Prey Drive

Deconstructing Prey Drive -- What is it and what can you do with it?
©The Barn Hunting Labrador

Prey drive is an odd term. Prey drive refers to the instincts (notice I said instincts not instinct) that wild carnivores use to feed themselves. But animal behaviorists don’t analyze or explain a tiger’s behavior by talking about its “prey drive,” outside of knowing that it is doing so to eat. Yet in the domestic dog world, it is thrown around a lot.

Prey drive in our domesticated canine friends is prized by many in the dog sport world who seek out “high drive” puppies in hopes of succeeding in one or more sports. At the same time, pet dog owners curse the same prey drive when their dog takes off after a squirrel or herds their children! So what do people mean when they talk about it and what activities allow you to harness it.

Prey drive consists of four independent instincts.
1.    Search
2.    Chase/Stalk
3.    Bite to Grab/Kill
4.    Consume

In many breeds, one or more of the instincts have been selected for, but even in wild carnivores, the four instincts are not necessarily balanced. Wild carnivores that are considered scavengers, like hyenas and, at times, coyotes, are using their search and consume instincts without chasing or biting to grab/kill. Wolves exhibit pretty balanced instincts, as they almost always hunt when looking for food. So they exhibit the full range of searching, chasing, biting, and consuming when finding their dinner.

In the making of our modern breeds, humans have selectively increased and/or decreased the natural predatory instincts in our domesticated friends. Terriers and dachshunds were developed to get rid of vermin and pests; that is, they were selected for their bite to kill instincts. Likewise scent hounds were developed to use their sense of smell in hunting (i.e. their searching instincts).

With modern dog training, suppression of the remaining traits is possible. But at the same time, isn’t it great to let your dog have some fun and exercise their natural instincts? I think so (and so do my two loyal Labradors)! Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time and effort teaching them (and then expecting them) to behave appropriately, but I also reward them with their favorite things for being "good dogs" when I ask it of them!

Some dog breeds and individual dogs have retained strong drive in the multiple instincts of prey drive. This makes these animals very ideal for competing in barn hunt and go to ground sports.

So what are you waiting for! Check out the table below, find the perfect activity for your dog, and go have some fun!



 Dog Sports/Activites

 Fun Games to Play
at Home
Scent Hounds
Labrador Retrievers
Belgian, Dutch &
     German Shepherds
Search & Rescue
Drug Dog Detection
Scent Games
Sight Hounds
Herding Breeds
Bite to grab/kill
Belgian, Dutch &
     German Shepherds
American Bulldog
Protection Work
Agility (chase instinct helps)
Barn Hunt (search also required)
Earth Dog (search also required)
ConsumeAll Dogs Everywhere!
K9 Nose Work (search also required)
Clicker Training
©The Barn Hunting Labrador