Dog's hunting instinct: how to manage it?

Your dog doesn't come back on recall, runs behind bikes and cars or has killed a cat? It is the expression of his instinct. predator...

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The hunting instinct, what is it?

To qualify the hunting instinct, canine behavior specialists speak more readily of predation or predatory instinct.

Predation, a driving force

In dogs, predation is innate in the sense that it is expressed without the dog having to learn it. It is one of the dog's motor bosses, part of his instinct for generations. What is called a pattern-motor is, according to the definition of Joël Dehasse, “a posture, a movement, or an instinctive and self-reinforcing sequence of movements.Still according to this behavioral veterinarian, “Trotting, galloping, chasing a moving object, pointing, staring at an object with a low posture (like the border collie), fetching, looking for a stray puppy are motor-patterns. »

Predation is therefore an activity that gives a lot of pleasure to the dog. The more he practices it, the more it makes him want to indulge in it again and again like an irrepressible internal impulse.

Besides, everything about the dog tells us that it is an animal "cut to hunt" : its musculature, its teeth and even its senses. Its vision is based in particular on the fine detection of movements. It generates a hypervigilance of the dog, a dilation of its pupils, and a concentration of all its attention to jump, pursue and catch its prey.

How is the predatory instinct expressed in dogs?

Predation behavior made up of several sequences of behaviors (or motor-patterns). Thus, a complete hunting behavior sequence includes:

  • orientation,
  • visual fixation,
  • the hunt,
  • the pursuit,
  • the capture,
  • the report of the prey and/or its killing followed by its immediate ingestion or its burial for delayed ingestion.

Each of these behaviors exists independently of the others and each of them is the trigger for the following behavior.

In the domestic dog, human genetic selection has broken this sequence of predation in order to keep only the behaviors that prove useful for certain human activities. To do this, humans selected dogs that expressed or did not express some of these behaviors.

This is how we find ourselves nowadays with dog breeds, lines "specialized" in one or more of these behaviors.For example, retrieving game has become "the speci alty" of retriever dogs (Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers) while stalking and chasing (sometimes followed by killing of prey) are typical Terrier behaviors. Sheepdogs have been selected for their ability to fix, track and pursue livestock without capturing them.

When predation poses a daily problem

If the expression of the predatory instinct is highly appreciated and sought after in dogs that practice hunting or work in the herd, it is often far from being the case in a family dog that does not does not have the opportunity to express his instinctive motor-patterns.

This is unfortunately often the case when the owner of the animal has not taken into account the behavioral characteristics of the breed before adopting his companion and/or he has not properly socializedhis dog.

Without being able to gather a herd of sheep, a Border Collie can try to control bikes, cars, children in the house, and start running behind anything in motion . In doing so, he is only expressing his instinct on all these inadequate targets, which is not without risk for the animal and for "its prey" .

Some dogs will express their predatory instinct on children's stuffed animals by shaking them, disembowelling them unless they are doing so on real prey, by killing the house cat or the neighbour's chickens.

The predation instinct can also be a problem in dogs with a strong pursuit instinct, as is particularly the case with hounds. It will then be very difficult to get them to recall in the blink of an eye and make free walks much more hazardous.

The hunting instinct: how to live with it?

Accept what you can't change

Let's be clear: you can't completely eliminate a dog's predation behavior because it is rooted in it. However, it is sometimes possible to reduce them or find solutions to make them less bothersome on a daily basis.

If your dog doesn't come back on recall

If what is a problem for you on a daily basis is the fact that your dog does not come back despite good learning of the recall on your part, know that there are solutions to no longer lose your dog during a walk in nature. Dogs who have a strong pursuit instinct can thus ignore everything they have learned when they have prey in their sights, which pushes them to move away from their owner who then calls them in vain for several minutes. several hours. Dog owners who have already had the bitter experience of it are then tempted to give up off-leash walks forever for fear of losing their dog again.In doing so, they also deprive him of the possibility of running and exercising physically, which can be the cause of the appearance of behavioral disorders in the animal. How then to walk continue to walk such a dog without a leash?

Locate your dog with a GPS collar

Instead of completely giving up free walks, you can completely equip your dog with a GPS tracking collar to know where he is at all times, without any risk of losing him. Some GPS collars such as those offered by allow you to track the movement of a dog over 10km away, making your walks safe and tracking your dog's movements at any time.

Redirect your dog's behavior

During your outdoor walks, observe your dog. Then, when your dog stiffens and lies in wait, immediately divert his attention by throwing him a ball, for example.On the other hand, reserve throwing games for this particular context and ban them at home. In doing so, you will find the right balance between satisfying his ethological need without reinforcing it unduly. Take care to throw the ball into bushes, so that it is not immediately accessible to the dog. Taking time to catch him will allow him to not get excited and "come back to him" , thereby making him much more likely to listen to you when you call him back.

If your dog chases bikes, joggers or cars

" In places at risk, it is obviously advisable to keep your dog on a leash, or even muzzle your dog if he tries to capture his prey by biting the calves of cyclists or joggers. "

For these dogs, it is also recommended to avoid reinforcing this pursuit behavior by offering them throwing games at home or, at least, to use them wisely by not allowing the dog to fetch it on your indication.It is also recommended to let the dog indulge his instincts, in a controlled and structured way by the owner, through activities such as treibball (for example) and to teach the dog to turn away from what interest thanks to the learning of the indication "you leave" . Our article en titled "my dog runs after joggers and bicycles" explains how to do it.

If your dog shows predatory aggression

We speak of predatory aggression when a dog kills the prey it has pursued. It can be small prey like a cat, chicken or rodent or larger prey like a sheep or game. If it is not possible to make this predatory behavior disappear, it is possible to reduce the risks by working with a competent canine behaviorist. In particular, it will be necessary to work on strengthening the dog's self-control.


Source: Everything about Dog Psychology, Éditions Odile Jacob, 2009 by Dr Joël Dehasse

Predation behaviors are partially inhibited by dog socialization. Thus, a dog will not hunt the species to which he was accustomed as a child, which he will then consider as "friends" . It is therefore essential to accustom the dog to being around as many animal species as possible during his period of socialization and to confront him with various places, people and environments in order to limit the development of behaviors that can be embarrassing in his future life.

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