Training Dogs with a High Prey Drive

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Santa Cruz County Dog Training

  Understanding High Prey Drive Behavior

   Many dog owners don’t understand this particular behavior in dogs.  First of all dog owners need to accept the fact that it’s normal behavior for dogs to chase. The first thing to learn are the reasons for the behavior. The second thing is to learn how to control the behavior.

 Behavior that isn’t part of a High Prey Drive.  

  • Social Agonistic
  • Fear
  • Territorial
  • Mating
  • Games
  • Somatic – (physical medical conditions)

    What does High Prey Drive look like? Usually a High Prey Drive will have more than one object to chase such as cats, joggers, rabbits, bicyclists, cars, birds, squirrels, deer, and sometimes other dogs. The list is endless. Many dogs when targeting prey will display a high level of excitement and lack of self-control. If loose they can run off without any concern for negative circumstances.  If on a lead an owner must struggle to keep their dog in control.best-hunting-rabbit

  Other dogs are more methodical in their appearance. They will go into the  classic hunting mode by moving slow, and getting low while preparing for the right time to chase. The appearance is similar to big cats in the wild as they set up for the kill.  More importantly the emotional high that drives this instinct is self-reinforced. The physiological implications affecting the dog are without compare. With the neurochemical ‘dopamine’ sending endorphins shooting through the body they experience a pure natural high which makes this very problematic for dog owners.  Dog owners don’t posses anything that compares to this natural high.

Classic Hunting Sequence in dogs: 

  • Tracking- picking up scent from ground.
  • Searching – getting closer to prey and using scent from the air .
  • Seeing
  • Stalking
  • Chasing
  • Grab
  • Kill-bite
  • Disruption- tearing of the body.
  • Feeding

  This is the primitive sequence handed down to domesticated dogs.  Domesticated dogs are  far removed from their ancestors.  Dogs usually don’t display the entire sequence. It’s been breed out of them since they don’t have to hunt  for survival.  Although, there have been rare cases where dogs have killed using part or the entire hunting sequence. Today dogs rarely intend to kill. However, they still possess the Chase Drive.

Whats an Owner to do?

  Using conventional dog training techniques are effective for low to mild High Chase Drives. The results will be determined by how effective the techniques were and if the owner consistently stayed with the program.  Although, with a super High Chase Drive those techniques  could be slow to take effect.

   Whatever the case, an owner has no alternative than to start with Basic Obedience Training. The emphasis will usually be on Recalls (come command). There’s dozens of Recall exercises so it’s a matter of finding what works. If  basic obedience seems to help higher levels of obedience training could be beneficial. It’s very possible Agility games or some other type of activity could help. The activities chosen will be determined by the type of dog an owner has.  The process will always be a matter of deduction. What is working or what isn’t working. The main focus of any dog training is building better communication with the dog.  

Controlling The Dog :

  One thing an owner must learn is they will never take the chase instinct out of the dog. It’s always going to be there. Sometimes the dog will revert back to its earlier behavior even after training. Failure is always part of training. What an owner should hope for is to harness in that energy. The first step for a hard case is getting the dog to focus only on the owner. Sometimes the owners natural charm isn’t enough to attract a dog away from distractions. Unfortunately a high value treat isn’t enough to stop a high level case. That reward isn’t great enough.

  The owner must find something of high value to divert a dogs attention. If a dog loves to chase give them an alternative to chase. This will help to satisfy the dogs need to chase. Always Remember the” Natural High” dogs receive during the chase. If a dog can receive the same emotional pleasure retrieving a ball or frisbee  the motor pattern will continue. However, the focus of attention will be  appropriate.  The owner will be starting a new routine for the dog.

  Starting a New Game:

  Start off in a low distraction area with a few tennis balls.  Throw a ball in one direction. When dog has retrieved and is  coming back throw the other ball in the opposite direction.  Before throwing the second ball use a verbal cue with a hand signal. I usually say “lets go” with one wave of my arm across my body and then pointing behind me.  As dog runs by and retrieves that ball repeat exercise. If the dog is a major chaser this game could go on for a while which is good for the owner. As the dog adapts to this game over time change things up.

  During  this game an owner can work on other aspects of basic training.  While giving your cue,  moving backwards, and prompting with a hand signal have the dog sit. An owner may want the dog to sit directly in front of them. Which is ok. If the dog decides to sit a distance from owner that could be ok also. Although, the final decision is the owners where the dog sits. Whatever the case after the dog sits the owner should immediately repeat the throwing game.

  As time goes on change the game again. This time the owner will have dog stop from running and have dog immediately turn and run in opposite direction.

The drill looks like this: dog-chasing-ball

  Target a low value object to dog (Tease under nose of dog) – Throw low value object.  As dog turns to run immediately use verbal cue and throw tennis ball ( high value object) in opposite direction as dog looks back – As dog runs towards owner  repeat verbal cue and show hand signal pointing towards tennis ball. Repeat drill showing low value object. Eventually the dog will catch on to the trickery and not move towards low value object.

  The next step is to do drill using all high value objects (tennis balls). There could be different variations to this drill depending on dogs responses. The goals are: 1.) to not run, and 2.) stop in the midst of running. There’s a point of no return for a dog in training. It’s important to know how far the dog can move away from the owner without coming back. Usually for a dog in training close distant is needed for it to stop. That could mean only a few feet before giving a cue. At this stage an owner doesn’t want the dog in full stride.

 Start off showing both tennis balls – make the one not being thrown attractive by bouncing it – Throw a tennis ball  – Immediately say “Lets go” – As dog stops and looks back repeat verbal cue – Throw other ball in opposite direction – Let dog see  hand signal before passing by. As dog comes back set up the scenario again. If dog at some point doesn’t move for first thrown ball say “Good”  or ” Good Stay” – Immediately say “Lets go” – Throw other ball in opposite direction while quickly showing hand signal.

   The object of this game is to Condition the dog to a new routine that’s special between owner and dog. Dogs always repeat behaviors that are pleasurable and works for them.  In a real case scenario control  your dog similar to the Game. Using the same verbal cues, body movement, and hand signals. It’s important  owners carry the motivator (ball or other toys) in the beginning.  When out in public start working the dog with low-level distractions. With low-level distractions the dog will have more self-control. With self-control the dog will be able to reference his memory back to the Game. The real-life situation should look as close to the Game as possible. One goal is to have the dog running in the opposite direction of the distractions. Once accomplished owners can take control of their dog.  Over time owners will work up to higher level distractions. The main objective is to have the dog Stay or Come when called. Working a dog on a 15 or 30 foot leash in public is also a good idea for safety reasons.

  While out on walks it’s a good idea to always have a high value object (ball or other toys) to reward the dog for listening on cue.  Reward by letting your dog carry the ball  awhile if it can’t be thrown. This  should make them happy.

  Happy Training.

  Giovannas Dog Training provides service for Private Dog Training, Group Dog Training, Private Puppy Training, and Group Puppy Training.

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