Prey drive is a natural drive which we can use to our advantage when teaching our dog concepts and techniques for most venues. Prey drive is what makes it possible for us to engage our dogs in play and chase games. Using such games during training helps to build the desire to work in our dogs.
A problem can arise when a dog has such intense prey drive that he overreacts to environmental situations. To the owner, the dog’s reaction seems to happen without warning. As a result, the dog’s behavior can become unpredictable and hard to control. An example would be when a dog is exposed to motion in his surrounding and quickly becomes over stimulated. Allowing him to become obsessed with movement increases his desire to chase the object causing a lack effect of focus on the handler and unresponsiveness to commands. An additional side can also lead the dog to react in an aggressive manner. This aggressive behavior often called redirected aggression may be focused toward an animal, person or an inanimate object such as a leash.
Dogs with extreme prey drive can be taught to remain calm in stimulating environments. Teaching impulse control and a reliable response to commands will enable the dog to be redirected. The purpose of redirection is to have the ability to control the dog’s response to environmental triggers and hopefully be able to diminish the dog’s desire to react.
The following guidelines can help a handler gain control and rapport with a dog that has high prey drive.
☑ It is a widely accepted that hormones and a high protein diet high increases reactivity in a dog. By feeding your dog a diet lower in protein, it can be possible to decrease his level of reactivity. Decreasing his level of reactivity may make it easier for you to modify his behavior. Always check with your Veterinarian with any health or nutritional concerns.
☑ Make every effort to increase rapport and handler focus. A good way to do this is to take the time to teach and practice simple obedience exercises each day. Train your dog to respond quickly to each command. This increases the likelihood that your dog will follow your directions in a variety of situations.
☑ Teach your dog to respond immediately to commands such as “leave it,” “sit,” and “come.” After your dog learns these important skills, you will be able to redirect him and have him remain focused on your face during situations that may be over stimulating.
☑ To help prevent building his prey drive further, limit his access to space and do not inadvertently allow him to rehearse undesirable behaviors.
☑ Pay attention to the environment and be aware of what your dog is doing. Be proactive and learn to react before your dog reacts. Ask him to preform simple skills such as leave it, come, and sit. Make sure he responds quickly and correctly and continues to face you and stay on task.
☑ Remain calm and be definite with your actions and commands. Control the situation by increasing distance from the trigger. If you react frantically, most likely your dog will also become frantic.
Prey drive can be controlled with time, patience and training. Controlling the environment, training commands such as sit and come, and identifying the triggers are the best ways to manage prey drive in reactive dogs.