Prior to domestication, dogs were, like their wolf cousins, natural predators. In spite of hundreds (even thousands) of years of domestication, most dogs retain a natural instinct towards at least some predatory behaviour. Granted, most domestic dogs would be pretty useless if suddenly left in the wild to fend for themselves, but some are still effective hunters and predators.
A dog’s natural predatory behaviour involves a sequence of steps: sight; stalk; chase; grab; kill; dissect and consume. Different dog breed excel in different parts of this sequence. For example, Beagles and Basset Hounds are skilled at tracking using scent. Greyhounds excel at the chase. Pointers are effective stalkers. Terriers are expert at capturing and killing.
Dogs have highly attuned eyes for movement detection, and ears to hear high pitched sounds which may resemble a prey animal in distress. The dog’s natural predatory instinct can be triggered very easily, especially by small mammals. Any animal (or human) that runs away, or continues struggling if caught, will promote this natural instinctual hunting behaviour.
Predatory behaviour in dogs differs from aggressive dog behaviours. Predators will stalk, chase, and give no warning growl or bark (unlike a dog that is getting cranky). Dogs who are engaged in predatory behaviour will be fully focused on the job at hand and will appear to be aroused and excited.
This behaviour is not desirable in domestic pets. It can harm or even kill prey animals, other pets, and even humans (small children in particular). Some of these dogs can even be harmed themselves if they charge at or chase cars, bicycles, or run across roads.
How to deal with Predatory Behaviour
• Keep your dog in a well-fenced yard
• Walk your dog on-leash in areas where prey animals are likely to be roaming (e.g., bush tracks)
• Teach and practise reliable recall
• Seek veterinarian advice if predatory behaviour is a problem for your dog
• Don’t encourage your dog to chase people as part of a game
• Never attempt to train your dog by exposing him to prey then physically disciplining him.
• Never attempt to make your dog scared of chasing cars by doing anything to make him afraid of cars themselves.
• Never allow your dog to chase prey then hit the end of the leash at a full-speed run. This can harm your dog’s spine.
Dealing with a dog’s natural instincts is basically a matter of common sense. For extra help, see your vet or consult a professional dog trainer.