Prey Drive in Dogs – Reduce It or Use It? + Training Tips | Pupford
August 11th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
Ahh prey drive, the thing our dogs are born with that can make life slightly complicated.
Many people find themselves wondering, should I try to reduce my dog's prey drive, or should I be using it?
In this episode, we'll dive into what prey drive is, whether you should try to reduce it, and how you can turn it into a MASSIVE reinforcer for your pup.
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OVERVIEW OF PREY DRIVE IN DOGS - REDUCE IT OR USE IT?
While prey drive (or prey instinct) can sound scary, it's actually a normal part of our dog's wiring.
Here's what we'll cover in this article about prey drive:
- What is prey drive?
- Should you try to reduce prey drive?
- Using prey drive as a reward during training
- A word of caution about prey-driven breeds
Alright, let's dive into each one below. ⤵️
WHAT IS PREY DRIVE?
Prey drive is essentially our dogs' innate desire to search, stalk, chase, and bite objects. And typically, those objects are moving. (PS- This is also part of why puppies bite so much.)
In a simplistic sense, it's why your dog might love to chase squirrels or even a tennis ball.
And while prey drive often has a somewhat negative connotation, it really is an important part of our dog's DNA. In the early types of dogs, they had to hunt for food. So prey drive was a matter of life and death.
Nowadays, our dogs aren't hunting for their food... but the prey drive is there nonetheless.
SHOULD YOU REDUCE OR USE YOUR DOG'S PREY DRIVE?
While there isn't one answer for every situation, in most cases you should strive to utilize your dog's prey drive in a controlled manner.
So that often means your dog will still "use" their prey drive, but just in a controlled and desirable way.
I will note here... If you have a dog with an extremely strong prey drive, I would recommend getting the help of a professional dog trainer. They can help you understand your dog's behavior more thoroughly and learn how to tap into that drive for your dog's benefit.
And if you want to reduce your dog's prey drive, a good place to start is impulse control training! Learn all about impulse control here!
USING PREY DRIVE AS A REWARD DURING TRAINING
My dog Scout loves to fetch. She would fetch for hours if she was given the opportunity (I've only seen her willingly stop playing fetch a couple of times in her whole life).
She LOVES the chase. And many times in her life, that has gotten her into some troublesome situations (most if not all of which were my fault for giving her too much freedom as a puppy).
When dogs like Scout lock onto something, their brain is literally wired to stalk and chase that item. And then when they aren't "allowed" to it can cause leash, fence, and other frustrations. Or it can get them into trouble like running to places or towards people/objects they shouldn't.
One of the best ways we learned to utilize Scout's prey drive is by using fetch and flirt poles as part of our training and rewarding process. Here is what we have done consistently for over a year now.
In a controlled and safe environment, start to play fetch. Once you do a few throws, grab the ball as if to throw and ask your dog to come to you. (It may feel foreign to your dog at first, so if they struggle just shorten your distance for the 'come' and continue.)
Once your dog comes to you, give your marker word (or training clicker) and throw the ball for them to fetch. The fetch is the reward!!
I have been doing that process consistently every time I play fetch (not every throw, but every time we play fetch) and Scout's recall has improved dramatically! And in conjunction with other training, it's also helped to improve her ability to focus outside and has helped reduce her reactivity to other dogs, skateboards, bikes, etc.
Related: Online Reactive Dog Class
This took a lot of time and practice generally, but learning to use fetch (prey drive) as a reward for other behaviors made it so Scout ACTUALLY cared about listening to us while outside!
TOYS FOR DOGS WITH HIGH PREY DRIVE
Here are some other fun toy ideas you can use for a dog with high prey drive:
Any other ideas? Tell us in the comments!
A WORD OF CAUTION ABOUT PREY-DRIVEN DOGS
It's important to note that if you have a dog with high prey drive, you need to exercise caution. Prey-driven dogs can seriously lock onto items and sometimes nothing will stop that 'lock'... This of course can have dire consequences when it comes to chasing cars, squirrels, other dogs/cats, etc.
So, my advice to you is to be EXTRA cautious with your prey-driven dog when it comes to letting him/her off leash (even in what can seem like "safe" areas). Don't underestimate your dog's desire (and ability) to chase something that they certainly should not.
And on that note, make sure your dog is up to date on their rabies shots. Trust me (and every vet on the planet)!
RECAP OF TRAINING A PREY-DRIVEN DOG
While a dog with high prey drive can be a challenge, it can be used to your advantage! My final thought on prey-driven dogs is to use that drive to your advantage.
Use it for training, use it as a reward, etc.
What has your experience been like training a prey-driven dog? Let me know in the comments!
TRANSCRIPTION OF PREY DRIVE PODCAST
Devin : This is The Perfect Pup Podcast, helping you build a better relationship with your pup presented by Pupford. Hello, pup parents, and welcome to today's episode of The Perfect Pup Podcast. My name is Devin. This episode is very near and dear to me because I have experienced this in a very, very big way with my dog Scout. You've probably heard me talk a little bit about this. This was a request from a review about talking about prey drive and whether we should try and reduce it or how we can use it to our advantage. I'm biased towards the latter. So let's talk about why that is and what you should do when it comes to your dog's prey drive. First things first, when we're talking about prey drive, it can mean a lot of different things, or people can use it in different ways, but generally speaking, it's our dog's desire to chase after things.
If you want to look back to the history of dogs and where they descended from originally and animals in general, there is a desire to hunt. There is a desire to go after prey and to, because they have to feed themselves. Dogs, obviously our dogs we're not asking them to go out and hunt for their food, but that innate desire is still ingrained within them. So that's what we mean when we're talking about prey drive. What you'll see from that is, again, wanting to chase after things, wanting to rip apart toys. This is often kind of the root of reactivity in some cases, generally speaking, it can be also about fear and anxiety, but that's what mean when I'm talking about prey drive.
So what someone asked in their reviews, paraphrasing they said, I've got a rescue poodle that has a really high prey drive and it does leave to some lunging and some barking and other things like that. Let me tell you guys, there is a lot more that could go into understanding prey drive and to talking about how to kind of work with it or control it. So here's a valuable dog training tip... I'm going to give a few things that I've done for myself personally, with my dogs that were recommended by different trainers to help kind of reduce the reactivity and reduce the prey drive slightly, but also more so tapping into the prey drive, which I've given it away. That's my bias, is to learn to tap into it. Because like I said, it is a natural thing in the sense that our dogs, especially specific breeds, they really want to do these things.
They want to chase. They want to rip things apart. That is part of who they are as animals. Again, don't forget your dog is an animal. I know that they are your child. And you love them likely. And they are everything to you, but they are also an animal and that's okay. And you need to learn to tap into like what they have and what is important to them. So the first thing, when we were talking about prey drive and kind of whether you should reduce it or use it, the key is to have it be controlled. And that obviously is kind of the bigger challenge. And I'm not going to dive too far into that, because it's not so much my expertise, but you do need to find a way to have it be a controlled use.
So your dog can learn to understand over time with proper training, with things like leave it. The leave it behavior is one of the first things that is in the 30 day, perfect pup app and 30 day perfect pup or sorry, the Pupford app and 30 day, perfect pop is teaching leave it because again, your dogs want to go after things. They want to get things. And so focusing in on that behavior, very, very helpful. That doesn't mean that your dog can't ever go after a certain thing. I do think that there are cases where it can be hard to say, okay, you can go after a squirrel now, but you can't at other times. That can make it confusing for our dogs and confusion is not a way to improve behavior.
But generally speaking, you can use the desire for a dog to go after something to start to learn how to control and have that be something that they want to do, still and can do, but it's in a controlled way. It's a way in which you more are saying, yes, this is okay to do this now at other times, or in this instance it's not. And that kind of leads into using it as a reward. So one of the things that I found beyond helpful with my dog Scout, she loves fetch more than anything. I was just talking to a friend last night and he said, will, she let you know when she's tired. And I said, no, because she doesn't get tired. She will fetch forever and ever if I let her.
So in the beginning, we kind of struggled with that because she did not have the best recall. She did have reactivity towards other dogs, but often towards bikes, skateboards, again, things that are moving around, large objects. And in the beginning, we really kind of tried to just fight her prey drive and just try and suppress it almost and get it to stop. And then we learned over time and with help from trainers that you can utilize it. And that's when we started using fetch or whatever your dog's kind of language is for exhibiting the prey drive. For us like fetch is a really big part of that. We learned to use it as a reward. I've done another episode on this, where I talk about using fetch to teach recall, and it really can be a powerful tool because if your dog, for example, let's continue with Scout. She loves fetch so much. She loves the ball. Like when the ball is out, her focus is a 100%, like she is there. She is ready. She will leave pretty much any other distraction alone.
And so what we started doing is in a controlled environment was we'd have her on a 30 foot lead or a 40 foot lead. And we would have the ball, we'd use a Chuckit. We'd have the ball in a Chuckit. And we would call Scout to us. She would see the ball and it took a little bit of time. This process did not happen overnight and cannot emphasize that enough. It did not happen overnight. But what we would do is we would take the ball and we would call her to us, ask her to sit and just like we would practice grabbing her harness or her collar to just be able to practice that kind of motion. And then we would give the marker word. For us it's yes or you can use a clicker or whatever it is. And then we would throw the ball. And we started doing that every single time we did fetch. And yeah, that meant that the fetch sessions became a little bit more about training and we would mix it up.
But generally speaking, we were starting to do that every single time. And what happened right away is we don't dictate what our reward is for our dog. They let us know. One dog might love steak and another dog just might not really care. And so your dog is going to dictate what is most rewarding to them. And I think that's part of the challenge of being a pup parent is figuring out what your dog's best rewards are and then leaning into that and using it. So I'm talking about fetch, but for another dog it might be tug of war, for another dog it might be food. All of those things in a sense are kind of equated with that prey drive, that desire to chase, catch, rip apart and eat. That is part of prey drive that our dogs have in one way, shape or form.
So using it as a reward to teach some of those challenging behaviors, whether it be reactivity, whether it be lunging, whether it be chasing after things that they're not supposed to, whether it be not having the best recall, you take their best thing that they care the most about and you turn that into the reward. I don't really train my dog Scout with treats outside. I really don't like, no matter what it is, it's just not her thing. When she's outside, she wants to like be on alert. She wants to see things. So we use fetch, we use fetch or we use tug and that has made the world of difference for us and for Scout. And her reactivity, I'm not joking you, it has been reduced by about 90% over the past year and a half, two years. And a lot of that has been by using fetch and using what we saw as like a challenge and something we wanted to stop to using it as a reward.
I'm going to add one kind of last note on, a couple last notes. The third thing, if you do have a dog with high prey drive, I will tell you very clearly, you always have to be a little bit more cautious and a little bit more prepared for what could go wrong. What I mean is that like I said, Scout has made a lot of progress and she does very, very well on almost every front, but there are still things where I have to be extra cautious. And I have to be aware of my surroundings to be able to kind of help her snap out of those moments where she may want to chase, or she may want to react to something or lung after something. So be aware that if your dog does have a high prey drive, you're going to need to express extra caution in a lot of instances.
And the final thing I will say on this, it takes time. It takes a lot of time. It does not happen overnight. So if you're like, okay, I'm going to go practice this in the yard. And you see a little bit of progress and then the next day, your dog still lunges or reacts at something, or you can't seem to control or harness that prey drive, it's okay. Take your time. It will take a lot of time, will take a lot of effort. It about consistency. It's about kind of retraining your dog's brain to understand, okay, this is not something I'm supposed to do and using the reward as a way to communicate to your dog, those behaviors can be okay, but it has to be on our terms as the pup parent.
And that, again, I can't express that enough. That is such a big part of being a pup parent. It's not like you being an authoritarian with your dog. It's not you being the pack leader, like whatever buzzword you want to use, it's not about controlling or owning our dogs or anything like that. It's about using what is important to them and using it to reward them and to work with them and to kind of find that common ground. And I promise you, you will see results when you focus in on that.
So to answer the question, prey drive, should you try and reduce it, or should you try and use it? I think you should try and have it be a controlled use. So that is the reduction side, but generally you should use it to your advantage and find ways to train the behaviors that you don't want to have happen through the use of rewards that are related to prey drive. Whether it be fetch, whether it be using a flirt pole, whether it be tug, whether it be just throwing a toy in your dog goes and gets it and rips it apart, whatever it is, using it to your advantage.
So, like I said, this episode I'm doing right now was requested via a review on Apple Podcasts. So if you have something you'd like to hear me cover, if you have an expert that you'd like me to have on or a topic or whatever, it might be, leave a review on Apple Podcast. I will check it out and I will be sure to implement it. But other than that, we will catch you on the next episode.