Before dogs became domesticated they were wild and lived by preying on other animals big and small. Their predatory drive was a mechanism that ensured their very survival as a species and was hard wired into their brain. The predation sequence in such dogs was “see-chase-grab-kill”.
In domesticating the dog some of this sequence has become weaker though it has never been totally removed, and all domestic dogs exhibit instinctive predatory behaviours to a certain extent, with some breeds of dog being more prone to this type of nature than others.
As humans we have, over time, also been responsible for breeding some dogs specifically in order to take advantage of that instinct, such as Herding breeds, Sporting breeds, Hounds, Terriers, Northern breeds and Wolf hybrids. . we often use and work many of these dogs.
Through years of genetic selection and training we have produced these working dogs that are very good at chasing and moving livestock but without the “bite-hold-kill” sequence thrown in.
Predatory Aggression, is a term often used to describe the behaviour of domestic dogs who target another dog, cat, sheep or indeed any other animal, then move with sudden impulsive action, silently and rapidly to bring that target down and then attack the vital organs of that creature in order to kill it. The main difference between an attack of this nature and standard aggression is that the dog fully intends to kill either by shaking the prey violently or choking it.
This behaviour is due to the retained instinctive desire to chase things that resemble prey; and because predation is instinctive, it is not based on the dog being hungry. Moreover, it is a behaviour that is marked by the absence of anger, neither is it based on self protection or competition for resources.
Dogs who exhibit predatory behaviour usually do not advertise their intent prior to attack which can make it all the more shocking.
Movement of the “prey” will always be the trigger that starts the sequence, so by allowing your dog to chase down small creatures will only serve to strengthen this instinctive drive. The behaviour is particularly dangerous because it cannot be fully trained or conditioned out of the dog, neither will medication be of any help because the instinct is hard wired into the dogs mind.
Just because the behaviour is inherited and instinctive doesn’t mean that it is either desirable or acceptable and it can be downright dangerous.
Such a dog living in a home with an infant child is also very risky because children under three years of age move quickly and often make high pitched noises that can make such a dog believe they are prey, whereas very tiny babies may resemble injured prey to the dog who may then pounce.
However, we can manage predatory behaviours by managing the environment – a suitably trained behaviourist will help you to assess how strong your dogs prey drive is. Once you know this you can then manage the environment by:
Ensuring that your dog can’t get out of your garden or get loose without you
When out walking, always ensure that your dog is kept on a leash, no matter what time of day it is.
If necessary, use a muzzle on your dog. This may seem cruel but preventing the behaviour is better than having your dog removed and destroyed because it has attacked and killed
Get the help of a professional trainer to develop exercises that will re direct and address the challenges of the prey drive, and find an appropriate outlet for him
Ensure that your dog gets sufficient exercise in general, but keep him out of situations that arouse his predatory instincts and never leave him alone with a child, even if he has never shown a desire to attack a child before.