What is your strategy to stop your dog from chasing wildlife?
Do you always keep your dog on a leash but long to let them off and give them more freedom?
Do you find yourself avoiding areas where you know there is likely to be wildlife around?
Do you concentrate on training a super strong recall, and in the end, it still fails when your dog spots a deer in the distance?
Have you even tried using an e-collar or prong collar in the past and felt terrible about inflicting pain on your dog?
If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you are not alone!
Sadly, most conventional training protocols aim to interrupt and stop our dog’s predatory chasing behaviour by inflicting fear or pain. I.e., using a shock collar or a spray bottle in an attempt to control our dog’s desire to hunt. Even by using a well-trained recall, we work against the nature of our dogs and what they actually want to do in this scenario – hunt! This then turns us into the irritating human that always tries to spoil any fun your dog is having!
But what would happen if we let our dogs embrace their natural desire to chase and hunt? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could use this feeling of pleasure, fulfillment, and motivation that our dogs find in predation for our training and to help intensify the relationship we share with them?
The Predatory Motor Pattern
Take a minute to think about your own dog.
What body language do they display that suggests they are in hunting mode? Do they freeze? Sniff the ground franticly? Do they stop and stare? Do they stalk whatever they have seen? Or are you only aware of their intentions when they’re already wildly chasing something?
Predatory behaviour starts long before the chase begins and does not end at the chasing point either.
Predation is a behaviour chain consisting of several intrinsically reinforcing parts for your dog that merge into each other. Once the dog has entered the first step on the ladder, they’re likely to rapidly slide into the next part, making it challenging to interrupt them. To be one step ahead, we need to be able to identify predatory behaviour right from the start of the sequence.
The first part of the predatory sequence involves orientation behaviour, such as air-scenting, scanning the environment with their eyes, or searching the area with their nose on the ground.
As soon as the dog has located possible prey, they’ll start to stare at and stalk their prey.
Next, they’ll slowly and carefully creep forward to get as close to their prey as possible before entering the next sequence – the chase.
If your dog is lucky to get close enough, they’ll then grab-bite and kill-bite the prey animal, which is often displayed in combination with violent shakes.
After the animal is dead, your dog will often continue to hold the prey animal for a while before moving on to the sequence’s final stage – dissection and consumption.
Wolves, jackals, and dingoes still have this original version of the predatory sequence in their repertoire.
Due to artificial selection and breeding, most of our dogs no longer perform the complete chain of behaviour in its entirety. Some parts have been bred out as we humans do not want or need our dogs to show them. In particular working breeds, however, some sections of the sequence have been highlighted as they are helpful to us when we get our dogs to work for us.
An example would be a Border Collie. To help us with sheep herding, parts of the predatory sequence, such as eying /stalking, creeping, and chasing, have been highlighted. However, a dog working with sheep in this way isn’t supposed to grab and kill the sheep, let alone dissect and eat them. So, these parts of the sequence are discouraged.
In contrast, Spaniels have been selected for generations to flush game from dense bushes. Orientating, especially searching, chasing and grab-biting has been highlighted in the Spaniel’s predatory sequence. This explains why their noses are almost always glued to the ground while they zig-zag the park, oblivious of their owner’s desperate recall whistles. It’s simply in their genetics for them to do so.
Why Is Predation Such A Tough Nut To Crack?
Here is why predation is so vital to our dogs and why it’s so hard to stop:
Predation Previously Meant Survival
Our dog’s ancestors needed to hunt and kill to eat. And, even though our dogs will have their bowl full of food twice a day, it’s still deeply rooted in their genes for them to want to hunt.
Predation Is Genetically Anchored
It will not just go away. It’s not something your dog will grow out of when they mature, nor can it be fixed by neutering them. Genetically anchored behaviour is intensely strong and, therefore tough to interrupt. Just getting rid of it is not possible.
Predation Is Perfected Through Learning And Experience
Our dogs get more successful at predation by practicing. Does this now mean they should never have the opportunity to perform predatory behaviour? Yes and no. Definitely, yes, when it comes to solo hunting trips out and about. But no, in terms of never letting them perform safe parts of predation in a controlled and safe environment.
Predation Is An Intrinsic Need For Our Dogs
The performance of predatory behaviour is an inner need that our dogs have; for some, this is stronger than others. Completely suppressing it is like putting a lid on a pan of boiling water. It only increases the pressure until, eventually the water boils over and spills from the pan. Similarly, our dogs will find an outlet for this pressure, either by going hunting alone or developing an outlet in other areas, such as chasing bikes, stalking the cat, or destroying the sofa. Either way, it has to go somewhere!
Predation Is Intrinsically Motivated
It simply feels good! Hormones are released into your dog’s body that have the same effect as drugs. Predation makes our dogs high. Just ignoring predation will not make it go away!
Predation Involves All Our Dog’s Senses
The predatory sequence is triggered by the environment’s visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli. All of our dog’s senses are involved in this super intense experience.
New Methods For Managing Predatory Behaviour
A successful protocol to manage predation without using fear, pain, or intimidation consists of four aspects that are all equally important:
1. Management and Prevention
To teach your dog to stay in contact with you.
2. Performing Safe Parts Of The Predatory Sequence
By using Predation Substitute Tools when you come across wildlife
3. Creating An Outlet For Your Dog’s Predation Needs
Through need-oriented Predation Substitute Games
4. Building A Strong “Emergency Cue”
To immediately interrupt unwanted predatory chasing which can act as a safety net
Most conventional training protocols only focus on management (aka put your dog on a leash) and the interruption of unwanted predatory behaviour using aversives – but this is not enough to achieve sustainable results.
What Are The Perks Of This More Holistic Approach?
First of all, Predation Substitute Training allows you to work your dog physically and mentally on his daily walks in a way that meets his canine needs. If your dog is allowed to perform predatory sequences regularly, then he no longer has the strong need for solo hunting adventures and he can be better controlled in critical situations.
Completing a joint activity that is highly rewarding and satisfying for your dog also links all their positive feelings with you too. Instead of being the annoying factor that spoils the fun, you are now the one who enables him to succeed in hunting. This has a positive effect on your relationship.
The game-changer, however, is that instead of interrupting your dog’s predatory behaviour and ending their fun, you ask your dog to perform an alternative, safe part of the predatory sequence that will still let them do what they desire to do in this situation: To hunt!
Predation Substitute Training is not a quick fix to stop your dog from chasing immediately. It’s hard work and a lot of effort to put into your everyday walks. Yet, the effects you can get from this fair, motivation-centered, and need-oriented training are amazing. Your dog will be more manageable in the presence of wildlife, they’ll be more likely to react to your recall cue, and they’ll share the joy of performing safe parts of the predatory sequence with you.
Want to learn more about this topic from Simone Mueller? Hear her live at the 2022 Aggression In Dogs Conference. Register for your spot here.