Getting a handle on prey drive

Posted by MaryPHill
Nov 19, 2008
I have a 2- or 3-year-old Chow/Rottweiler cross that came from a shelter about three months ago. Gilly can be a very good dog. He is thoroughly housebroken, leads well, doesn't jump up or dig and is kind and gentle with my toddler granddaughter. However, anytime we go out for a walk or he is let loose in the backyard, he goes into prey-drive mode. He recently killed a feral cat in the backyard as I was unable to break his hold on the poor thing.
I am the alpha in the household and my husband is second and Gilly understands that. He minds me VERY well until he goes into prey drive, at which time he blanks out all else. Since I have no idea of his past other than what I have observed, I don't know if he was properly socialized as a pup, but any cat or other dog within his reach is in jeopardy. He is now wearing a muzzle whenever he goes out.
Is it possible that Gilly has become an adrenaline junkie from the surge that he gets from the hunt? He begins to drool when he sees a cat. We have two cats who now can't come into the house as long as Gilly is inside, which he is most of the time. I would like to be able to have the cats inside with him. I tried to socialize them when I first got him and it didn't work.
I also got a collar that sprays air to break his attention, which works unless there is a prey object close at hand. He can be a real problem on the leash if another animal approaches. His only other real problem is a fear of men in hats, and I think he may have been abused by one in the past. I went through a lot of effort to get Gilly as he was the cross I wanted, but got him from 1,500 miles away without actually seeing him. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Posted by LetsPlay
Aug 19, 2009
Hi there,

working on the prey drive is one of the hardest things to correct, but nevertheless it's possible.
It's hard wired into the dogs brain. Usually it's quite easy to teach a puppy not to chase things and as always you just have to be consistent.
Lots of puppy chase leaves and everything that moves away from them and even though it's cute when they ran across the lawn chasing leaves in the fall you have to stop them, because they practice their chasing skills and you have to teach them that you are in charge of everything.
With a two or three year old dog that is of course a bit harder as he would have had lots of opportunity to chase things and no suddenly he has to learn that it's off limits.

When you said that you tried to socialize him with the cats and it didn't work, what did you do? Why didn't it work?

It's a good idea to have him wear a muzzle in the meantime.
Please give me some more information on what you tried to socialize him with the cats.

Thanks John
Posted by KOPsarah
Sep 1, 2009
Hi MaryPhill,
Does your dog play fetch? I have a blue heeler with a very high prey drive who used to chase anything that moved. However because of his love of fetch I can now redirect his prey drive to a ball being thrown especially out of a ball thrower which makes it a faster chase. I carry a ball whenever we go somewhere of leash and he knows I have it, as soon as he sees anything I call his name to get his attention then throw the ball in the opposite direction for him to chase. It has got to the point now that as soon as he sees something he would previously have chased he defers to me automatically. This means he is now fully under control because I have become at least as exciting as the sheep or other animal he has seen.

As Letsplay said prey drive is hard wired into the brains of most working dogs. Preventing all chasing of every kind can lead to a huge amount of frustration for the dog so redirecting it to appropriate chasing is important.

Along with providing an outlet for prey drive working with cats requires some extra training. Dogs are naturally predatory animals and so it can be difficult for them to understand that other pets which they may normally consider prey, are actually part of their pack and must be treated as such. There are however a number of things you can do to make it clear to your dog that other pets are not dinner!

Safe meet and greets
Have your dog on a lead and head collar or muzzle and normal collar if you prefer. Also have on you a pocket full of highly prized treats or a very special toy. Ask the dog to sit and then praise and treat him. Have someone else bring the cat into the room but remain at a distance. With your dog safely on the leash ignore any inappropriate reaction to the other pet and wait for your dog to calm down. As soon as he is calm praise and treat, then ask him to do some basic commands praising and treating again. Once your dog is reliably focusing on you with the cat in the room the cat should be brought closer. Again everyone should ignore the dog until he is calm. Once he is calm praise and treat then run through a few more commands.

The overall aim is for your dog to find listening to you more interesting than the other pet, in fact your dog should eventually find the other pet rather uninteresting once he is used to having it around a lot. Once your dog can be calm with the cat in the room have the dog on the head collar and leash in the lounge lying by your feet as you relax on the couch. Have the cat loose in the room and continue to praise the dog for ignoring the cat. Play games with the dog or do tricks etc to distract it a little and praise it for focusing on you. As soon as it makes a fuss over the cat withdraw all attention. After a few days your dog should become used to the cat and the problems should be greatly reduced.

Using alpha training
Alpha training is a useful tool for helping your dog understand that not only is the other pet part of the pack but it is also a more dominant pack member than him. You can show your dog that the cat is more dominant by giving the other pet first access to resources such as food, toys, sleeping places and your attention.

Things you can try:
-When you come home ignore all the pets for ten minutes and then greet the pet you want to be dominant first. After a few minutes greet your dog.

-Once you have eaten your meal, let your dog see you feed your other pets. Do not feed your dog until the other pets have finished.

-Allow your other pets to access prized areas such as the bed or couch but do not let your dog.

Set your dog up for success not failure
Especially while you are still training your dog make sure that you do not leave your dog in a situation where it can fail, for example do not leave your cat and your dog alone in a room together where you cannot respond to your dogs behavior and where your cat has no safe place to retreat to if necessary. Only allow your dog access to the other pet in a safe and controlled way until you are 100% sure they are safe together and that your dog understands the other pets place in the pack.

I hope this helps and let us know how you get on.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Sep 1, 2009
Hi MaryPhill,

I think KOPsarah's redirecting prey drive to fetching a ball a brilliant idea!

In addition to that, I would recommend you train your dog "Leave it" or "Drop it" command.

I have a border collie/cattle dog mix that is very obsessed with squirrels and Holly actually caught a squirrel when walking off-leash on a bike path twice. As soon as she caught the squirrel in her mouth I shouted "Leave it!" and she let the squirrel go both times. She is almost 100% trained with those commands. Those are very handy commands when you drop a piece of chocolate, onion, medicine pills or anything your dog is not supposed to eat on the floor.

As KOPsarah mentioned dogs can learn to accept cats as part of their packs as well. We introduced an adult cat to our 3 dogs (3 border collie mixes) about an year ago and they are now all friends so I don't need to supervise them any longer. We kept telling our dogs to "Be nice" or "Be gentle" while we hold the cat in our arms. In fact the cat now thinks he is a dog sometimes. He even goes for a walk with our dogs.

I am now fostering 2 baby kittens. I still have to watch my dogs when the cats are loose with them since they are so tiny but I already see a difference in our dogs' attitude towards those kittens. They don't see those kittens as prey/toys anymore and they treat them with some kind of gentle care.

Holly was so scared of men when we first adopted her 5 yrs ago. She was abused by men with sticks or brooms. We tried to desensitize her gradually using treats and comforting her every time she sees a stranger. She used to bark at every man in the dog park. I asked each of them to give some treats to her (she was and still is so food motivated since she was a skinny stray when she was found) while I was standing next to him and telling her he is just fine. She has grown to be a very confident dog.

Everything boils down to training and acclimation. It takes time and a great deal of efforts and consistency but I am sure you will be able to train your Rottie mix.

Good luck