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What is prey drive and why do I need to understand this?

Article ID: 677
Last updated: 29 Nov, 2016
Revision: 3
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All dogs have ‘prey drive’ but the strength of this trait will vary depending on genetics, training, selective breeding and degree of socialisation. It is important to understand about prey drive if you have resident pets or other pets that your greyhound may come in contact with, including unfamiliar pets during walks.

Prey drive is a subconscious behaviour and is loosely used to describe a dog’s motivation to chase. This high internal drive inherent in certain breeds is exploited in many contexts such as herding, fly ball, fetching games and greyhound racing.

Predatory aggression describes the motivation to attack or grab irrespective of an intention to kill or ingest an animal. It generally involves a quiet attack with at least one bite or fierce shaking. Unlike dog to dog reactivity/aggression where fear is the main underlying emotional state, predatory aggression is underpinned by a positive emotional state and therefore it is very hard to diffuse. Therefore, appropriate steps must be taken to minimise the risks to other people and their own much loved family pets. Understanding risks and early warning signs is a very important part of owning a greyhound.

In greyhounds, the prey drive is relatively strong with signs including stalking, freezing, fixed and focus eyes, lunging and excessive tail wagging. Greyhounds who display signs of strong prey drive must wear a muzzle when in public places or when exposed to new animals (e.g. pets at another home), even if there are no local muzzling laws. It is important to remember that your dog may be compatible with your own small dog or cat but may not be with unfamiliar pets. Predatory aggression has variable thresholds too. For a variety of reasons, familiar dogs and cats may become targets as well. Greyhounds engaging in predatory behaviour are acting on impulse, rather than using the logical, thinking part of their brain. Familiarity and former friendships may be forgotten in the heat of the moment.

However, individual differences aside, as the dog becomes more excited, the risk of being pushed over the threshold for predatory aggression increases. The behaviour is a continuum, and play may turn to prey. This is why off leash environments may be more risky for some greyhounds, especially when they are without a muzzle and they are prone to chase small dogs.

Never punish your dog for exhibiting prey drive: this may suppress outward signs and possibly lead to what would be interpreted as an unprovoked attack.

For further information, read the following articles Understanding predatory aggression and prey drive’; How do I best communicate with my greyhound?; What is the best training for my greyhound?; Can greyhounds live in harmony with other pets?

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