The Hunt is On: Managing Prey Drive in Pet Dogs

It is a valid concern: your dog loves to run around outside in the yard and go for walks, but she wants to turn these activities into something more than just a playful romp. Your dog loves to hunt. She might even like to “finish” what she hunts, and that can be very distressing. No one wants to find a dead and half-eaten possum on their porch. Believe me, I know the feeling.dog-784638_1920

Lizards, mice, squirrels, birds, rats (both nutria and Norway), raccoons, possum, chickens—we share our neighborhoods with all of these creatures which are tempting targets for dogs that love to chase and kill. The biggest challenge of all, however, are the cats. The Louisiana SPCA works very hard through our TNR (trap-neuter-release) program to keep the feral cat population in the city under control, but still there are cats everywhere. Add to this the roaming house cats, protected in Orleans Parish, and there are literally thousands of small animals for your prey-driven pup to find and chase.

Owners like myself, with dogs exhibiting high prey drive, need to be responsible and acknowledge the possibility of conflict with neighbors who keep chickens, feed feral cats or even let their small dogs (illegally) roam into our yards. It would take extensive and intense training to possibly rid a dog of her prey drive, but there are precautions and measures you can take to live peacefully in our urban jungle.

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Running off excess energy is one way to curb prey drive. Make sure you exercise in a safe environment with as few things for your dog to chase as possible

Extensive energy burn is number one. Don’t just let your dog out into the backyard- engage her in play with balls, Frisbee, flirt pole, tug, and tricks.  If cats are consistently hanging around in your yard, do a quick check before letting your dog out the door or off a leash. Use this as a training time to teach her “Wait” at the door or sit and watch before you unclip the lead.

Go for extended walks in safe areas where she can smell and explore the environment on-leash without danger. Secondly, when you are walking through the neighborhood, be vigilant. Teach your dog to walk close to you and give you her attention when you say her name or ask for a “Watch.” Keep a relatively short leash, but allow for sniffing breaks. Carry high-value treats such as chicken or cheese with you to distract from obvious triggers like a cat lurking under a car or kids on bicycles. Finally, try to be understanding. Your dog isn’t trying to be a monster- she is doing what has been bred into her DNA for hundreds of years. Channel her hunting instinct into dog sports or simple backyard games, but do try to find an outlet for this energy instead of punishing her for her nature.

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Engage your dog in play if you are out in the yard. This prevents the dog from finding possibly unsavory ways to entertain himself