Prey drive is an instinctive natural behavior for dogs. All dogs have some level of hard wired prey drive. They are natural hunters and skilled at locating, chasing and catching their target.
Owning a dog with a high level of prey drive can be frustrating and lead to potential problems. This can result in poor recall if they set their mind on a target. It may even result in them catching and hurting or killing another animal. This can cause serious trouble if the prey is the neighbors pet cat or rabbit.
Many breeds that are prone to high prey drive can also tend to be diggers. This is because they have a natural instinct to dig to locate and uncover potential prey.
You can’t train a strong natural instinct like prey drive out of a dog. However, you can manage or redirect the drive into a more positive outlet. This is where toys and games that cater to your dog’s natural prey drive are invaluable.
Dog breeds that have a high prey drive
All dogs have a certain level of chase and prey drive. Certain breeds will naturally be higher in prey drive while other breeds such as companion breeds will be less so.
Every dog is an individual and even dogs of the same prey who vary in how prey driven they are. Dogs of a breed that is generally thought to be high in prey drive may be quite mellow and have little interest in chasing other animals. The reverse is true. Dogs of a breed that is usually low in prey drive may have an unusually high drive to chase.
These types of breeds list below will on average exhibit a tendency to have high prey drive.
Spitz type breeds
The Spitz type breeds are dog breeds that originated from the arctic. Their DNA is not that far removed from that of wild dogs. This means they have a natural strong urge to hunt.
The Spitz group is not an official dog breed group in the same way as a dog is classified by the kennel association. There is around 60 to 70 different breeds that make up this grouping. Examples include the Siberian Husky, Japanese Spitz, Akita, Shiba Inu, Alaskan Klee Kai, Samoyed, and the Chow Chow.
Sight Hounds were bred to spot prey at a distance and run them down. These are the sprinters of the dog world. They are not only fast but also powerful and can bring down a large animal. These breeds include the Greyhound, Afghan Hound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki and Whippet.
Rodent and Vermin Breeds
These breeds were bred to eradicate rats and other vermin. These include the small terrier breeds from the British Iles such as the Jack Russell, Yorkshire Terrier, and the Scottish Terrier. They also include the Dachshund which was bred to hunt Badgers and even the Miniature Schnauzer.
The sporting breeds were bred to assist hunters in locating and flushing out game. This includes the spaniels such as the Springer Spaniel. It also includes breeds that where used for fox hunting such as the Fox Terrier and hounds like the Beagle.
In addition to the sporting breeds, there are many breeds of dogs that were used for hunting. A great example of this is the Rhodesian Ridgeback. This powerful dog is often known as the lion hunter. To learn more about the Ridgeback as a Lion hunter see here.
Bull baiting breeds
These breeds where original used for bull baiting. Most of these breds have had the aggression bred out of them and can be very loving affectionate dogs. Some of these breeds however can be aggressive to other dogs and animals. Examples of Bull baiting dogs include the English Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffy), and the Pitbull Terrier.
The herding breeds were obviously bred to herd livestock. With these breeds it is not a case of prey drive as such. It is more about herding drive and controlling other animals. However, herding dogs can still benefit greatly from playing games and activities that cater to high prey drive dogs.
Games and activities for dogs with high prey drive
If you have a dog that has high prey drive, these games will help cater to this natural instinct. They are also great for teaching control and focus to prevent them becoming reactive to a situation.
Dogs with high prey and chase drive tend to love playing fetch. Fetch caters directly to your dog’s chase instinct. This is usually triggered when they get sight of a fast moving object. By having your dog return the ball to you, it will teach your dog to come when called if they do want to chase something.
Use a handheld ball launcher to maximize the benefit of the game. Obviously, the further you can throw the ball the more your dog has to run.
They also make life easier for you as the long handle lets you pick up a ball without having to bend over to the ground. It also prevents you from having to touch a slobbery ball.
The best quality and well-known brands are the Chuckit. These are also extremely inexpensive and well worth having. Check out the Chuckit ball thrower on Amazon.
A great alternative to just plain fetch with a ball. Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Many dogs look spectacular playing this due to their agility.
Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth. Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.
A Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it. It works directly with their natural prey instinct.
Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. This game is excellent for burning up that pent-up energy in a short amount of time. It is also great for teaching a high prey drive dog impulse control.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon.
For a guide to using a flirt pole see here.
Scenting and tracking games
High prey drive is not just about chasing prey. A large part of this instinct is to locate the prey. Playing nose games will cater to this instinct. See 12 Tracking and nose games for dogs for ideas.
Hide and Seek
This is another game that caters to your dog’s instinct to locate prey. Put your dog in a sit-stay or have someone hold them while you hide. Then let your dog find you. Stay very still and quiet so as not to give away your hiding place and allow them to figure it out for themselves.
As your dog gets more skilled at finding you, hide in more difficult places like under a blanket or behind a curtain. Give your dog lots of praise when they are successful.
Treasure hunt is similar to Hide and Seek, except you are hiding an object rather than you hiding.
Use something quite smelly like a Kong stuffed with their favorite treats or a favorite old toy. Have your dog “stay” while you go and hide it. Then tell them to go and find it.
Recall games are a great way to really master your dog coming on command. Having strong recall is essential for when a high prey drive dog is off-leash.
Coming on command is not a signal that it is the end of the interaction. It is just the start of the fun. This can include activities such as going through your legs or to circle around you.
If your dog’s are very obedient, you can have one dog stay in a down position while you work with the other one. However, if your dog’s aren’t quite at this level you can call them both. This will create competition to get to your quickly, especially if there is a reward waiting. A great way to reinforce the recall for both dogs.
Watch the video below for ideas on how this game works.
Toys for dogs with high prey drive
In addition to the games above, there are many toys that also cater to your dog’s natural high prey drive instinct.
A Playbone is an automatic moving dog toy that your dog can chase. There are a number of different types of Playbone available. These range from simple toys that you turn on and give to your dog. Others work with an App on your phone and even some will dispense treats.
To learn more about the different types of Playbone available see here.
Many breeds that are prone to high prey drive can also tend to be diggers. This is because they have a natural instinct to dig to locate and uncover potential prey. A dog that digs that can become a serious problem if they are digging up your yard.
Digging, like prey drive is a natural instinctive behavior. You can’t train and instinctive behavior out of a dog, but you can cater to it and redirect it in to a more productive outlet.
This is the first dog toy that has been specially designed to cater to your dog’s natural digging instinct. You simply hide their favorite toy or treats in the flaps and let them dig away to uncover the hidden treasure. Not only will the action of digging help burn off pent-up energy, but the mental challenge of working out how to get to the goodies will help to tire them also.
Check out the video to see how this works or view the iDig Go on Amazon.
For more dog toys for diggers see here.
The Zeus Bulldog barks, shakes, bounces, and rolls in an unpredictable way. It represents to them a stunned or frightened animal catering to their prey drive.
It comes complete with 3 AAA batteries. The cover is machine washable for when it becomes covered in slobber and grim.
For more toys that vibrate see here.
Sports for dogs with high prey drive
There are many dog sports that cater to the needs of dogs with high prey drive.
This is a relatively new and fast-growing dog sport that is based on the traditional roles of certain breeds, typically terriers, of eradicating rodents and vermin on farms and in barns. Of course, other breeds apart from traditional ratting dogs are more than welcome to participate.
The traditional ratting or rodent dogs fall loosely into two categories:
Dogs that go underground often referred to as earth dogs which are normally smaller breeds such as Cairn Terriers, Border Terriers, Jack Russel, and Dachshunds. The Dachshund is a traditional badger hunting dog from Germany. These breeds also hunt vermin above ground.
Dogs that operate above ground where size doesn’t matter as much but are generally small to medium in size. Many of these breeds were used during the industrial age to hunt vermin in factories and cities and were even used in the trenches during World War 1. The Yorkshire terrier was a very popular breed for this in the fabric factories as they were small and could fit into small spaces in and around the machinery and didn’t damage the product as cats were found to do. Other popular above ground vermin dogs where pinchers and schnauzers.
How does Barn Hunt work
Barn hunt is open to any dog that can fit through an 18-inch high tunnel entrance which is around the size of a bale of hay. Dogs locate rats that are safely enclosed in aerated tubes that are hidden in a hay bale maze. The event is divided into three different height divisions. It is based on time to complete the task and is not necessarily held in barns. Quite often events take place outdoors with a fenced off area.
If this is a sport that you think would appeal to your dog, and if they are a terrier or traditional vermin breed it differently will, you can get more information at
Earth Dog Competitions
Earth dog competitions are another sport that cater to the rodent and vermin hunting breeds that go underground to get to their prey in their burrows.
They involve sending your dog down a tunnel and are timed to see how long it takes to get to the prey. The prey used are usually rats that are housed in a cage so the dog can’t actually get them.
Lure coursing is a sport that has dogs chase a mechanized artificial lure that is attached to a pulley. It is derived from ancient lure sport where sighthound breeds would chase live prey.
Nowadays it is not just for sighthounds and any dog that has a high prey drive and loves to chase can compete. The course has many twists and turns to simulate chasing an escaping rabbit or prey and is spectacular to watch these dogs in full flight and showing there cornering skills.
Of course, this can be a demanding sport with all the sharp turns putting a lot of pressure on the dog’s joints and tendons. If you are wanting to give this a go find a local club that has access to the mechanized lure machine. Otherwise, you and your dog can give a go yourself by getting out the fishing rod and tie a plastic bag or lure to it.
Leave a Comment