dealth with, and I immediately went online to find out more about dogs who exhibit this type of behavior known as strong prey drive.
First, some back-story. We live in the mountains, and wildlife abounds outside as well as outside our house. To Sasha, our backyard must seem like a smorgasbord. In addition to rats there are lizards, birds, squirrels, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, possums, and skunks — not including the neighbor’s free range chickens. In fact, one time Sasha smelled a skunk outside our bedroom and ran right into the French doors — shattering the window pane. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt, and the impact startled her so much she stopped pursuing the skunk. But still, that’s some strong prey drive.
Dogs with strong prey drive are more likely to follow a moving object, and this can be useful when training a dog for agility work. The prey drive has a five-step sequence: the search, the eye stalk, the chase, the grab bite, and the kill bite. Not all of the five behaviors are the same intensity for every dog, and some of the behaviors have been amplified through training and breeding. Beagles, for example, have a strong search tendency, while a Border Collie has a more pronounced eye stalk, and a Greyhound has a innate desire to chase.
Other breeds with a strong prey drive include Afghan Hounds, Alaskan Malamutes, Australian Cattle Dogs, Basenjis, Beagles, Bullmastiffs, Doberman Pinschers, Jack Russell Terriers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Samoyeds, Shiba Inus, Siberian Huskies, Weimaraners, Whippets, and Yorkshire Terriers.
I asked Gloria Post, a certified dog trainer with Hands On Dog Training, how I could best work with my dog, given her predisposition for pursuing prey. Post mentioned training methods I could use to help distract Sasha and help her to ignore the stimulus. She said pet parents shouldn’t reprimand their dogs for exhibiting this behavior, but rather, redirect their attention.
A pet parent needs to learn to scan the environment and watch for possible prey that the dog might want to chase. My husband and I have a usual route that we walk with Sasha, and I’m aware of the areas where ground squirrels (Sasha’s favorite) are most likely to appear. Post said that when you see a prey animal, engage your dog so that she’ll give you eye contact and keep looking at you while walking by the prey animal. She recommends establishing this behavior by using highly rewarding treats so your dog equates eye contact with you as more appealing than the running squirrel.
She also recommended training your dog to have a strong recall — coming quickly when called. You can start out in more controlled environments, using tasty treats, and then work up to practicing recall in places where prey are more likely to be found. Post cautioned that your tone of voice has a big impact on how your dog responds. “Yelling and screaming at your dog can actually cause them to get more excited about the chase, which would be more rewarding for them,” she said. Try happy or playful instead.
Some good activities for dogs with a strong prey drive are those that are mentally challenging and also physically tire out the dog. Post suggests swimming or splashing in the water, searching for hidden treats, climbing, or directed digging in a sandbox. Nose work and tracking would also be a great activity to help dogs focus their attention away chasing prey.
Does your dog have a strong prey drive? Let me know in the comments!
Related stories on dog behavior and training:
• 5 Myths About Dog Behavior That Can Lead to Tragedy
• 4 Things You Should Know About Your Dog’s Growl
• The 10 Types of Dog Aggression
Top photo: Barking dog by Shutterstock.
28 thoughts on “Does Your Dog Have a Strong Prey Drive? Mine Does — Here’s How I Curbed It”
I am a professional trainer and have worked with almost every breed, and can usually, with time, consistently, and patience , achieve the goal. I am currently working with a 1 1/2 year old golden. She has the strongest prey drive I have encountered in almost 20 years! Even butterflies! Leave it, come, look at me, all mean nothing to her when she sees prey. I have tried every meat and cheese on the market… she won’t even look away long enough to smell it, even if I rub it on her nose! Tried every collar and harness available, even using a martingale, prong, and no pull harness together with 3 leashes is not enough to control her.
I’ve had 3 Lab mixes in a row and I’ve done rabbit rescue for years. None of them bothered the bunnies. Because Labs aren’t listed with breeds most likely to have a strong prey drive. I brought home a Lab who is great with people and other dogs, but he kept trying to get to my bunnies and succeeded when I had to go out briefly. He got past a closed door and was chasing my rabbit when I got home. I grabbed him and put him back in my room. My bunny was hiding and I thought she’d escaped. Instead, after I picked her up and called the emergency vet, she died in my arms. I was ready to return him to the shelter and two friends begged me to find a solution that would allow me to keep him. Should I give up? My remaining bunnies are safely in a room in the house, but it is rather small for all four. Is it possible to teach this dog to let them alone so that they can come out of the room?
Seriously? Before acquiring any pet please read up on the traits the breed was bred for. Curtain breeds are prized for their high prey drive. If you’re not interested in this trait, select a different breed. If you don’t want a dog to be a dog get a stuffed animal or select a lap dog.
It’s incredibly frustrating when your high prey breed won’t kill its prey. I need my farm dogs (yes, they live inside too) to kill the mice, rats, groundhogs, opossums and any other varmints they come across. Praise your dog, teach them ‘leave it’, and be thankful they are useful.
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I have 3 dogs. 1 Black Mouth Cur, one BMCur / Ridgeback mix, and 1 BMCur ?Shar Pei? mix. The Cur Ridgeback Mix and the Cur ?Shar Pei? mix finally caught our resident Opossum tonight. I spent an hour and a half getting the little dude to the Wildlife Sanctuary. Hopefully they can help him. The dogs didn’t kill it . Really only caught it, but because they pulled it out of the tree they tore skin back away from the muscle on one thigh, and there are two small puncture wounds on the other leg. Little Dude Opossum was walking and Climbing around the night drop off cage at the sanctuary like nothing was wrong. I left him food, water, towel, and bag to hide in. Hopefully he will be okay. I guess dogs meant for hunting will do what they were bred to do even if you NEVER teach them to do it.
my border collie has such a strong prey drive that when I take all 4 of mine on their runs everyday it has turned into a traumatic event every single day now due to his drive getting stronger with every kill. He does nothing BUT scan for critters to kill, including other dogs. He is ALWAYS in kill mode. it makes it difficult to play with my other 3, such as retrieving sticks from the pond, going on walks, any and every activity, he ruins or at least puts a damper on EVERYTHING because I constantly have to be on guard and restrain him, my other boys don’t get my full attention. I love little Boone too much to just leave him home. so my suggestion is while we can’t control the prey drive in our beloved furbabies, take it from my experience… do everything you can to stop or limit their kills because that monster inside can and will grow with each one. It will destroy me if my sweet little boy were ever remanded to death by the law for his inappropriate killing
I am not a trainer but from past experience I found the only way to give you some success is to anticipate these situations and use a high reward food to reward your dog for paying attention to you and not the cats, etc. Easier said than done but any time spent getting the response you want will lessen your frustration later. Can you drive to the park rather than walk and cut down on the amount of distractions while you work on getting her to ignore?
Help. Adopted a 2 year old shepherd mix. She looks like a redbone. She’d been in a shelter for a long time. The first two weeks she was submissive but pulling on leash which was quickly controlled. Then her sniffing went from ground to sighting on tree tops. I can barely control her when she sights a squirrel or a cat. She leaps and pulls. I let her run and chase at the dog park but live in a townhouse so need to be able to walk her. She’s on high alert now from the minute we walk out the door. I need some advice on how to channel or control her drive.
I just adopted a lab hound mix about 2 weeks ago . Friendly Loving , but he has s strong prey drive which I just noticed . I do no want to bring him back to the shelter but it is now a problem . He will try to go after a squirrel or what ever he thinks he sees.
Last night I had a real difficult time getting him to go in the house . He saw something and that was it. He wanted it. I had to litterlt piull him up the stairs . I do not know what to do
My English Bulldog would chase deer on my parents property. Not listen to me screaming after her to “leave it”. I had to start always leashing her as the deer were everywhere.
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Geman hunt terrier goes ballistic when she sees prey. Especially mice and squirrels. In less than a second she will be on the critter and catch it. What is worse when she sees something through the window. She literally loses her mind! Can’t redirect her. Can’t calm her down. She is full on focused on getting”it”. Help!
My 18-month-old Podenco has recently become squirrel-obsessive to a degree that is spoiling his walks. He is a rescue from Spain. He used to play with other dogs off-lead and with me or his ball/toy, but now he is on high alert as soon as we enter the park, and ignores just about everything else (including former good doggy friends he used to play with). He misses out on a lot of fun and I can no longer let him off the lead. If he misses the first squirrel he chases, he will trot around the entirety of our park (which is vast) and not come back for 30-40 mins. Being a sighthound, he needs to run, and the situation is making me miserable. He is otherwise a lovely and affectionate dog.
Hi. Our 5 year old Aussie terrior is only 4.5 kilos. We have had her for one year. We got her from a family that had trained her to be a hunting dog… She is fine with chickens but obsessed with lizards.rabbits and mainly wallabies which she sometimes corners and kills. She will sneak Off f and chase the wallabies for up to two hours and return absolutely exhausted and acting really quiet and timid..hen she’s on the scent calling her home is a waste of time..she responds well to treats and is otherwise a lovely obedient dog Although she can be a bit anxiius.
My 10 month rescue Pointer-x has recently discovered it’s fun to chase fast moving objects in the distance – think lorries, cars, cyclists etc. When in her ‘chase’ zone recall is non-existent. She had been doing great until this new development but now she’ll scramble over and under fences and hedgerows in her pursuit and I’m scared we’re going to lose her to a road incident. I’m back to walking her on a 15m line and continue working on recall and ‘wait’ and ‘leave’ commands. She is doing so well in other situations but it’s completely knocked my confidence. A few people who’ve had dogs with strong prey drives have suggested electronic training collars and I’m currently researching options. Any suggestions would be greatly received.
In retriever training prey drive is good…the more the excited prey drive the more eagerly obedient the retriever is at heeling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1cPpWXeFnc
My year and a half mixed breed (mostly hunting stock: hound and pitbull) has really intense prey drive. Chickens are his kryptonite! In most situations, his Off and Leave It are great. He’s great on leash. He’s 9 out of 10 off leash too, unless there are chickens. Most times we can call him off, but sometimes the temptation is too great for him to ignore.
I’m not sure he would respond to an ecollar. Any other suggestions? He’s very eager to please and is very food motivated.
My rescue dog, Archie, first dog as well, is a lab/collie mix. I had him at 14 months when he was around 25kg, with very little muscle, and a typical young boyish lad, chasing everyone and anything, and not giving me the slightest bit of notice. At 19 months he is now 33kg of pure muscle and while his recall has gotten better, when he sees another dog, especially one that is running, he is gone across that field and I can’t do diddly squat about it.
It was all jokes and smiles when I first had him, half my problem was people trying to touch him, which freaked him out as he was fearful of strangers, and most were forgiving. Now its different. People are quick to judge a big black dog bounding around the place.
A couple of weeks ago he went after a couple of running collies in the field and their owner screamed at me, saying they just had operations and can’t be chased. Course she was in a field with other loose dogs and was throwing a ball for them, (why would you do that post op, silly cow?) And because she had just as little control as I did, one of her collies decided she liked my mutt and chased after him, ignoring her owner’s calls just as readily.
Plenty of folks in my town have recall issues. I have lost count how many dogs come running up to my dog while he is on lead. Seems to be one rule for one and one for another. Its readily accepted for small dogs, but big lads get a bad rep. My dog isn’t aggressive, not in the slightest. We have a white cat around here, I refer to him as Mr White, who refuses to run from my dog. He will sit there and hiss at him. My boy does a play bow and tries to play with him till he gets bored and walks away. He doesn’t seem to want to harm them, though I don’t take a chance where I can help it, just in case he gets nippy.
He’s currently on an agility foundation course and all was well until we started sharing an arena with a more advanced group. Picture this, a handful of collie mixes barking, rushing through tunnels, over jumps etc and my boy, all 33kg of him, lunging, barking and practically dragging me at them while the rest of the group looks on with pained expressions. Yep, awkward. I swear I have more control, honest. Doesn’t help that my lad is the biggest in the class, and the bounciest.
He’s learning, as am I. I’m currently on a quest to find a higher reward for him that doesn’t involve chasing things. Someone suggested liver cake that apparently stinks to high heaven, so I’m going to start there. Hopefully next lesson won’t be so embarrassing. Wish us luck 🙂
I’ve had labs and gokdens for 30 years and this is my first with a strong prey drive. She’s a 4 month old golden retriever. She hunts down the small lizards. The minute we go outside she starts looking for them.
Our dog Leo (rescue) we think is a mix of either maltese, poodle, coton, bichon. We don’t know which. None of them are known to have a strong prey drive to my knowkedge. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned with such a strong prey drive, that we cannot get his attention if he smells some little creature that he wants. He loves going after squirrels, geckos, rats, birds, and even one time caught a possom almost as large as he is! He caught it by the neck late at night while the possum was feasting on apples which had fallen under our tree. I screamed until Leo dropped him and let him go. This could have been so dangerous as possums can be vicious. I am working on dividing his attention and getting him to come every time I call him. Luckily he is very food motivated. I believe he really just wants to play with the animals because he hasn’t killed one yet. The same happened with a squirrel – he caught it by the neck, looking all excited and proud of himself, and dropped him when I yelled “drop it.” I am very worried about how single minded he is while in pursuit – completely ignoring my calls to come.
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Moxie, my 11 yr old poodle/bichon, has an OCD like behavior when it comes to small creatures. She’s killed well over a dozen harmless lizards (one even made her mouth foam).
The rats though, our neighbors got chickens a couple of years ago. Their feed has drawn numerous rats to our housing track. (Anger)
Moxie has adamantly protected our home from these vile creatures. Even brought me a couple unwanted “gifts”. While I appreciate her persistance, I really want her to stop.
Hello, my 1 year old Deaf Dalmatian, Makoa, does have a high prey drive! Prior to adopting him, his foster mother told me that Makoa was always hunting for rats and bringing dead bodies over to her (yuck).
Makoa still does hunt for rabbits, squirrels, and….well, leaves every chance he can get while we take him out for walks (we walk him 2-3 times a day to curb his high energy as well as keeping him mentally satisfied). We have been working on getting him to not focus on the rabbits and squirrels as we are using one of the foundations, “fetch”, “stay”, and “leave it”, which is successful.
However, I have a concern/question…Makoa has shown that he has never experienced anything like the winds, so right now, he see the leaves as “fast moving thing” instead of actual leaf. So how would you approach this as well as how to introduce a dog who has never experienced winds before to the concept of the wind? He is not even afraid of ANYTHING at all (which is why we picked the name out for him: “Makoa”, which means “fearless warrior” in Hawaiian), haha, so we are naturally concerned with his over-curiosity as we know that it could lead to something severe.
Any ideas/tips/advices would be greatly appreciated!
Allison, Adam, and Makoa
My dog doesn’t chase cars or people. She focuses on squirrels, rats or any other living thing that scurries past her. You might want to work with a trainer to correct this behavior.
My shiba inu has an extremely high prey drive. It becomes a problem because she’ll want to chase anything that moves like people, cars, leaves, etc. It gets downright dangerous when I try to walk her. If I can anticipate cars or people, I’ll put her into a sit and quickly feed her treats as people, cars dogs go past us. This has been going for the past 2 months. I don’t think I’m making any progress at this point as it is extremely difficult to get her attention. I’ve tried using a clicker, but she just blows it off as another noise. Not sure what else to do.
Oh yes my boxer Bonnie. She wants to chase anything that moves. We are still working with her on this, I really would like to try and find an outlet for her. She’s really not into toys, she hates water, so burning energy is a challenge.