How To Walk A Dog With High Prey Drive - The Essential Guide
Your dog is a natural-born predator. Whenever you go for a walk, you feel at the mercy of their heightened attention to small animals and fast-moving children.
Have you ever been dragged across the street for an intriguing smell? Or fear taking your dog off the leash in the dog park in case they hunt down one of the smaller dogs in the ring?
This is the article for you. We’ve been there and we’ll show you how to walk a dog with a high prey drive without too much hassle.
What Is A High Prey Drive Dog?
First, let’s do definitions. Usually, definitions are relatively simple but this time it’s a little trickier.
“Dogs who were bred to hunt, such as Terriers, have an inborn desire to chase--and sometimes kill--other animals. Anything whizzing by, such as cats, squirrels, and perhaps even cars, can trigger that instinct.” - DogTime (1)
But I want to broaden this definition. Not scientifically, anecdotally, I have noticed that there are different aspects to heightened prey drives in my pack of three dogs.
I have identified three main groups: The Seekers, The Herders, The Sniffers
So why did I decide to further break down these types? Well, they all have a special place in the hunting hierarchy and therefore their behaviours are very different.
PRO TIP: Getting a handle on walking your high prey drive dog depends on their specific mannerisms.
And I have just so happened to have owned all three of these types of dogs at the same time!
Let’s address them one by one.
Common breeds: Greyhounds, Podengos, Whippets, Afghan hounds
The Seekers are the seek-and-destroyers of the pack. They are the quickest of the bunch that leave owners feeling nervous if they are off-lead. They can be difficult to recall if they have something in their sights and are ruthless if they catch a small unsuspecting animal.
Typically “sighthounds” are in this category.
Common breeds: German Shepherds, Huskies, Sheepdogs, Border Collies
The Herders are not as fast as the Seekers but they still have a strong will to look into the distance, find and chase. They are less likely to hunt outright, and they tire more easily than Seekers. They have a herding tendency, so they nip to keep smaller animals in line. They can also be extremely aggressive to small animals if not properly socialised.
Common breeds: Retrievers, Bloodhounds, Beagles, Basset Hounds, Spaniels
These are the dogs with their noses pinned to the ground constantly. Breathing in information as they go and reading their surroundings. As retrievers and sporting dogs, they were bred to find prey using their powerful noses, so they lead with their sniffers, rather than their eyes.
Though they can run and chase, the Sniffers tend to be slower on their feet.
How To Walk A Dog With High Prey Drive? Step By Step
1. Identify which type of high prey drive dog you have
So when we defined high prey drive dogs, we discussed the three different types you may have. How do you know which type of high prey drive dog you have?
Here’s a shorthand:
If your dog constantly has their nose to the ground and consistently stops the flow of your walk to smell something very intriguing to them - they are a Sniffer.
If your dog does have recall skill and sniffs a little but can appear aggressive to smaller dogs and animals - they are a Herder.
If your dog is super quick on their feet and can chase a small animal or dog across fields, completely ignoring you calling them - they are a Seeker.
It could be that your dog is a combination, but they are likely to fall into one of the camps more strongly than the others.
2. Experiment with attention grabbing techniques at home
Now that you know the type of dog you have, you can figure out the adequate distraction techniques for them when you are training them to walk.
A Sniffer will of course respond well to being walk-trained with smelly treats. Your means of grabbing attention will be intriguing smells by way of treats or strong-smelling toys.
A Herder may respond to smells too, but they will need something exciting to grab their attention. Sounds work well with this type in my experience. A squeaky toy could be great for your pup.
A Seeker is far less interested in smells or sounds. They are actually the hardest in the bunch to distract. Therefore greyhounds make such great racing dogs. They literally stay in their own lane with dogged determination (double pun there!).
Seekers will take a lot of training at home or within a class to learn adequate distraction or attention-grabbing techniques that will work on them. But spoiler alert, in my experience, complete attention was never achieved in my case. When my Podengo has his eye on something, it’s already too late.
3. Practice walking at home with distractions
For a Sniffer, laying out a smelly obstacle course in the garden is incredibly fun and stimulating as a walking exercise. Drop bits of bacon or smelly treats in the garden and then set a course to walk around the garden. If your dog catches the smell of a treat, call their attention to you with a different treat. If they square back to you rather than pursuing the floor traps, reward them with all the excitement you can muster. That is one clever dog!
Repeat the process until you can reliably recall your dog’s attention when you need to.
For Herders, you have a slightly easier job. They aren’t really the type to chase too far but their aggression is the problem. Simple “look-at-me” techniques are good practice for them as you probably can’t completely replicate the feeling of seeing “potential prey” in the confines of your garden. Nonetheless, practising walking to your heel is good for them.
Seekers are tough. The best way to train them at home I have found is to train their attention on me rather than on the thing they want to chase. I have done this by walking my dog in the garden and sneakily throwing a ball to the side of me. He wants to chase it but I say, “look at me” and keep walking. This is his cue to ignore the ball and keep eyes on me and our path forward.
4. Keep their prey drive stimulated at home
Another tactic to improving the walking lives of high-prey dogs is to play with their prey drives at home. It’s no fun if your true nature is not stimulated from time to time. Throw them a bone occasionally.
For Herders, this means retrieving or tug-of-war to work out aggression. For Sniffers, this means hide-and-seek snuffle games. For Seekers, this means a good old game of fetch.
Let them be themselves at home so that they don’t have a ton of pent-up energy when you leave the house.
5. Always ALWAYS have your dog on a leash in dog parks and public spaces
But wait, didn’t I just go through 4 tips to walking your dog obediently that should enable you to walk off-leash?
Well… yes and no. This isn’t just about confidence in your dog. It is about the gravity of a mistake.
It is never wise to let a greyhound off the leash in a busy dog park. They are extremely fast and even the most highly trained greyhounds could prove lethal to a small dog that looks uncannily like a rabbit. That could end up in a world of pain for that unsuspecting dog, their owner, you and your dog. It’s not pretty.
Related: Best No Pull Dog Harness Australia.
Does that mean that you can never let your dog off the leash?
Related: How To Train Your Dog To Loose Leash Walk.
No, not necessarily. Use your best judgment. Public spaces have too many potential casualties and issues that can go awry. If you are on a desolate walk in the outback, however, and have trained the recall skills of your dog to be rock solid, you may be fine to let them roam free for a while.
In theory, most dogs have strong prey drives. They are natural-born hunters from their lycan roots. But some dogs, over millennia, have been bred to have more heightened hunting instincts.
Jean Marie Bauhaus from Hill’s Pet writes “herding group, such as Australian shepherds and border collies; terriers such as the Airedale and the bull terrier; hounds such as beagles and greyhounds; and sporting group breeds that include retrievers, spaniels and pointers.” (2)
You can say that the lazier breeds out there are probably not as much of a threat, but good walk training is still important for them.
- DogTime Editorial “Prey Drive”. Retrieved April 26th, 2021. https://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/characteristics/predatory-tendencies
- Bauhaus, J. March 25, 2019. “All About Prey Drive in Dogs”. Hill’s Pet. Retrieved April 26th, 2021. https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/behavior-appearance/prey-drive-in-dogs