Early days with a high prey drive dog

29 Oct 2021, 9 a.m. by Tracey McLennan

What could I have done differently to stop this?

That’s something I bet almost everybody who struggles with their dog’s prey drive has said at some point. I get why. We all have that seductive voice at the back of our mind that says: “You could have fixed this if you’d done the right thing from the start.”

I’m not that convinced that the voice is right. Or at least that it’s not entirely right.

For sure, there are things that can be done and earlier is often better – but many dogs have a strong genetic predisposition to behave in specific ways toward prey animals and changing that isn’t possible.

For me, the start I’d want to look at happens before I’ve ever met my new dog. At that stage, I’d want to find out as much as I can about the sort of dog I’m considering having and what prey drive challenges I might face with them. Joining Facebook groups, going on group walks if possible and talking to people who’ve adopted the sort of dog I’m thinking about are all things I’d want to do.

Then I would consider what sort of life the dog is going to live with me. What walking spots are open to me? What times of day do I need to walk my dog? How long can I go out for? If I need to keep the dog on a lead and they are excited about prey, how big a problem is that going to be for me? What are the likely prey animals in each of the places I walk? How much time and energy do I have for training a dog?

I’d use all that information to do my best to select a dog that won’t turn my life into a nightmare. It’s not a guarantee. You can do everything right and still end up with a dog who you find truly difficult – but it helps reduce the chances of that happening.

When the dog moves in, I’d then look for signs of a high prey drive. The things I’d look for are:

❣️The dog doing lots of sniffing – either raising their nose into the air or putting it to the ground in places I know have prey animals.

❣️The dog breathing faster and becoming visibly excited in areas where I know there are prey animals.

❣️The dog staring at any types of animal or birds.

What I try to do is figure out what is exciting for the dog and when they are likely to notice it.

Once I’ve gathered that information, really all I do is work on training. I’d focus most on calmness and self-control while on the lead at first mostly because unless the new dog is a puppy under 4 months of age, I’ll keep a new dog on the lead or on a long line for the first few months. It’s easier to do that if the dog can be a little bit calmer.

That time can also be used to gather more information about the dog and how responsive they are likely to be to me when they are off the lead in various places.

At home I’d be doing lots of relationship building, some fun training and working out what games the dog loves most of all.

Finally, I’d set reasonable expectations and would anticipate that if my dog had a high prey drive, training them to be sensible around prey animals is a long-term project.

Even if the early days are long gone, if prey drive is an issue I’d go back to leads, long lines – and spending time observing the dog and working on being able to walk well on the lead and on self-control.

There are no short cuts when it comes to prey drive – but there ARE loads of things you can do.

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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 tracey@bestdoglearningandstuff.co.uk