"Predatory drift" refers to a situation in which a dog exhibits predatory behaviors that can be harmful to other animals or even people. Predatory behaviors are natural instincts in dogs. They include behaviors from the predatory sequence: stare > stalk > chase > grab (bite) > kill shake > dissect > consume. All of these behaviors occur when hunting or pursuing prey. While these instincts are part of a dog's nature, understanding when it is safe play and when to intervene can save you a hefty vet bill.
Understanding Predatory Drift:
Predatory drift happens when something triggers the dog's natural food acquisition instincts. For example, a dog might exhibit predatory drift when encountering small fast moving animals such as birds, squirrels, and potentially even other dogs. Small, white, fluffy dogs commonly trigger predatory drift in larger dogs, especially when the two are playing a game of chase. Something flips in the larger dog's brain where they are now seeing prey and no longer seeing a friend. When a dog enters predatory drift, they are not using their "thinking brain". Instead, they are acting on pure instinct.
Signs of Safe Play:
In dogs, play involves practicing the four Fs of survival: fight, flee, feed, and fornicate. Dogs do several gestures to communicate to each other that they are playing and everything is just pretend. These gestures will not be present when a dog has experienced predatory drift, so be sure to watch out for common signs of play. Some of these signs include play bows, where the dog lowers the front of their body to the ground and leaves the rear end in the air, out of context sneezing, and side to side movements that are large and overly animated. When in predatory drift, these signs waste valuable energy that could be better spent on chasing their prey.
It is important to note that some breeds will have a higher prey drive due to the original job they were bred for like terriers and herding breeds.
Meeting Your Dog's Needs:
Meeting your dog's instinctual needs may help give them "legal" outlets for predatory behaviors before their brain flips into food acquisition mode. You can meet some of their needs through games like fetch and tug. A great toy to meet the need to chase is a flirt pole! Allow your dog to rip up cardboard and their stuffed toys - just be sure to watch them carefully to ensure they do not ingest any non food items! Allowing a social dog to rough house with other social dogs can help as well.
It is important to note that there is no test for predatory drift, and these behaviors are as natural to your dog as breathing is. The risk of injury from predatory drift decreases when dogs are kept on leash in public, and when dogs only socialize with other dogs of the same size. At Biscuits Doggie Daycare and Pet Resort, a trained team works with your dog in order to provide consistent positive reinforcement training. Consulting with a professional dog trainer can provide guidance for addressing specific behavioral challenges you may be facing.