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Understanding and Controlling Prey Drive
Prey drive is the “buzz word” among dog people these days. Its textbook definition says it is the instinctive behavior of carnivores to chase and catch prey, but it is usually used to describe habits in dog training. The prey drive is what motivates a dog to chase a ball, animal, car or a running child, so it is important to teach children to never run away from the dog. The prey drive is what makes dogs chase. Understanding your dog’s prey drive will affect how you control it, which will keep your dog out of trouble.
The Prey machine follows a sequence and is the same in all predators. The sequence begins with the search leading to the eyestalk, the chase, the capture bite, and finally, the kill bite. Through the process of selective breeding, some of these five sequences predominate or diminish in different dog breeds to accommodate different human purposes. The search aspect of the sequence is essential for detecting dogs such as beagles and hounds. Eye tracking is important in herding dogs, while stalking is a must for racing dogs and terriers are prized for their catch and kill bite. Certain aspects of prey drive are undesirable in certain dogs, such as retriever that will chase prey and then return it to the human hunter without biting or harming it in any way. The cattle dogs jump and chase, but prevent the bite and the killer from hurting the cattle. Bull terriers have developed a prehensile bite because humans used them to restrain bulls by hanging onto their noses, but there was no need for the bull terrier to search or chase prey. Terriers are small, but that means very little when it comes to chasing game, as these small dogs were bred to chase vermin underground. But not all small breeds have a high prey drive. Pekingese and Maltese make better companions and watchdogs as they have little ambition to pursue. Dogs that are bred to guard livestock and houses have the lowest prey drive compared to those bred for sports, herding, or those in the hound group that have high mobility. Siberian Huskies, who are of the working group, show a high instinct to chase which they will do with total abandon, ignoring the call to turn. Sight and scent hounds have a high prey drive, and once instinctive drive takes over, even the most well-trained dog will ignore the call to turn as well. A high prey dog should always be on a leash, no matter how certain you are that he will return when called. By having a dog well contained and on a leash, you will be able to control his instinctive response to follow what he sees moving.
Different dogs will have substantially different levels of prey movement. Search and rescue dogs and narcotics detection dogs should have enough drive to keep them searching for hours for their quarry. In dog training, strong prey drive motivates dogs to follow moving objects, which is an advantage. A dog’s breed characteristics, temperament, and what it was bred for determine its behavior, and by understanding what it was bred for, you can control its behavior through knowledgeable training and exercise. Dogs’ prey drive is “hardwired” to them and cannot be turned on and off at will, which makes them good at doing specific jobs. For a dog to continue to have a healthy and stable mind, it needs to be physically active. every day. If you don’t enjoy long walks or participating in dog sports, then a top-hunting dog would not be a good choice. Dogs that are diggers and escape artists, such as huskies and terriers, will try to escape if left unattended and you will be responsible for what he does if he succeeds. Understanding prey drive is important as it will help you decide on the right dog breed for your lifestyle. Shelters are full of dogs whose owner chose a dog with a large cut that they couldn’t handle.
When an owner stimulates their dog’s prey dive, then indulges the movement during play, the dog is happy and its overall behavior is balanced. However, if his owner works long hours, has a busy family schedule and does not spend quality time with him, the dog’s energy level will increase to the point of behavioral problems resulting in a frustrated owner and possibly a new home for the dog. High drive dogs need to get their energy out or destructive behavior like chewing will be their release. Chewing will relax the dog’s kidney system in the same way that a cigarette relaxes a smoker. High-energy dogs may bark a lot, jump fences or mouth parts of the human body. Dogs were bred for a specific purpose and to get a dog based only on appearance or image without understanding the characteristics of the breed is a tricky problem. Conscientious breeders carefully screen potential buyers to ensure their chosen breed is right for their lifestyle. They make sure these buyers have a fenced yard, time in the day to properly exercise the dog, if the buyer is physically able to handle the dog and has knowledge of the breed and its characteristics. If the breeder feels that their dog breed is too large for prey for the buyer, they will refer them to a quality pet breeder of lower prey breeds and discourage them from having a dog that doesn’t suit their lifestyle.
For owners of high-prey dogs that exhibit destructive behavior, daily exercise such as long walks is helpful or playing ball or Frisbee chase will use up energy. The stress of learning in a obedience class will tire him. Enroll your athletic or scent hound in agility and tracking classes to use up pent-up energy. Owners who got their strong dog through adoption or a private party should research the breed through the library, the Internet, or by talking to other breeders and owners. Breed clubs will educate you about your breed, talk to others with strong breeds, and offer breed-related activities.
And for “chews” and diggers, locking them in a crate when they can’t be seen will keep those unwanted behaviors in check.
Choosing a dog is not like choosing an article of clothing. A dog is a companion, a member of the family, so be knowledgeable about your chosen breed and be honest with yourself when it comes to your chosen breed and your lifestyle. In other words… choose wisely.
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