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Prey drive is the instinctive inclination of a carnivore to pursue and capture prey, chiefly used to describe habits in dog training.[1]

In dog training, prey drive can be used as an advantage because dogs with strong prey drive are also willing to pursue moving objects such as toys, which can then be used to encourage certain kinds of behavior, such as that of greyhound racing or the speed required in dog agility.[2] The prey drive can be an important component of pet dog training, obedience training and schutzhund as well.[3] Games such as fetch and tug-of-war can be an effective motivator and reward for learning.

In all predators the prey drive follows an inevitable sequence: orient, eye, stalk, chase, grab-bite, kill-bite, dissect.[4] In wolves, the prey drive is complete and balanced.[citation needed] In different breeds of dog certain of these five steps have been amplified or reduced by human-controlled selective breeding for various purposes. The search aspect of the prey drive, for example, is very valuable in detection dogs such as bloodhounds and beagles. The eye-stalk is a strong component of the behaviors used by herding dogs, who find herding its own reward. The chase is seen most clearly in racing dogs, while the grab-bite and kill-bite are valuable in the training of terriers. In many breeds of dog, prey drive is so strong that the chance to satisfy the drive is its own reward, and extrinsic reinforcers are not required to compel the dog to perform the behaviour.

Certain aspects of the prey drive can be a disadvantage in some dogs. In retrievers, for example, the dog is expected to chase prey and bring it back to the human hunter, but not bite or damage it. Herding dogs must exhibit the stalking and chasing aspects of prey drive, but should have strongly inhibited grab bite and kill bite stages to prevent them wounding stock. Bull Terriers such as the Staffordshire bull terrier have an amplified grab-bite as they were originally bred to bait bulls (restrain bulls by hanging onto their noses), but never needed to find or stalk the prey.

Levels of prey drive often vary substantially in different dogs. Narcotics detection dogs and search and rescue dogs must have enough prey drive to keep them searching for hours in the hope of finding their quarry (a find which is generally rewarded with a game of tug). Therefore, a dog with low drive does not make a successful detection or search dog, but a dog who is too high in prey drive may be unsuitable as a pet for a suburban home, as it may become bored and destructive when its high drive is not regularly satisfied.

Dogs are happiest and most balanced in overall behavior when their prey drive is properly stimulated and satisfied through play. Many professional dog trainers consider dog bite tug to be very effective training tool in prey drive and retrieve developing skills.

See alsoEdit


  1. How To Choose The Right Breed. URL accessed on 2011-12-06.
  2. Playing with Prey Drive: The Key to Attitude and Enthusiasm in Performance Dogs. The Dog Athlete. URL accessed on 2011-12-06.
  3. Understanding Prey Drive. URL accessed on 2011-12-06.
  4. Coppinger, Raymond (2001). Dogs, A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, 116, University of Chicago Press.

Dog behavior