Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

For Dogs Who Chase: Using Prey Drive to Control Prey Drive

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Lab grabs ball in airJulia, one of the late, great German Shepherds I’ve shared my life with, had a high prey drive. Meaning, left to her own devices, she chased chipmunks, squirrels, ground hogs, rabbits and, on our New York farm, deer.

Now, I’d like to tell you that she stopped on a dime every time I called her. I really would like to tell you that. But she did not, at least, not until I started to use that intense drive of hers to my advantage.

One day, quite by accident, I discovered a better way. Julia was a ball dog of the “live-and-die for the ball” sort. We were walking in a field one afternoon when a deer sprang from the brush in front of us. She and I saw it at the same moment. In what can only be called desperation, I said, “Julia! BALL!” She whipped her head around and I tossed her ball the other way. She bolted after it, bringing it back to me tail wagging with me praising her mightily.

That event helped me understand the value of teaching head turns and set in her a strong willingness to turn away from deer that held for the rest of her life (which astonished me).

For some dogs you can use really good food but no food, no matter how good, was ever half as good as a ball to Julia. With high prey-drive dogs, I’ve had more success channeling that drive into tug or fetch than trying to use food once they were intent. Most of my shepherds have had the “get the treat out of my face, I’m working here” attitude when their prey drive was engaged.

If you’d like to use prey drive to control prey drive try the following:

  • Work lots of head turns off non-prey, stationary items. (Biscuits are my usual starting place.)
  • Work those until your dog turns away before you cue him.
  • Get a special toy you only play with only during this training and build an obsession (a soon to be posted blog).
  • Tug is great redirection for some dogs, too much for others so if you can play using the Rules of Engagement, great. If not, stick with fetch.
  • Then start working around distractions that are moving a bit.
  • Make the head turn back to you the BEST THING EVER. Sell it to your dog in every way you can – attention, praise, joy, play. BIG GREEN LIGHT!
  • When you dog turns away from moving distractions instantly and with joy, you are well on your way to using the very thing that was the problem as the solution.

Keep me posted.

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