Ever see your dog violently shake a stuffed animal? You might have heard the term “high prey drive” describing a dog before. Here’s what that actually means!
The predatory sequence remains in our dogs today because we selected for it!
While modern studies now maintain that dogs have VERY different behaviors and social structures from modern wolves, some things have been maintained from the animals they descended from 15,000 - 40,000 years ago. Most of the dog breeds we have today are here because they were bred for a specific need, usually related to some sort of hunting or tracking.The complete sequence of behaviors that our dog’s ancestors went through is known as the “predatory sequence.”
I always say that a dog will find an outlet for these behaviors whether we as their owners give them an appropriate one or not. I often have clients with pups who really go for the whole “dissection” part of the sequence. They LOVE destroying things for the sake of entertainment. This is why bones, toys, and various enrichment activities are so important for the mental well-being of our dogs.
You might notice your pet exhibiting any fragment of the sequence. Retrievers will chase and fetch nearly anything. Salukis and Greyhounds are fantastic chasers, while rat terriers are superb at grabbing and killing rats with a swift shake of the head. Collies and other herding breeds are experts at exhibiting the stalking behavior, and scent hounds can pick up the tiniest trails with their noses.
A Border Collie or Australian Shepard herding a flock (or your children’s ankles) comes from the “stalk” portion of the predatory sequence. Those breeds have been very carefully selected for over hundreds of years to be gentle. Any herding pup who would attempt to grab/kill their flock would not be bred. Overtime the desire to “grab/kill” would no longer be a part of that breed’s genetic tendencies. You can extrapolate this out to any of the breeds created for a specific purpose.
A dog exhibiting this predatory sequence thoroughly enjoys it. Just like humans feel fulfilled after eating favorite foods, going for an exhilarating run, or the feeling of satisfaction after creating something. A dog doing any of these behaviors is doing something written into their DNA, and being a normal dog. The predatory sequence is while fetch, agility, rally, etc. is so rewarding to dogs! Oftentimes one of those activities is necessary to keep the dog from chasing cars or bikes!
These behaviors are different from aggression behaviors. Aggression or shows of aggressive behavior is displayed by dogs wishing to create distance between themselves and something they don’t like. The whoollleeeee point of the predatory behavior sequence is to get the dog closer to something (ball, squirrel, rat, etc).
Next time your dog stalks a bird, or fetches a ball, pay attention to see what other behaviors of the sequence you can pick out!