What will my dog do if they get to prey?

21 Nov 2021, 8:09 p.m. by Tracey McLennan

A question I’m often asked is – “My dog is always on a lead. How can I tell what they’d do if they were off lead and came across a cat/squirrel/deer/rabbit/pheasant?”

It’s an understandable question. There is a big difference between walking a dog who might trot a couple of steps after a deer and walking a dog who would chase the deer and catch it.

I wish that there was an easy answer, a nice flow chart I could draw that would let anybody figure out what their dog would do.

Sadly, there isn’t such an easy answer to this question. I’ve noticed that some of the people I know who have working gundogs will be absolutely delighted if they take their dogs to an unfamiliar place to work and the dogs perform well. Their dogs are well trained and usually reliable. But – a change in location can alter things – and that’s why my friends are so thrilled if their dogs work well in a new place.

Aside from the difficulty in predicting in advance what a dog will do, changes in walking environment can be as difficult for people with pet dogs as a new environment can be for my friends with working dogs. A new place can dramatically change the responses of dogs. I’ve known several dogs who have been completely predictable around prey animals but who changed their responses dramatically either due to being walked in different places or due to having an encounter with a prey animal that was behaving differently than normal. Predicting exactly what an individual dog will do in advance is hard to do.

But - here are some things that I would think about.

❇️ What was the dog bred to do? For instance, I’d expect a terrier to be more keen to catch smaller prey animals than a Border collie.

❇️ Are the dog’s parents working dogs? Or has it been many generations since this dog had a working ancestor?

❇️ Has the dog been encouraged or trained at any point to do anything with prey animals?

❇️ What is this dog’s history with prey animals? You don’t always know but if you do, the dog’s history might provide some clues.

❇️ When the dog is on lead, how intense are their reactions? Can they respond to you at all? If you scatter food on the ground, can they eat?

These can all provide clues.

If you want to chat more about the answers to these points and your own dog, do join my high prey drive Facebook support group and post about your dog. Here is a link: Join in on Facebook

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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