Prey Drive in Dogs

Prey Drive in Dogs

May 08, 2024

Do you know the Hunting Sequence?


Hunt/Search - Orient - Eye - Stalk - Chase - Grab/Bite - Parade - Kill/Bite - Dissect - Consume

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You need to figure out which part of the prey drive sequence your dog finds value in.

You can test with toys to see which part of the prey drive sequence motivates your dog. For example, with a toy do they like the chasing part of the game? Do they immediately want to grab it and shake it? Or do they like to dissect or eat?

Toys for high prey drive dogs

For a dog who enjoys the chase part of the prey drive sequence, chaser toys are a brilliant way to give your dog an outlet for their natural prey drive.

Similarly for a dog who enjoys the orienting or stalking part, you can use a chaser toy with a super long handle to mimic prey and give them a safe way to play with prey.

Check out Bungee Chasers here.

For dogs who enjoy the hunting and searching, using a toy to play games like ‘find it’ is a brilliant way to allow them to hunt for something that won’t land them in trouble. The Clam is brilliant for this as you can pop smelly treats inside for your dog to sniff out and find.

The Clam is also brilliant for dogs who enjoy dissecting and consuming part of the sequence, as your dog has to use their paws and nose to ‘dissect’ the toy to get to the hidden treats inside. Then they get to eat their ‘prey’ - which is the ultimate reward!

Walking equipment for dogs with high prey drive

Having a long line is incredibly useful for walking a happy high prey drive dog. If your dog is on a short lead, they can develop more frustration which only serves to increase their prey drive.

If your dog wants to be able to get to prey - be it a bird, possum, rabbit or deer - you need to be able to keep them safe.

But if your dog’s desire to get to the thing isn’t satisfied, their frustration levels are going to rise. If they’re confined on a very short lead, this may only exacerbates the problem.

A longer lead will give your dog the ability to move - which gives you the ability to work on engagement games with you with prey in the vicinity.

Benefits of play for modern-day dogs

1. Motor coordination

Domestic puppies and dogs still benefit physically from play in the same way their ancestors did. Play teaches puppies about their bodies and, as dogs grow and develop, it can improve their balance and help them become more agile.

2. Social cohesion

As puppies and young dogs, playing with littermates and other dogs can help teach ways of reading other dogs’ body language better.

As dogs grow and mature, play can help them avoid conflict with other dogs as they learn to recognise the body language of a dog to avoid. This is one of the reasons it's so important that we keep puppies with their litter until they are at least eight weeks old.

3. Bond & Retention

It’s proven that interactive play with your dog, such as playing tug, boosts the bond you share. But also: Scientists have determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain - unless it is done with PLAY, in which case, it takes between 10-20 repetitions. A magic training wand?

4. Human-dog body language

Play helps you and your dog understand each other’s body language and physical cues (in a similar way to how puppies in the same litter learn from each other). This means play can help you learn the signs that your dog is happy and excited and also the signs that they are nervous or unhappy.

5. Confidence

Dogs need a certain amount of confidence to be able to engage with interactive play in the first place. If your dog lacks confidence to engage with play, there are ways to help. Our chaser toys are brilliant for high prey drive dogs as they mimic prey and encourage play.


Once your dog is happy and comfortable to engage with interactive play, playing regularly is a fantastic way to build their confidence and teach new skills, using play with a favourite toy as a top-level reward.

6. Enrichment

Interactive play with a tug toy or food-based toys like The Clam is an ideal way to add variety and enrichment to your dog’s day. It can provide mental stimulation and can help dogs avoid issues like separation anxiety. Of course, it’s also great physical activity - we’re big believers that active dogs are happy dogs.

7. An outlet for natural instincts

Some dogs have a stronger prey drive than others. For dogs with a powerful urge to chase and grab, playing an interactive game of tug is the perfect outlet for their instinctive urges.

Experts agree that giving your dog a controlled, safe outlet for these urges is perfectly healthy - and a much better alternative than trying to eradicate their natural behaviours (which is impossible and troublesome).

If dogs with a high prey drive are not given an outlet for their urges, behaviour problems can appear.

For instance, Collies enjoy the stalk and chase part of the prey sequence and they are very sight driven, which is why they work so well herding sheep. However, if sheepdogs from strong working lines don't have that outlet, they may car or shadow chase instead. This can easily become obsessive and problematic.

Offering play as a way to satisfy your dog’s prey drive is good for their well-being, and can keep them more engaged and responsive to you.

How frequently should dogs play?

Using play to develop the areas outlined above is important for all dogs, but especially puppies, juvenile dogs and dogs in an ‘only-dog’ household. These dogs often don’t have frequent opportunities to play with other dogs.

Regular play is essential for dog guardians who want their dog to get the best from play.

But it’s not all about frequency. To make the most out of play with your dog, it’s important to find ways to tap into your dog’s natural instincts and behaviours.

Understanding the evolutionary prey sequence - and using this to influence the way you play with interactive tug toys - is a fantastic way to achieve this.

‘Understanding the prey sequence of dogs - and replicating it in the way you play - can help you boost your dog’s motivation, increase the satisfaction they get from play, help you communicate and understand each other better and help increase the power of play as a reward.’

The evolutionary prey sequence - and how to replicate it

The evolutionary prey sequence has five parts. It’s normal for some dogs to find certain elements of the sequence more interesting than others. The sequence can help you learn what your dog finds motivating, which you can use to boost your training.

STAGE 1: Search

This is the first part of the prey sequence. This is all about locating the prey. How dogs do this - either through sight or scent - will typically depend on their breed and background, although every dog is different.

Scent hounds, such as Beagles, might be more focused on scent than locating by eye. Whereas sighthounds like Whippets and Greyhounds are more likely to want to lock eyes on their prey.

How to replicate during play: The way you replicate this part of the prey sequence depends on whether your dog prefers to ‘search’ using their eyes or their nose.

For scent hounds, using interactive tug toys that have a unique scent, such as The Clam, and letting them ‘sniff out’ the toy as a first step of playing is a great idea.

For sighthounds and dogs who are more visually motivated, our Tug-E-Nuff faux fur toys can be a great option as they have a large fluffy bite area and a colourful handle which features flecks of blue (the colour dogs tend to see best).

STAGE 2: Stalk

This is the part of the prey sequence where a dog will typically lock eyes on to their prey and begin to approach. The dog's movements will be slow and careful as they judge the speed and direction of their prey.

This element of the prey sequence is particularly engaging for breeds like working sheepdogs, who are bred to stalk sheep.

How to replicate during play: To replicate the stalk element of the prey sequence when you play with your dog, you need to channel the energy of prey with your toy! That means wiggling the toy and varying the speed of how you move it.

Try moving it quickly across the floor, then more slowly, then pause, then start again. This is a great way to spark the instinctive prey drive, even in more play-shy dogs.

STAGE 3: Chase

This is the part of the sequence which is most commonly associated with prey drive. Chasing ‘prey’ provides dogs with a huge adrenaline rush - making chasing self-rewarding.

This is often the preferred part of the prey sequence for sighthounds and herding breeds like Collies who have been selectively bred across generations to be more visually and chase driven.

How to replicate during play: It’s easy to replicate this part of the prey sequence. All you need is a Chaser tug (or a Flirt Pole).

These tugs have a long handle which makes them great for dragging along the floor so your dog can give chase before engaging in a game of tug (which fulfils the next part of the prey sequence…)

STAGE 4: Grab

This is the part of the prey sequence when it all comes together and your dog gets to grab onto their prey with their mouth, which is designed especially to be able to grip and hold prey. It is during this part of the prey sequence, when emulated in play, that you are most likely to see variation between breeds.

For instance, terriers often like to shake the ‘prey’ (or toy) as this is what they were traditionally bred to do when catching rats. Gundogs - like labradors and spaniels - are bred to be able to hold prey more gently in their mouths, so they often find it rewarding to simply be able to hold their ‘prey’.

How to replicate during play: Observe your dog when they grab on to their tug toy and see what play style they naturally offer without your input - do they seem to prefer to shake or hold the toy? Work with whatever they find most rewarding.

STAGE 5: Parade

This stage should draw the prey sequence to an end. Once the prey - or toy - is captured, many dogs feel very proud of their ‘win’ and like to put on a parade with the prey/toy in their mouth.

It’s totally normal for dogs to prefer one part of the sequence. It’s a great way to learn what your dog finds most motivating and rewarding, so that you can build on it as part of your training.

How to replicate during play: After a game of tug, occasionally allow your dog to ‘win’ the tug from you and do a lap of honour, if they wish. Then you can call them back to re-engage in a game of tug (good for recall practice too!).

Keep tuggies for supervised play only

What often follows the parade element of the prey sequence is an urge to ‘dissect’ the prey. This is the one part of the sequence you don’t want to replicate when playing!

We always recommend that Tug-E-Nuff toys are kept for interactive, supervised play only. They should be put out of your dog’s reach when playtime finishes and any plucking or chewing of the toy should be interrupted.

This helps the toys stand the test of time and maintains their motivational power as a high value reward.

If your dog does like to destuff, check out the Magic Destuffer!

Does playing tug encourage dogs to chase livestock?

With all this talk about the importance of your dog’s prey drive, you might be wondering whether this will encourage your dog to chase livestock. It’s something we get asked from time to time - and the simple answer is no.

When playing tug - even with a real possum tail or similar - your dog’s main focus is on you, as their playmate. Playing tug gives your dog a safe, controlled outlet for their prey instincts - which actually makes chasing livestock less likely.

Channel your dog's prey drive

The natural chase drive is present in all dogs – although some dogs have a higher prey drive than others.

Sometimes, this prey drive is really powerful and dogs can find it almost impossible to resist the urge to chase after anything that moves. This can lead to unwanted and even dangerous behaviour – like running off to chase things like rabbits, smaller dogs, or even bicycles when you’re out and about.

But, the last thing you want to do is try to eradicate this instinct. It’s part of a dog’s genetic make up.

Instead, with a little bit of help, you can encourage and channel your dog's prey drive and turn it into a force for achieving amazing things…

1. Don’t punish your dog for chasing

If you often find yourself racing after your dog because they’ve locked eyes on something they perceive to be ‘prey’, it can be frustrating and even worrying. You could lose sight of them and they could end up in trouble.

However, it’s important never to punish your dog by shouting at them in an effort to make them stop. After all, they can’t help it. And not only will punishment not work, but it is likely to have a lasting negative effect on your dog’s overall behaviour and the relationship you share.

Positive reinforcement (teaching by rewarding good behaviour) is the way forward.

2. Know the signs prey drive is ready to kick in

It’s handy to know when your dog’s prey drive kicks in so that you can spring into action and channel it into a positive behaviour (more on that next).

So if you notice your dog suddenly becomes very still, with their eyes fixed on something and their ears pricked forwards, you can be confident that their natural hunting instinct is about to take over.

3. Channel your dog's natural instincts

The prey drive is a bit like a reflex. But, without the right approach, it can be worrisome. Dogs lose their sense of danger (if they had one in the first place!) when their prey drive kicks in and can run into traffic after a cat or get lost chasing a rabbit.

The best way to tackle this is to channel their chase drive using the right dog training toys. The tuggies in our chaser range are huge motivators. They're designed by dog trainers, with a long handle and an irresistible bite area which offers your dog the closest thing to hunting live prey.

By using a training toy designed for chasing, your dog can harness their prey drive safely and feel focused and ready to play.

4. Satisfy their urge

Once you’ve got your dog’s attention with a Tug-E-Nuff Chaser toy, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve for getting the most out of it. The way you move the toy really matters. Try to mimic prey, moving it fast and then slow and then fast again. Stop and start.

Also, while chasing is the name of the game here, also let your dog satisfy their urge by being able to frequently catch the chaser (and sink their teeth into the fur), also available with squeaker.

5. Back up with basic training

Controlling and encouraging your dog to explore their chase drive is easier if they can follow simple cues and have an excellent recall. This is where our chaser toys come into their own. Dogs love them so much that they can be used as an enticing reward during training sessions.