7 Tips For Handling The Prey Drive In Dogs
All dogs have a prey drive - aka, the hunting instincts that lead them to chase down, stalk, and hunt prey. Which, for a regular pet owner, can be a bit of a nuisance. So here's how to handle it better - and keep your buddy safe.
No matter how much of a fluffball or scaredy cat your buddy might be – they still have a prey drive. Aka, the hunting instinct that drives them to sniff out, chase down, and capture prey. (Whether those are smaller woodland animals, other pets – including your cat – or even a runner, if you’re out on a walk or a hike together!)
Which makes the prey drive in dogs a prime reason why dogs run away – from home or if you’re out together.
Now on the downside: the urge to track and chase is ingrained in our dogs’ psyche – you’re just going to have to live with it and manage it.
But on the upside? You can still help your buddy redirect their natural energy and keep them out of harm’s way with a few practical steps. Let’s start with a couple of them.
Table of contents
- What is the prey drive in dogs?
- What are the behaviors associated with the prey drive in dogs?
- Which dog breeds have a strong prey drive?
- What are the potential dangers of the prey drive in dogs?
- How can I tame my dog’s prey drive?
- Manage your dog’s prey drive for good – and keep them happy & safe
What is the prey drive in dogs?
The prey drive refers to any behavior or instinct related to hunting, chasing and capturing prey.
Now do all dogs have prey drive? Yes – but how strong it is can vary across individual dogs, depending on their breed, temperament, and habits they’ve picked up.
Dogs with strong prey drive do great as hunting and herding dogs – as well as other work activities, like search and rescue or law enforcement.
Almost every dog has a natural tendency toward some predatory behavior and this can often be a challenge for pet parents.
Because…well, today, most dogs don’t really need to hunt to eat! Yet just the sound, scent or sight of a moving object can trigger it and send them bolting off into the distance.
💡 Like dogs, cats also have a strong hunting instinct. And much like dogs, it’s also one of the primary reasons they might end up running away from home.
What are the behaviors associated with the prey drive in dogs?
The prey drive can explain why your dog partakes in any of the following activities or behaviors:
- Searching and sniff around
- Biting to grab or kill
Now if you’re a hunter or a dog sports competitor, these behaviors can definitely come in handy.
But on the other hand, for most pet owners, the prey drive can be a challenging behavior to handle. It might look like your dog:
- Pulling on the leash while out on walks
- Chasing down smaller pets or even children
- Chasing after other runners if you’re out together
- Bolting off into the woods if you’re out hiking together
⚠️ All of these behaviors can be quite a nuisance over time – especially if your poor dog ends up picking a fight with the wrong predator, or injured from a bear trap, or gets lost in the wilderness.
For your dog, prey can take many forms, such as:
- Small animals (including cats)
Furthermore, different dog breeds might exhibit the prey drive differently. Left to their own devices, dogs with a strong prey drive might just chase anything that moves!
Which dog breeds have a strong prey drive?
Dogs bred to hunt or herd generally have the strongest prey drives. These include:
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collies
However, some group breeds which are not bred for hunting or herding, may also possess a strong prey drive – like Boxers or Huskies.
Some water loving dog breeds won’t let a little water danger stop them from catching their prey, so be prepared to get wet on outdoor trips with these pooches!
What are the potential dangers of the prey drive in dogs?
Dogs with a:
- Strong prey drive
- Who have not been properly trained
- Aren’t restrained or leashed
…may find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.
For example, your dog’s prey drive may lead them to:
- Chase after dangerous animals – that might not simply run away, but fight back!
- Come into contact with poisonous substances (or animals)
- Chase cars and potentially get injured by a passing vehicle
- Get so distracted by prey, that they ignore your commands – and end up getting lost, miles away
💡In these situations, a GPS Dog Tracker can be a lifesaver – so you can always locate and retrieve your dog in case of potential danger.
Because with just a glance at your phone, you can now follow your dog in real-time – and over an unlimited range. No matter how fast they’re running or what they’re off chasing.
How can I tame my dog’s prey drive?
Now the bad news is, you can’t ever really get rid of your dog’s prey dive. It’s a natural, biological instinct that can never be fully suppressed.
But the good news? With these steps, you can definitely reduce it – or at least control it better.
So let’s start with:
1) Figure out how your dog’s prey drive shows up
Step one: keep an eye out for how your dog’s prey drive tends to show up. For example, your dog might:
- Chase around moving objects, people, or other pets
- Stalk around smaller animals like squirrels or birds
- Herd around people or other pets
- Dig around your garden (in search of rodents)
By figuring out what behaviors your dog tends to get up to when the prey drive’s rearing its head, you can better discourage it.
Or, on the other hand, reward them for “good” behaviors – like when they remain quietly by your side over bolting off after a squirrel at the dog park.
⚠️ Don’t forget: other dogs might have a stronger prey drive than yours. So keep your friends and loved ones informed – especially when you’re planning on pet play dates together.
2) Redirect your dog’s attention away from “prey“
On your daily walks or during playtime, keep an eye out for possible prey.
- If your dog spots something and begins to hunt, stalk or chase it, do not yell or scold your dog. This could actually aggravate them further and even encourage the chase.
- Instead, engage and distract your dog to shift their attention away from prey. Keep their favorite toys or a whistle around to keep them occupied.
- Keep eye contact with your dog to help them stay focused on you or an activity, rather than on a potential prey.
3) Reward your dog when they do behave
Now the above mentioned situation might occur pretty often – or not so much at all. What’s important is how consistent you are in reinforcing your dog’s behavior.
For example, if you only give your dog “attention” – even if that’s by yelling – when they run off or chase a nearby bird or squirrel, they’re still going to learn that “running away = attention from you.” So they might even repeat this behavior just to get some attention!
💡So make sure you reward your dog plenty when they sit obediently by your side or get successfully distracted from prey. Keep treats around, be generous with pats and praise, or reward them with their favorite game.
This way, you’ll be able to train a habit in your dog of following and obeying you, not their prey drive.
4) Be sure not to encourage the prey drive
Now even if you aren’t actively raising your dog to hunt down prey, you might accidentally reinforce their prey drive if you aren’t mindful!
For example, don’t encourage your pup to chase other animals in order to get them running (as a form of exercise). Your dog will like it, and it will become a habitual behavior.
⚠️ Eventually, your dog won’t be able to tell the difference between chasing a moving object in the backyard, or a moving object on the other side of the road.
This way, your dog can pose a serious danger to both themselves and to others if they chase people on bicycles, motorized vehicles, or animals across the road.
💡Besides real-time GPS tracking, your trusty Tractive device even lets you track your dog’s daily activity – with its built-in motion detector. So you can ensure your dog’s well-exercised, healthy, and living their best life.
(Because when you think about it, a tired dog is one that’s less likely to chase down prey.)
5) Train your dog’s recall
Besides helping you spend some quality time with your buddy, training your dog to come when called can actually save their life.
In fact, when it comes to basic obedience training for dogs, one of the first and most important commands is how to get your dog’s attention. (Whether by calling their name, teaching them to return to you at a verbal command, or some other sound – like a whistle.)
Having a reliable recall could save your dog’s life, and is the key to your dog’s safety. Because if you’ve trained them well enough to come when called, it could potentially override their instincts – and have them return to you.
💡 Dogs who respond quickly and consistently when you call get a ton of perks over dogs that can’t. For example, they can play in the park, walk off-leash and keep out of trouble in most situations.
6) Tire out your dog with enough exercise
Like we’ve covered, a well-exercised dog will be less likely to have the energy to chase off after prey at the end of a long day.
So keep your dog busy with healthy activities – including:
- Walking or running off-leash
- Searching for treats
- Games like tug of war or a backyard agility course
Just be sure your pup is physically fit enough to handle the physical activity – like these dog breeds that make the best running companions.
If you choose to walk your dog off-leash – and you’ve got a prey drive to think about:
- Choose places and times when prey animals aren’t likely to be present. (I.e., dawn and dusk.) It’s best to walk your dog during daylight hours.
- Similarly, if your dog likes to chase cars, plan your walks away from roads.
- Check your local laws to ensure you’re walking them on a leash where they’re supposed to.
💡You can even log your daily dog walks with Tractive’s fun Walk feature! So you can stay accountable to a routine and revisit your adventures together.
7) Keep track of your dog with a GPS tracker
Even with all your planning and prep, your dog’s hunting instincts might still lead them run away. And even worse: your buddy may just get lost or wander off in the heat of their chase.
Which is where it makes sense to plan ahead for an emergency. Aka, follow your dog’s every step in real-time – with a dedicated dog GPS tracker.
For less than the price of a bag of dog food and a monthly fee lower than your Netflix subscription, the Tractive GPS:
- Works over any range
- Easily attaches to all standard dog collars or harnesses
- Sends you an instant escape alert if your dog escapes a “safe zone”
- Helps you understand your dog’s favorite hunting spots
And the best part? The Tractive DOG XL Adventure edition is built with love for all the rough and tumble adventures your dog gets up to. Which means it’s 100% waterproof, built with bite-proof fiberglass-reinforced casing and a 30-day battery life.
So you can run, hike, swim, outdoors your dog – with 100% peace of mind.
Always know where your dog is
Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.
Manage your dog’s prey drive for good – and keep them happy & safe
Wrapping up: your dog’s prey drive isn’t ever really going away. It’s just a part of their evolutionary DNA and their hunting and herding instincts.
But with a little consistency and patience, you can help reduce it – and plan ahead for an emergency.
So you should:
- Figure out how your dog’s prey drive shows up. Whether that’s digging, chasing, or some other kind of behavior. Knowing how your dog gets around “prey” can help you pre-empt a chase in advance.
- Redirect your dog’s attention away from “prey” by keeping them distracted with a toy or other activity.
- Be consistent when you reward your dog – i.e., when they’re sitting quietly by your side or get successfully “distracted.”
- Make sure you don’t reinforce your dog’s hunting or chasing behaviors by mistake. It might just lead to them chasing a ball, toy, or another pet somewhere dangerous – like a street full of cars.
- Train your dog to come when called. A reliable recall can potentially save their lives by overriding their escape artist instincts.
- Keep your dog well-exercised. A tired dog is less likely to have the energy to chase down prey.
- Plan ahead for an emergency by tracking your dog’s every step in real-time.
Because with your very own Tractive GPS tracker, you’ll never have to fear losing your dog ever again.
Want to see the Tractive DOG XL Adventure in action? Here’s a short, sporty video to get you pumped for your next adventure outdoors!
And if you’ve liked this post, share it with a friend or a loved one – and let’s help build a safer, kinder world for our furry friends together.