A dog’s impulse to chase and capture moving objects—running, rolling, bouncing or floating—is no mystery, even to those who don’t own dogs. In , I talked about why dogs chase things. Now let’s see what can be done to manage that instinct.
Meet Rusty, a husky mix with a taste for the neighbor’s chickens. The invisible fence won’t hold him. His owner’s commands fall on deaf ears. But the neighbor’s threat to shoot the dog are being heard loud and clear.
Next, there’s Meghan, a lovely and cheerful sable collie. In my teens, Meghan and I earned a CD title in the obedience ring but when my town instituted leash laws in the early 1980s, my mom tethered Meghan in the front yard. Restricted to and frustrated by her limited range, Meghan’s herding and chasing instincts got the better of her and she bit the ankle of a passing cyclist. Because I was leaving for college and didn’t want to leave misunderstood Meghan in a risky situation, I re-homed her with a family in upstate Michigan. Meghan lived a long life, surrounded by love and a variety of farm animals, all of whom were willing to be herded.
Finally, Bucky, a young and playful Labrador/hound mix from the Roar in Ridgefield. As a puppy, he loved to chase butterflies and ankle wrestle. But now he’s a big boy—almost 6 months—and he’s graduated to larger targets including the cat, the kids and the school bus.
What do these dogs have in common? Prey drive. Most dogs have it in varying degrees and it can be seen emerging in very young puppies. In puppies and young dogs, the prey drive and play drive live in tandem, so you can use clever games that embrace both instincts to shape your dog’s behavior. You’ll need an obsession toy—one that grabs and holds your dog’s attention—and a repertoire of games including catch-it-if-you-can. I’ll discuss games in detail next week.
As a young puppy matures, he will focus on bigger targets—which brings us to remedying the impulse in older pets, once their drive is interrupting the serenity of their surroundings.
To discourage a dog’s prey drive, consider two things: the breed/mix breed’s impulse and the intensity of their reaction. Interrupting a dog’s intense focus can result in displaced aggression—especially with instinctive breeds from the terrier and Nordic group, where a dog—unnaturally restrained from chasing, impulsively lunges at whoever is nearby. These bites can be as wounding as the one intended for capture. If your dog’s intensity has reached this level (as did the husky’s in the above example), don’t put yourself in danger. Seek a professional’s help to resolve your situation.
For dogs whose prey drive gets peaked by everyday stimuli such as kids and cars, refocusing their attention with chasing games (tune in next week) as you rig situations to catching and correcting the thought process can temper and focus their reactions to more appropriate activities. To curb the drive, use a leash, retractable leash or long line and watch your dog’s ears, eyes and head position.
The moment the head drops and the eyes narrow their focus on the target is the second you need to tug back, discourage them with “no,” and refocus their attention on their obsession toy. With a long line or retractable leash, you can position yourself further from your dog’s side to ensure it’s not your presence that shape your dog’s self control.
Continue to share your questions and stories. Happy tails!