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.

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. In fact, some dogs (including Golden Labs and Retrievers!) were selectively bred for years to sniff out, chase down, and capture prey.

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.

Read more: All About Working Dogs: Their Roles, Breeds & More

A pair of Irish Setters out in the woods with a man in hunting gear

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:

  • Hunting
  • Searching and sniff around
  • Stalking
  • Chasing
  • 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.

Dog running though field

For your dog, prey can take many forms, such as:

  • Leaves
  • Sticks
  • Toys
  • Balls
  • Insects
  • Joggers at the park
  • Cars
  • Bikes
  • Smaller animals (including cats)

Besides, 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
  • Terriers
  • Hounds
  • Retrievers
  • Spaniels
  • Pointers
  • Beagles
  • Malamutes

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!

A dog running into an open pool of water in a forest

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 or be a danger for others.

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
A dog lost in the woods

💡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.

Tractive Trustpilot review

Track Your Dog

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 while you can’t fully eliminate it, your dog can learn to control their prey drive, instead of following their instincts. Meaning a ton of training and impulse control – and these steps to help you reduce it, or at least control it better.

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.

A pack of leashed dogs at a 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.
brown large dog sitting behind a log in the forest looking up
Marina Selinger, UX designer at Tractive & licensed dog trainer

“It’s important to step in before your dog follows their prey drive. So always watch your dog for tiny signs and learn to read their body language.

For example, while in training, make sure your dog is firmly leashed – so they’re less likely to run off at the slightest sight, sound, or smell.”

– Marina Selinger, UX designer at Tractive & licensed dog trainer

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!

A woman offering a treat to a dog for performing a trick

💡Your dogs won’t learn to control their prey drive from day one alone. 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.

Read more: Clicker Training for Dogs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Positive Reinforcement

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.

A man crossing the street with his dog

💡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.)

Tractive Trustpilot review

Discover Activity Tracking

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.

A dog running between two people in a forested area

💡 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.

Marina Selinger, UX designer at Tractive & licensed dog trainer

“Just make sure to include some distractions while training. If your dog only has perfect recall when they aren’t otherwise distracted, that doesn’t mean they’re not still vulnerable to their own prey drive.”

– Marina Selinger, UX designer at Tractive & licensed dog trainer

Read more: Dog Recall: How To Teach Your Dog To Come When Called

6) Make sure your dog’s gotten 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
  • Swimming
  • Climbing
  • Digging
  • 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.

A black and white dog wearing a harness running in a field

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.

Walk Your Dog With Tractive

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:

Tractive Trustpilot review

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.

Shop Dog Trackers

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.”
A woman sitting with a chocolate Lab and a Border collie in a park
  • 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 dog that’s been physically and mentally active all day is more likely to relax and be less likely to chase down prey.

And most importantly…

  • 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.

Discover Tractive GPS

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.

Marina Selinger, UX designer at Tractive & licensed dog trainer

This post was written by Marina Selinger, a licensed dog trainer and international agility competitor. Besides putting her UX design skills to use in Tractive’s Product team, she’s also mom to 3 high-energy Shelties and a Japanese Spitz.

When she’s not sharing her expertise for the Tractive blog, you can find her walking her dogs, hiking, or in the middle of a high-speed training session.