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Soft Paws: Drives, part II: The sweet smell of prey

Pictured is CGHS/SPCA Animal Care Technician Jenna Underwood and her friend, Torre. Torre is a 6-year-old spayed female Labrador mix. She is a very playful, energetic, intelligent dog waiting for the perfect home. Torre would do wonderfully well in a home where she is the only dog and receives all the loving attention she deserves.
March 15, 2019 11:36 am Updated: March 15, 2019 11:45 am


The second article in our series on drives is about prey drive:

Ah, the sweet smell of predation: our next hard-wired canine instinct tantamount to the survival of our beloved dogs. Prey drive is all about food (not unlike pack drive), all about energy (often high energy), all about adrenaline and endorphins. Prey drive is triggered by vision, scent and sound.

The dog’s mind computes as follows: “If I see it move, I have to chase it. If I hear the beckon of that little red squirrel, I have to find it and chase it. If I smell the fresh scent of that fat bunny, I have to track it and kill it.”

It’s all about food and day-to-day survival. The dog in prey drive is acutely aware of that inner voice in the distance telling him or her it’s going to be a long, cold winter and they must put food on the table and in the freezer for the long haul.

Here’s what prey drive also means in 2018: The dog is lured like a magnet to the movement of car wheels, bicycles, skateboards, joggers, running children, other dogs, cats, etc. The dog is summoned by the high-pitched screams of kids down the street having a pool party.

The soft voice of “get me” is spoken by the resident felines, sometimes, but sometimes not, aware that they have spoken. And last but not least, the dog that escapes the home, yard or kennel, can be found miles from home on a ground track of dubious destination.

Our great-working dogs in the areas of search-and-rescue, bomb detection, drug detection, Police K-9 Unit members and herding and tending dogs all exhibit the inherited behavior of high prey drive. This is the talent — coupled with pack drive — that allows them to excel at their jobs. To be successful in these endeavors, prey drive must be coupled with pack drive.

The Volhards put this best and succinctly: “Behaviors associated with prey drive include: Air scenting and tracking, biting and killing, carrying, digging and burying, eating, high-pitched barking, jumping up and pulling down, pouncing, seeing, hearing, smelling, shaking an object, stalking and chasing and tearing and ripping apart.”

It is key to understand that your canine survivors of being legitimately lost or dropped (abandoned) somewhere, are typically high in prey drive. These dogs will hunt and kill, keep moving to look for accessible feeding stations along the way and have the courage, if you will, to approach and make contact.

Know that your most talented dogs are typically high in prey drive. This does not mean that they are easy or easier to live with. The challenge for knowledgeable owners is not to suppress the drive, but to know how to turn it around — to re-define it to enable the dog to work for the pack leader.

The caution that comes with prey drive is the aggression that may follow when the dog has caught “the prey,” whatever that may be. Dog owners must have correct training to teach them how to get the dog back into pack drive from prey drive. To a dog, prey drive is play drive!

There are many families who desire and require a successful canine companion to be in low (or almost no) prey drive. Occasionally, I’ll work with a “Penelope” who is content to sit on the front porch watching the world go by. She is composed, seemingly disinterested in her frenetic surroundings, doesn’t leave the yard and has an air of contentment with whatever her family chooses to do.

When we have a “Penelope” walk into our shelter, we most probably will have a line a mile long to adopt her. These dogs are wonderful “fits” for many of us.

The rest of us will be licking our chops for the enjoyment and challenge of our wily and prey-driven charges! Onto Defense Drive next!

Feel free to call us with any questions at 518-828-6044 or visit Stop down and see us at 111 Humane Society Road, off Route 66 (about a mile south of the intersection with Route 9H) in Hudson. We are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Food Bank is open to anyone from the public in need of pet food or for those wishing to donate food anytime during business hours. All of our cats and kittens are “Furrever Free” with all expenses paid. Spay/neuter clinics for cats are $75 male or female, including a rabies vaccination and a 5-in-1 feline distemper combination vaccination. Nail clipping services are available 10-11 a.m. every Saturday at the shelter, no appointment necessary, for a donation of $5 for cats and $10 for dogs.

Charlene Marchand is the chairperson of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA Board of Directors. She may be contacted at