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I search the World Wide Web for “prey drive” because I was interested to better understand what behaviors are associated with high and low prey drive and which activities are good for high vs low prey drive dogs. What I found on the first page was this article linked below. It mentioned something about how some undesirable behaviors generally associated with high prey drive are impulse control issues (like lunging at a squirrel on a leash). Interesting... could it be true?

Anyway! I was hoping to get some perspectives on prey drive. What does it mean to you? Where are your dogs on the spectrum and what behaviors do they exhibit? What types of behaviors can be trained vs don’t even try? Is the Volhard an accurate predictor? What types of tricks/work/sports are good for high vs low dogs? Do we see any different trends with certain sizes or lines, or can we expect a mix in every litter?

For me, I think Jett has very high prey drive, but I’m starting to question exactly which behaviors are associated with this. This is why he excels at “work” and also why he can’t have a chicken friend (goes into “freakout mode” at the window). Now I wonder though, is prey drive why he ran off chasing a deer/squirrel/whatever, is prey drive why he’s excited about other dogs walking on leashes, or is that impulse control I haven’t trained well enough?

Tell me what you think!



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We had a nice walk with Peggy today. We passed children playing, cyclists, fast-moving cars, even a dog with no issue. Why? Because we’ve worked with her extensively to curb her reactivity. But when I accidentally kicked a pebble and sent it skittering off the curb? She was after it like a shot. It was like her brain turned off.

Similarly, when I put a hoppy little wind-up chicken in front of her as a puppy, she tried to destroy it with great vigor. When I put the same wind-up chicken in front of two other dogs—one still a puppy herself—they were only mildly interested.

To me, these examples demonstrate that Peggy has a high prey drive as I understand the term.

Part of the reason we chose Peggy was that she followed us like we were magnetic. Any little zig or zag and she was right there at our heels. I don’t know if that attraction to movement predicts a high prey drive, or is an example of prey drive in action. But she responds to motion as if she can’t help herself. Is that maybe just a dog thing? I dunno. Her littermate certainly didn’t behave the same way.
 

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An interesting article, and one I can relate to. When Poppy and Sophy were younger and interested in rabbits Poppy would go straight into chase mode; Sophy stalked and was actually focussed on catching and eating. Poppy had a hugely exciting chase with hens when she was a puppy - now the sight of one flapping and running switches her brain into hunting mode so she can't hear me, although I have successfully called her off rabbits and deer. Neither of them have any interest whatsoever in chasing balls or thrown toys, although Poppy did have fun chasing a radio controlled car. I would say Sophy's impulse control is better but that doesn't necessarily mean that she is more obedient - more that she is prepared to wait patiently downwind of a rabbit burrow until the rabbit appears. Poppy would stick her nose in, snuffling and digging, so that the rabbit decided to stay put till teatime. Or she would decide a small treat in the mouth was better than a big rabbit in a hole, and come when called. These days, with less energy to burn, they both prefer sniff hunts to chasing.

Then there is the Westie we meet out walking whose favourite activity is mouse hunting in the tussocky grass. His owner stands still and the dog searches all the clumps around him, occasionally digging or pouncing, rarely catching anything but filled with the happy anticipation that he might. So - Anticipation? Low/high impulse control? Hunting experience? Reflexive response to fast movement? "Prey drive" as shorthand does seem inadequate...
 
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Just my experience. My standard has high prey drive as far as any living (non-dog) creature is concerned. Our neighborhood walks are a bit better, as long as I sight the squirrels before he does, but he is actively 'hunting' the entire time, including looking up into trees. He also actively hunts voles when we walk in fields. Though during a recent exterior nosework practice, he did just fine focusing on the target odor, only peeling off to hunt critters after the search was over. My beagle-rat terrier mix is also a 'hunter,' with a couple of backyard voles her victims, though she's not over the top in her reaction to critters on our walks.

Regarding impulse control, I've been 'training' that since day 1 because of my desire to run agility (start line stays, etc.). It turned out to be a good choice since he is rabid about agility. The consequence for breaking a start line stay is running the course on his own! What a reward! I think that training should always be done, throughout the life of a dog, regardless of temperament. (Would we say 'don't even try' about a child, even if they were strong-willed?)

Regarding whether prey drive can be tested in puppies, multiple breeders have told me 'no.' I've also read that Volhard temperament testing doesn't necessarily predict adult dog temperament (not that it shouldn't be done, just not accepted as an absolute predictor). My dog tested as the best performance prospect in his litter, and he's met that expectation in multiple sports. Though undoubtedly I spend the most time training/trialing than any other of the pet owners of that litter. Both dogs enjoy training, whether in the living room or dog club, and compete to have my attention while the other is on standby waiting their turn. Don't know if that has to do with temperament. Both dogs also have an "off switch". They are quite happy sleeping most of the day.

I think you should try any dog sport that interests you, and keep up with those that your dog enjoys. The scent sports (nosework, barn hunt, tracking) tap into natural instincts. But obedience and rally can help your dog develop focus and increase attention, while working on impulse control. Bonus of doing dog sports is improving your relationship with your dog.
 

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I am not sure how to answer for Misha. He has a high prey drive in that he loves to chase anything, but for him the whole draw is movement based. He has zero desire to actually hurt things the way many prey driven dogs do. Prey drive is what makes him like to chase a flirt pole, chase his friends, chase lizards... but I wouldn't say he has out of control prey drive. He is not birdy like his pointer friends. They are obsessed with butterflies. He doesn't care about butterflies. The flight pattern is too slow. He loves leaves blown in the wind though!

When he was young we worked on impulse control around ducks and peacocks by having him perform calm behaviors in their vicinity. I haven't really had the opportunity to do that with squirrels but Misha only reacts to them if they are close. He is not terribly observant.

I think lunging at squirrels is both prey drive and impulse control. The prey drive has to be there or the dog wouldn't want to chase. But better impulse control would help the dog resist the urge.
 

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My border collie had high prey drive, but also high impulse control. Both are needed to herd sheep. My Irish setter had high prey drive, but low impulse control and needed more training to not chase things. My standard poodle had low prey drive, at least in comparison to the collie and setter, and high impulse control. All three dogs were very trainable.
 

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Essentially I am with Michigan Gal that these are separate drives/behaviors. My spoos have pretty high prey drives and therefore it has been easy to train retrieves and scent work. To do really good executions of those obedience exercises (dumbbell retrieves in open and directed glove retrieves and scent articles in utility) has required a lot of impulse control training (yes you will go get the dumbbell I just threw but on my order, not your impulse and don't think the judge saying send your dog is your order that one is for me). I would much rather work with a dog that had good prey drive and temper it with impulse control. A dog with low prey drive tends to be a mopey retriever and the rules say retrieves should be brisk.
 
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I am not sure how to answer for Misha. He has a high prey drive in that he loves to chase anything, but for him the whole draw is movement based. He has zero desire to actually hurt things the way many prey driven dogs do.
I do wonder about this with Peggy, too, as she’s never tried to kill or eat our local frogs, lizards, or snakes. But they’re so different from birds and furry things. I don’t think she’s ever even seen a cat or a squirrel.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I would much rather work with a dog that had good prey drive and temper it with impulse control. A dog with low prey drive tends to be a mopey retriever and the rules say retrieves should be brisk.
[mention]lily cd re [/mention] this perfectly describes one of my parents’ previous dogs! I had never thought about it like this. He did not want to work. He needed a home because he failed out of bird dog training and lived happily ever after with a flock of chickens for friends.

I think that training should always be done, throughout the life of a dog, regardless of temperament. (Would we say 'don't even try' about a child, even if they were strong-willed?)
[mention]scooterscout99 [/mention] I think this is a great point! Regardless of the dog’s temperament, we should still expect them to be well adjusted members of society and train as such.


So many good thoughts and perspectives in these replies. It seems like prey drive and impulse control are not interchangeable. For me, it seems that the big takeaway is that some people have different ideas of the definition of prey drive, so we might not always be talking about the same thing!


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It seems to me that "prey drive" is an inborn trait or attribute, while "impulse control" is taught/trained. Put another way, "prey drive" is what tempts Topper to steal our hats, gloves, face masks and tissues, while "impulse control" is his ability to give the treasure back. In his Vollhard test, Topper showed higher pack drive than prey drive. The the evaluator said his prey drive would make him very interested in playing tug and fetch. That has turned out to be true, so far (Topper is almost 7 months old). I still need to do a lot of work on his impulse control and use Susan Garrett's It's Yer Choice games.
 

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Well said PowersPup.
 

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Yesterday when Normie and I turned the corner into the driveway we came face to face with two large rabbits. Normie just stared at them until they startled and ran. Once they moved, he was ready to pursue. (Leashes do come in handy!)

I don't think he recognized them as prey. But he loves a good chase.
 

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Yesterday when Normie and I turned the corner into the driveway we came face to face with two large rabbits. Normie just stared at them until they startled and ran. Once they moved, he was ready to pursue. (Leashes do come in handy!)

I don't think he recognized them as prey. But he loves a good chase.
Topper probably thinks of anything that runs - squirrel, rabbit, cat - is prey and it excites him. When we see these things on walks, I need to just walk quickly away from them to get his focus back on me. I need to look into whether Susan Garrett has an "It's Yer Choice" game about chasing rabbits and squirrels.
 

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Topper probably thinks of anything that runs - squirrel, rabbit, cat - is prey and it excites him. When we see these things on walks, I need to just walk quickly away from them to get his focus back on me. I need to look into whether Susan Garrett has an "It's Yer Choice" game about chasing rabbits and squirrels.
I'm not sure about that but it is a good time for LAT.
 
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