Tips to Help Dogs with a Strong Prey Drive

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 24, 2023

help dogs with a strong prey drive

For this West LA dog training session we worked with 3 year-old Terrier mix Joaquin, sharing tips to help dogs with a strong prey drive.

His guardian also wanted to work on the number of other issues; teaching him to stop pulling on the leash, address his recent needy behavior and his temperament around young children.

But before we could get started, I walked his guardian through a number of dog behavior fundamentals. We introduced a marker word and used a hand targeting exercise to practice using it. I also went over a number of tips to help motivate Juaquin such as celebrating desired behaviors and teaching dog manners.

Next we went over a number of creative exercise tips and some mental stimulation exercises like cookie in the corner. Whenever I’m dealing with a dog who has an intermittent dog behavior problem, I always look at the foundation. You may not think that rewarding your dog for offering desired behaviors can have an impact on their behavior with other people or dogs, but just like us; confidence, security and self-esteem can alter how we see ourselves and interact with others.

My goal is to make sure that the dog feels secure, understands what the guardian wants from them and that the humans understand how to read motivate and communicate with her dog in a way that it actually understands. The more secure and comfortable home environment we can provide, the more relaxed a dog can be in stressful situations.

After covering all the fundamentals in his home life, I showed his guardian a couple of loose leash walking exercises to stop him from pulling on the leash. I recommended that she practice these exercises inside the house first, and once he’s good there, practice in the backyard, then the driveway and then eventually the front of the house.

Buy practicing these exercises in gradually increasing levels of distraction, we can prepare our dog for success. It was great to see how quickly Joakim went from pulling on the leash to walking next to his guardian. I would like to see her practicing these exercises in 3, 5 minute practice sessions a day. If she does, it should take about 2 to 3 weeks for Joakim to stop pulling on the leash on walks.

Tips to Help Dogs With a Strong Prey Drive

Towards the end of the session, we headed outside for a walk to hopefully encounter a few squirrels so that I could show Joachim’s guardian some tips to help a dog with its prey drive.

Prey drives can be challenging to modify in certain breeds like Terriers who are specifically bred to hunt small animals. A dog’s prey drive is a primal emotion which makes it more challenging to modify. Another reason that reducing a dog prey drives is difficult is its hard to find prey that will cooperate.

Dogs have to practice any behavior we want them to exhibit. This also includes not doing things such as not attacking other dogs, not lunging at skateboards or not chasing squirrels.

When you are modifying a dogs behavior, you need to expose them to whatever it is that they are fearful, excited or reactive to in a way where they are not emotionally excited. Another way to say it might be that you need to get the dog around the thing that they are reactive to, but at a low enough intensity the dog does not react.

You can lower the intensity by increasing the distance between your dog and whatever the item is, slowing down the speed of the item, or turning down the volume if it’s sound related.

Unfortunately we were not able to find any squirrels despite spending 20 minutes walking around the neighborhood. I know that this is an issue the guardian wanted to address so I pulled out my camera and went over some techniques you can use to stop your dog from having a strong pre-drive.

If you have a dog that likes to chase squirrels or other small animals, you should definitely check out the free positive dog training video below.

In the most basic terms, when you’re trying to stop a dog’s prey drive, you need to find a way to expose your dog to whatever the prey is, with enough of a distance where your dog does not want to chase them but is aware of them. Each time the dog looks at the squirrel, saying the marker word and rewarding is telling the dog “I am giving you this treat for not reacting.” Now the dog isnt actually thinking that, but that is the construct we are using.

Once the dog has practiced looking at the squirrel at that distance without reacting, it is basically practicing not chasing after the squirrel. Once that’s the case, Joakim’s guardian needs to walk him a couple of feet closer towards the squirrel and repeat the exercise. It takes time and intentional practice, but if we go at Joaquin’s pace, we should be able to decrease his prey drive.

I suggested the guardian take him to Clover Park in Santa Monica where there is a big green space that will allow her to keep enough distance to the squirrels and an abundance of squirrels who are not very scared of dogs and people. Trying to address this issue after a long session is not the leadl setup. I was trying hard to get through all the issues and give her an example to work with, but we should have probably stopped after the loose leash training and set up a session at CLover park to work on the prey drive issue on its own.

I know the guardian was a little frustrated that we were not able to find a squirrel walking around the neighborhood, but that’s a good reason why going to a park where there will be squirrles be more efficient. Trying to modify a dogs behavior when you’re not prepared is incredibly difficult.

I would like to see the guardian taking Joaquin to Clover Park and spending 15 minutes or so practicing the exercise in the above prey drive dog training video a couple times a week. If she has isues, I asked her to call me so we can adjust her technique until he can be there without going above threshold when he sees other dogs.

At first Joaquin will probably have to be about 30 – 40 feet away, but if she practices a couple times a week, she should be able to get Joakim to observe the squirrels closer, albeit gradually. Once this is the case, when he sees squirrels in his neighborhood, that practice will help him learn to be not so reactive.

We wrapped up this in Home West LA dog training session by recording a roadmap to success summary video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr