Understanding Hunting & Predatory Behavior in Dogs

Normal Dog Behavior >

Breeds most well known for having high prey drive are contained within the herding group. Herding behavior provides the best example of the predatory behavior at work in modern-day domestic dogs. From the stalk to the crouch, creep to the running and nipping, shepherd dogs almost have it all, except the final consummatory phase, which has been agonizingly culled out of their predatory repertoire for centuries. Though actively suppressed, this final phase of the predatory sequence is still genetically encoded in the various members of these breeds and re-emerges from time to time.

A Dog’s Predatory Behavior at Home or in the Street

Pet dog owners who simply want a family friend may not care for all this talk of predatory behavior because their dog will not have to hunt or kill for his food and they have no desire to have their dog herd sheep or retrieve game. Nevertheless, predatory behaviors are still there in their dogs, to a greater or lesser extent. Below are a few examples of dogs’ predatory behavior at work in the domestic setting.

  • Chasing cars, bicyclists, skateboarders
  • Chasing children running alone or together in a group
  • Shaking (to “kill”) a stuffed toy or slipper
  • Group aggression – when two to five dogs in a “pack” encounter a moving prey facsimile
  • Rare attacks on too easily accessible, unattended, flailing newborn human infants
  • Chasing tennis balls and Frisbees
  • Biting or nipping people in the heels/calves/thighs as they run or move away
  • Terriers digging in the back yard
  • Retrievers “herding” shoes or other objects into one area
  • Border collies herding people to stop them from leaving a group
  • Dogs barking in vehicles or barking at cars en route

    Trying to train the predatory behavior out of a dog is like swimming upstream. You might make some progress if you work hard for a while, but you will be back to square one the moment you stop. It is better to simply acknowledge that predatory behavior is part of dogs’ genetic nature (as it is our own), to live with it, channel it appropriately, and take steps to avoid unfortunate accidents. While predatory behavior spin-off can be entertaining, in the form of ball chasing, or amusing, when toy dogs’ predatory ambitions exceed their capabilities, it is far from entertaining or amusing in larger dogs when directed toward people. The moral of this story is know your dog, recognize predatory behavior for what it is, and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent unfortunate accidents.



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