The hunting instinct or prey drive in dogs is one of the most common, yet unpredictable natural behaviors that we, dog owners, have to deal with. Almost every dog has a natural tendency toward some predatory behavior and this can often be a challenge for pet parents. Today, most dogs do not need to hunt to eat. Yet just the sound, scent or sight of a moving object can trigger the prey drive in dogs. The urge to track and chase is ingrained in the psyche of our dogs; we need to learn how we can best live with it and manage it. All while helping our dogs use their natural energy, and keeping them out of harm’s way.  Luckily, we have a few tips for you!

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What is the prey drive in dogs?

The prey drive refers to any behavior or instinct related to hunting, chasing and capturing prey. The strength of the prey drive in dogs varies across individual dogs as well as breeds. Strong prey drives are known to make certain dogs well-suited to hunting and herding, as well as other work activities, for example in search and rescue or law enforcement.

On one hand, some people may value the prey drive and selectively breed or use these dogs to perform certain tasks. By comparison, for many regular pet owners, the prey drive can be a challenging behavior to handle. Like dogs, cats also have a strong hunting instinct.

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
  • Stalking
  • Chasing
  • Biting to grab or kill

For your dog, prey can take many forms, such as leaves, sticks, toys, balls, insects, and small animals in your area. Furthermore, prey drive behaviors in dogs are exhibited differently among different dog breeds. Additionally, if left to their own devices, a dog with a strong prey drive may be prone to chase anything that moves.

Dog running though field

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

However, some group breeds which are not bred for hunting or herding, may also possess a strong prey drive – for example, Huskies or Boxers.

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 or restrained may find themselves in potentially dangerous situations. Therefore it is up to owners to best manage the prey drive, in order to keep their dogs and those in the dog’s surrounding safe.

For example, your dog’s prey drive may lead him to hunt and kill poisonous animals or chase cars. Moreover, he might become so distracted by his prey, that he ignores your commands. In these situations, a Tractive GPS Dog Tracker can be a lifesaver – so you can always locate and retrieve your dog in case of potential danger.

For instance, the following is a story from one pet parent, who used the GPS tracker to track and retrieve their wandering German shepherds:

How can I tame my dog’s prey drive?

There are several training tips and methods you can use to help reduce the prey drive in your dog – or at least help you to control how much he or she acts on it. The natural, biological instinct that is the prey drive in dogs can never be fully suppressed. Even so, you can still train your dog to help tame and lessen the intensity of the prey drive behaviors.

1) Become aware of your dog’s prey drive

First and foremost, it’s important for you as a dog owner to become aware of the prey drive, both in your dog, and in others which your dog might encounter. Learn to recognize how strong the prey drive is in your own dog and which behaviors it manifests as. Find out what works best when it comes to discouraging the prey drive. Learn to recognize potential prey for your dog, as well as potential dangers in the environment. And don’t forget that other dogs which your dog comes into contact with, might have a stronger prey drive than your own.

2) Redirect your dog’s attention away from the prey

On your daily walks or during playtime, learn to scan environment for possible prey. If your dog has spots a prey and begins to hunt, stock or chase it, do not yell or reprimand your dog. Actually this could aggravate him further and even encourage the chase. Instead, engage and distract your dog so that his attention is directed away from the object of prey. Keep eye contact with your dog to help him 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

3) Use positive reinforcement

If your dog responds well in the situation above, and you’re able to successfully distract him from his prey, reward him for his ‘good’ behavior using treats or other positive reinforcement. In the same way, you’ll be able to train a habit in your dog of following and obeying you, not his prey drive.

Bonus: Here are some tips to train even the most aggressive dogs into well-socialized family pets.

4) Be sure not to encourage the prey drive

Be sure not to encourage this behavior in your young dog or puppy, if you’re not planning to use it.

Don’t encourage your pup to chase other animals in order to get him running (as a form of exercise). Your dog will like it, and it will become a habitual behavior.

Your dog will not be able to understand 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 himself and to others if he chases people on bicycles, motorized vehicles or animals across the road.

5) Train your dog’s recall

Whether you are planning to use the prey drive or not, teaching your dog to come to you when you call is the most important lesson you can teach your pup. Enroll your dog in obedience classes while he is still young. One of the first and important things you will learn is how to get your dog’s attention. Having a reliable recall could save your dog’s life, and is the key to your dog’s success as a normal house pet, or hunting dog (if you want to use your pet for hunting purposes).

Dogs who respond quickly and consistently when you call can enjoy freedoms that other dogs cannot. They can play in the park, walk off-leash and keep out of trouble in most situations.

6) Encourage off-leash walking and other healthy activities

Make sure your dog gets enough healthy activities, such as walking or running off-leash, swimming, climbing, digging or searching for treats. 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 walk your dog off-leash, choose places and times when prey animals aren’t likely to be present. Since many prey animals are active at dawn and dusk, try to avoid these times! It’s best to walk your dog during daylight hours. Similarly, if your dog likes to chase cars, plan your walks away from roads.

7) Keep track of your dog with a GPS tracker

As prepared as we may be, we might not always be able to control the prey drive in dogs. What’s more, our beloved furry friend may escape, get lost, or wander off in the heat of their chase. If you don’t want to be left helpless in that situation, you can take control of your dog’s well-being and always know where he or she is with the help of a GPS tracker.

The small waterproof GPS tracker for dogs, is available in most countries around the world for only $50 to $70 – making it affordable for every dog owner. It works over any range, and easily attaches to all standard dog collars or harnesses. And with the help of the companion app, you can track your dog in real time to know his location anytime, anywhere. Read more about the world’s best-selling GPS tracker for dogs here.

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For more information, watch this video made by the Academy for Canine Educators:

We hope this information helps you to better manage the prey drive in your beloved furry friend! Share this article with another dog owner today to spread the knowledge about prey drive in dogs.