Dogs with a high prey drive can be challenging in several ways. Maybe you want to be able to go and walk with friends and their dogs and enjoy seeing your dog romp with the other dogs, but your dog can’t be let off the lead. Maybe you pictured walks with your dog rather than walks where you nervously stand around waiting for your dog to return.
One of the biggest challenges is other people. You might find that people are dismissive of your struggles, telling you that all you have to do is work on your recall/be firmer with your dog/not let them away with it – and any number of other unhelpful suggestions. My personal favourite is “do you think you caused that?” I sometimes hear that one from people who meet Ren and see just how focused she is on following her nose.
The reason that these sorts of comments are challenging is that they are all about blaming you for the way your dog is – and not at all about helping. If you hear these or any other comments that are similar and they make you feel small or guilty or as if you are doing something wrong, let me help to put them in some context. Often, in my experience, what is going on at those times is the unhelpful person has reached the limit of their knowledge, but they don’t want to say that. For some reason, saying “I can see how hard that must be – I have no idea how I’d deal with that,” is hard for lots of people. So instead, they say something to pass the blame to you.
You do not have to take that blame on. There are lots of strategies for dealing with it. Sometimes I thank people and tell them I’ll do as they suggest – and then change the subject. If the person has a bit of a habit of trying to force blame onto me, I will sometimes change how I spend time with them. I might meet for coffee rather than dog walks. Or I might stop spending time with them altogether depending on who it is. I find reminding myself of everything I am doing helpful too. Sometimes I go and book on a course or class to learn something new that might be useful to me.
I always remind myself that prey drive in dogs is not something that we control. There is a strong genetic component to it and a strong environmental component. Who your dog is will be having a lot of influence and so will where you live and walk – and what that dog experienced before they came to live with you. Dogs are not a blank canvas that we can shape any way we like. They come with lots of preferences and predispositions all of their own. We can help with training and good management, but we cannot change who the dog is.
Many of the dogs we live with have been specifically bred for thousands of years to have a high prey drive so if you are experiencing problems as a result, it is not your fault. You are worthy of support.
When I hear my favourite “it’s all your fault” comment about Ren:
Do you think you made her like that?
I laugh and I say absolutely not. It was clear before she came to live with me that following her nose was going to be her thing. Once she was old enough to come to me and I started carrying her around on little walks, I could see the intensity of her fascination with wildlife scent. Even at 8 weeks, it was so clearly visible. That is why she is the puppy who came to live with me. She’s exactly the sort of dog I was looking for. Her breeder is highly skilled with dogs and knew that Ren would be the puppy in the litter best suited for me.
Her interest in wildlife and bird scent is not my fault – and your dog’s interest in prey animals is not your doing either.
So ignore the people who put you down and try to make themselves feel more knowledgeable by making you feel bad. Instead, do some training with your dog. It won’t change who they are – but it can help them to deal with it better and it absolutely can give you a happier life with your dog.
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Hi - I'm Tracey
I am the author of Canine aggression: Rehabilitating an aggressive dog with kindess and compassion and founder of Best Dog Learning and Stuff Ltd. I specialise in helping people with dogs who have a high prey drive. I have an honours degree in Canine behaviour and training, am a Tellington TTouch practitioner, and an ACE Advanced Tutor. I am currently studying for an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Training.
I love to hear from people who read my blog so if you want to let me know what you thought, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org