One of the biggest things we see clients for is a dog chasing or attacking things. It is quite normal nowadays to hear that a dog has chased and/or killed squirrels, rabbits, horses, sheep, deer and other wildlife at some point during its life. You also hear a lot that a dog has run off and gone missing because it was chasing something whilst off lead out on a walk and people have been astonished to see how far these dogs can travel whilst on a scent or chasing wildlife.
Our dogs have a natural and innate drive within them to hunt, track and chase prey animals. It's a fact. Dogs are predators and act on instinct which means 9 times out of 10, if they come across a prey animal, they will chase it. This is called prey drive and every dog has some level of prey drive instinctively within them.
Now some dogs have a naturally higher prey drive than others and there are several factors that can play a part on that.
1. The dog breed: all dogs were bread at one point or another to do some sort of job. If you get a collie, spaniel, pointer, terrier ect, you can pretty much guarantee that your dog will have a naturally pretty high prey drive as these dogs have literally been bred specifically to hunt, chase or kill other animals as their job.
2. What breeding line they come from: most breeds nowadays have two lines of breeding; a show line or a working line. Both lines of breeding will still have a natural prey drive but generally a dog bred specifically on a working line will have a much higher prey drive than a show line bred dog. Each breeding line are specifically breeding the best dogs to fit into that category. Working lines are specifically looking for the dogs with a high prey drive, high working drive and a ton of energy so will breed the best dogs that fit that category. On the flip side, show lines are specifically looking for the dogs that look the best in that breed category and have a great temperament to show. Show line dogs need to look good and generally stand still and be calm in the show ring for a while, working line dogs need to be able to be on the move for hours on end, doing their job and not get too tired easily. Two very different lines with two very different needs.
3. The dogs puppy hood: if a dog has been brought up with cats or horses ect since puppy hood, the likelihood is that dog will have less of a prey drive to those animals as they are well socialised towards them. That said, the dog will only have less of a prey drive response if socialised WELL towards these animals. For example, if they have grown up around cats and been told by either a human or a cat that chasing them is not okay, they probably won't chase cats. If a dog has grown up around pet rabbits and simply been allowed to chase and annoy the rabbits since it was a puppy then it will likely have a higher prey drive response to rabbits as it grows up.
4. The dogs training: a lot of people don't do any training with their dogs around prey animals either because they don't think they need to or don't think their dog needs to. Some people can also be doing the wrong kind of training around prey animals and actually be making their dogs prey drive response more prominent or try to suppress or get rid of it all together making the dog confused and frustrated.
There are of course exceptions to each category as dogs are living, breathing beings who act unpredictably sometimes. So just because you have a working line Spaniel doesn't mean it will definitely want to kill birds and bring them to you but it also doesn't mean that it won't either.
A lot of people think that they don't need to do anything about a dogs prey drive because at the end of the day it is a natural instinct. You cannot get completely get rid of a dogs prey drive and anyone who tells you that you can really doesn't understand canine behaviour at all. Trust me, people have tried and they have failed and we simply ended up with shut down dogs who were confused and acted like robots because they didn't want to do anything wrong. That is not what we as dog lovers and dog owners want for our pets. However, you also can't just ignore it. Just because it is a natural behaviour doesn't mean it should just be ignored and allowed.
There are hundreds and thousands of different species of animals on this planet, a huge majority of them are prey animals that offer our dogs a great rush of a chase and or kill. Mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, sheep, ducks, deer and so many more are natural prey animals that will instinctively run away at the presence of a predator making them an easy and unexpected fun game for your dog. The excuse that you didn't know that animal was there simply isn't good enough. Not for the animal being hunted, not for your dog who could get hurt or injured and not for those of us who have and love all of our animals and hold meaning to their lives and their suffering as we do with our dogs.
So what should we as responsible dog owners be doing?
1. Teach your dog from a young age how to control their prey drive: if you don't know how to do that, get n touch with a dog trainer who does. If they tell you that you can't do that, find another one. If they tell you they can get rid of it altogether, find another one. It is so important that we teach our dogs how to control this drive so that they don't get hurt or cause hurt to other animals.
2. Socialise your dog well with other animals: this doesn't mean just introduce them to every animal you see and let them work it out. Proper socialisation means praising them for being kind and not trying to harm or chase the animal and correcting them if they do. They don't even have to ever interact with the animal to be well socialised to it, they just have to see it as a normal part of their life, not something to play with or chase, just another thing that is normal in this world. Again, if you don't know how best to do this, find a good trainer to help you out.
3. Teach your dog a solid recall even around prey animals: this is such an important one because you never know when or where an animal will pop out and trigger a prey drive response from your dog. We should always expect the unexpected and be prepared for every situation. Teaching our dogs a solid recall away from animals should be a standard training practise for every dog. What if your dog can't reliably recall away from a deer running away? Well then keep it on lead and find a trainer who can teach your dog how to have a reliable recall. Your dog doesn't HAVE to be off lead but that animal does deserve to have a life free from the stress and pain caused by your dog chasing and attacking them.
We as dog owners and animal lovers need to be doing everything we can to protect our dogs and help them to live in our world as best they can. This means advocating for them when it comes to controlling their prey drive and not causing unnecessary harm or stress to the other animals on this planet.
Get in touch with a member of our team if you'd like some help on teaching your dognot to chase other animals.