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Prey Drive


 By Pete Eromenok

Dogs inherit certain drives and sensitivities which help make up their temperaments. Their drives are the primal motivations hard-wired into them. Their sensitivities are how they perceive their environment.

One of the drives which dogs manifest is prey drive.  Prey drive is the portion of the dog’s behavior which manifests itself in the form of chasing, carrying, searching (hunting), shaking an object, pointing, tracking, pouncing, stalking and maybe a few others.  These actions constitute what a wild dog would perform during a typical day, in order to capture, kill and eat. Drives sustain life. So this drive is responsible for meeting the energy needs of a dog. First the dog senses hunger then starts his search. He may see or smell the presence of a prey animal. If he smells it he will either begin tracking, or quarter into the wind. Upon spotting the prey, the dog may freeze momentarily in its tracks or stalk.  Then when the time is right it will chase, capture and eat; dead or alive depending on the size of the animal. Small animals are often shaken. Large animals are maimed usually by ham-stringing them. Once the prey is down, their stomach is first to be worked on because of its vulnerability.

Our domesticated dogs have retained these drives. Some dogs exhibit little prey drive, while others have plenty to go around.  Dogs with high prey drive excel in jobs such as police work, detection, herding, and hunting.

We have witnessed our pets doing these things while playing with them.  Pets with high prey drive can become annoying if they are untrained, but there is nothing more fun than training a dog in prey drive. Dogs with ample prey drive are usually very snappy and sharp to look at while they work.  Pet owners have found some relief by throwing Frisbees or balls for their pets, however dogs with high prey drive will pass out from exhaustion before they want to quit. That’s where a shut off command comes in handy. A side note: when choosing a pet you should consider your life style. If your lifestyle is more sedentary and you don’t intend to interact with your dog, don’t choose a working breed which is bred from working stock. But, if you are active and like to do things in the company of your dog, a dog from a breeder who breeds with high prey drive in mind is a good idea. There are many dog sports available, and most clubs eagerly accept newcomers.

Dogs with lots of drive can be taught a greater number of functions with fewer repetitions and still maintain a great attitude.  The anticipation of satisfying this drive will enable the dog to maintain focus for a long time. Food would be considered a miniscule temptation for the dog while in this prey mode. Their reward is only the prey object. To illustrate, let’s say you threw a ball for a dog with these characteristics of drive and focus, and then set a platter of meat and cheese next to him. That dog would not even look at the food even though prey drive falls in the category of food acquisition. The food is not the prey item.  The ball is.

The prey drive must be developed in the dog in order to utilize it to its maximum capacity. When training a dog to perform what seems to be a complex task, this drive is most important.