Location matters with high prey drive dogs
Location, location, location is just as true for successful training of a high prey drive dog as it is for people opening new coffee shops. Sometimes the location is not helpful but there are still things you can do. Recently I agreed to help somebody out with a dog project. What they wanted to do was interview me about prey drive and lockdown puppies – and film me doing some training with a dog. The person I was helping suggested our meeting place.
I took my young working cocker with me. Like many young working cockers, my dog is excited by birds and currently she is an adolescent which means that I know she can’t be consistently steady around birds. We were meeting in a place that was new to me and there was an expectation that my dog and I demonstrate training with her off lead, so I made sure I got there in time to walk and check it out beforehand.
My heart sank as I pulled into the car park to be faced with more birds than I can remember seeing in one place ever. There was a large boating pond filled with enormous numbers of swans, geese, ducks, gulls and probably others that I hadn’t noticed. Not only that but there were signs up saying that dogs must not go after the birds and encouraging anybody who saw dogs doing so to report it to the police. To make the stakes higher, there were also signs warning that the water may have toxic algae growing in it. And the location was busy with many people and dogs walking there. Initially all I could see was a narrow path around the pond. I seriously considered just leaving,
However, the project was worthwhile, and I really wanted to help with it, so I went looking for a spot that looked suitable. After a while I noticed a grassy area off to one side that was quiet and just had one or two people were walking dogs on. I took my dog there to see if she could concentrate on me there. It wasn’t as far away from all the birds as I would have liked but there were signs of rabbits and I hoped that the rabbit scent would be enough to distract her from the bird scent.
I have a series of tests that I do with my dog whenever I’m not sure about an area and we ran through them. She showed me that she could focus on me just fine. So, when the meeting started – I suggested that we go to that spot to do what we needed to do. It could not have gone better. My dog performed beautifully off her lead, did everything that I asked of her and helped to back up everything I was saying.
Much of the success was not so much to do with my skill as a trainer – much of it was to do with my skill, experience, and knowledge about how to test if I’m in a place that is supportive of our current level of training or not. Knowing how to observe your dog and understand how they are dealing with a location is a VITAL skill no matter what you want to do with your dog.
You can start right now.
Choose a part of your dog’s body to focus on. I would recommend their ears or their tail. Then watch that body part in lots of different environments. Look for places where your dog’s ears are loose and floppy and places where they are tight and pulled up onto the top of your dog’s head. Or look for places where your dog’s tail is still and in their normal, neutral position and look for places where your dog’s tail is held higher or is wagging more quickly.
If you’re not sure, join my free Facebook group , share video in there and I’ll help you out.