Game or Prey drive

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Happydance's picture
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I have a situation that's been escalating around here.  As many of you know, last February my husband brought home an emaciated terrified feral young dog.  Her name is Mystic.  I know that this dog literally had to fend for herself for many months.  Long story short, she's really come around.  I get showered with kisses every morning and she's my "little" velcro dog.  She is very skittish around strangers and still doesn't like my daughter but is warming up to my grandson since I have him grab her leash when we all go out on walks.  She still will not come really close to me on the "come" command, but will at least move forward to me.  This is HUGE because I'm sure she was told to come then whoknowswhat bad thing happened to her.

When I first got Fancy as a puppy, she was shown by my minpin how to be nice to the kitties.  Fancy even had a favorite that she would love on and hang around with.  (All my cats are outside cats by the way.)  Well Mystic is a cat chaser, as bad as I've ever seen.  Naturally all my cats have taken to hanging out in the pool house during the day.  I leave the window open for them so they can have a safe place.  I feed the cats on the patio at night, and they wait until all is calm to come and eat.  I keep the light on and can easily see when they're done eating before I let the dogs out for their night potty time.  This is where the problem starts.  Mystic will charge and scream at the door when she senses the cats are out there.  Guess what, now Fancy has gotten the idea that this is a great game.  They started charging and screaming out the door when I let them out at night.  Fancy is trained to sit and wait at the front door, but I admit I'm lax about the back door.  In fact, it's wide open in the morning when it's cool out and they can come and go as they please.  Now I have started to make them all sit and wait at the back door at night when they are charged up, and it has helped tremendously.  But last night Fancy charged and jumped on the sliding door so hard I thought she was going to go through it.  It's a very thick piece of glass that has taken really HARD knocks in the past due to other factors, so it's pretty safe.  When she did this, I scolded her rather harshly verbally and whenever she headed toward the door I said aaaa aaaa and she seemed to have gotten the message, last night at least.  I should add that because of Mystic's and now Fancy's behavior, the cats are mostly impossible to get near. 

So, my question is, does anyone have any ideas how to lessen a dog's prey drive and give my poor cats a break?

Lady Kate's picture
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Joined: 2009-10-28

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I would love to hear some answer to this. Sofia is also very prey driven. She took off in a flash one day and barged right through the screen door after a kitty she saw in our back yard.. Had the glass slider been closed, I'm not sure what would have happened.

Hoping to hear some comments.

KevinK's picture
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You don't lessen a dog's prey drive, you teach them to respond around distractions.  High prey drive dogs are the easiest to train, because there are so many rewards so readily available...  ONCE they understand that the way to everything they love is through you.  Plus, they will work for things that dogs with lower drives wouldn't even look at.  You have to work on making yourself more fun for the dog.  I would start with the basic training, if she doesn't know yet, and I would start upping the distraction level slowly to get the dog to become less reactive.  All the training in the world won't really lower a dogs prey drive, but it will help control it and be able to still listen around distractions.  You have to create these distractions in a safe way, that the dog can succeed at.  If you watch some of my videos, you will see I often toss Dakota's favorite toys around while she is in a sit/stay.  Sometimes I will walk up, and shake her favorite toy, jump around, and almost "try" to get her to break her stay.  But, staying just under the threshold.  This allows you to build up that level of confidience in yourself that the dog will do what he/she is told, and by staying under the threshold, you are setting your dog up for success.  Success gets rewarded, so listening becomes better than not listening.  If your dog is not listtening, or breaking the stay, you are being too intense at that time.  Scale it back, and slowly work your way up.  Don't be afraid to use a leash until you're more certain that the animals will be ok.  If you use a leash, you have 100% control of the situation.  There's a zero % chance that the dog can run away from you.  I used baby gates in the house until i was comfortable, that way the cats have safe places to go. 

In the beginning stages, the higher drive dogs may be the most challenging.  But, in the end, many times they are the most obedient.  If you have an operant dog that will offer behaviors as well, even better.  IMO, the best dogs to train are high drive/highly operant dogs.

I would also use rewards that cater to your dogs drives.  Tug, fetch, bite pillows, etc.  Let her chase YOU.  If she behaves well, run around, and let her chase you!  Teach her to play tag.  Play hide and seek.  All simple, simple things, many of which are free or very inexpensive, and these are things that make you more valuable to the dog, and more fun.

DJ's Dad's picture
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Ziva has an uncanny hatred for my neighbor's cat.  She can actually tell when that cat is walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from where we live, and will wake up from a sound sleep on the couch to run to the window and growl at it.  Weird.

Happydance's picture
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Food for thought Kevin.  Fancy has had distraction training, and at this point I can call her off, etc.  I don't want it to be lost, so we'll polish up on it.  I guess I do need to work more with Mystic.  I have been starting, the problem is that I can't find her "reward".  She is still so timid that her fear overcomes her wanting the reward.  She loves balls and will semi-respond to treats.  But she just gets over the top about the cats, and it's rubbing off on Fancy.  It's an excuse, but it's hard to train "in the moment" with 2 other dogs around wanting the treat/toy too.  I'll have to sneak her out while everyone else is sleeping, if I can manage to get my shoes on without the other dogs hearing it LOL.

Joined: 2011-07-20

Wow, thanks Kevin!  Boomer is high prey drive, and we're having trouble with distractions.  I'm going to try your method of creating small distractions and building up.  We're in an obediance class right now, and the instructor had said to practice the commands in different environments, so I jumped right in and tried practicing in the park down the street from our house.  Did not work.  And the commands are ones Boomer came to us knowing - "sit" and "down."  It's probably too much for him b/c he knows there are squirrels and rabbits in that park as well as people and dogs in neigboring yards.  He didn't care at all about the treats I had.  I was going to start a thread about about how I can get him to focus on me b/c even in the obedience class (we had one so far), sometimes he wanted to look at what everyone else was doing even though I had treats.  I'll have to watch some of your videos!

KevinK's picture
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Happy, I would make a prioroty out of building confidence.  Will she tug?  You can let her win, and make a really big deal out of it.  Use a long rope if you have to so she's a distance away.  Many times for higher prey drive dogs, food is not a good enough reward.  Prey drive is just like it sounds... They want to hunt, chase, be chased, etc.  So being handed a piece of food is not that cool, it's kinda boring.  If you run around, will the dog follow?  How about trying to train for nosework?  In terms of training in the moment with the other animals around, how is their training?  I would put them in a sit or down/stay.  Will they hold the stay? 

I spent a long time workinng on these things, so believe me, I feel your pain...  In the beginning, I feel like if I threw 5 balls in different directions Dakota's head would explode becasuse she couoldn't process everything lol.  Just keep looking to the outcome, with patience and consistency you will have the most focused dog possible, that is so eager to please, and will work for most any reward once you get the confidence levels up.  This is why I always talk about making yourself so valuable in your dogs eyes.  When your dog understands that the key to all good things is YOU, that's half your work.  Getting there is not always easy, but just stick with it!

Lady Kate's picture
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Paul.. Sofia has a most favorite cat to hate as well..

And the kitty knows it.. She has studied Sofia's habits and knows exactly when she is six feet under and sound asleep. That's when the spawn of Satan meanders by.

Sofia's eyes pop open and her feet hit the floor simultaneously. It happened at two this morning.

Of course she has to go outside to sniff every millimeter of the property...  huff and snort like a Rhino.

This morning we were taking our morning walk... Sofia was walking by my side, sweet as pie.. the little hisser poked his head out from under a car and Sofia started straining at the leash.. I immediately whirled her around and stood in front of her with a " This way" ( that's her command to follow)

I was pleased after the early morning surprise attack that she behaved so well.

Legend of Zelda's picture
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LOL Zelda has a hate-cat, too, this old tom-cat we've had for years who's a toughie and got around a lot. She hates him so much ever since he swatted at her when she was a pup XD Mark, the tom cat, is a sweetie, but LOVES aggrivating Zelda. He would get JUST out of Zelda's leash and lay there, taunting her as she barked and barked and barked... it was funny XD