Discussions

I need options for dealing with prey drive. This 5-year-old Pit Bull, living with sibling, has killed squirrels and skunks. Owner wants to take dogs out on walks. One dog is fine. She does well around people, dogs and other animals. The other dog is great with people, but with any other animal in sight (including larger dogs), she goes into high prey drive. We are thinking about working on her listening skills with commands and using them to control help before she becomes fixated. Anyone had success with this?

I would connect this person with a good homeopath as this sounds like a dog with vaccinosis probable form the rabies vac. All the focus skills and clicker skills in the world won't be enough until the underlying problem is addressed. I would suggest using a head harness so that the owner has more control over the dog. Also teaching the dog to sit when a small animal is presented. Once a dog gets the taste of blood and the kill, it can be hard to break after this many years of allowing it happen. Another possible solution would be to use a hard muzzle. One that the dog can drink and breath and even bark with ease but not be able to attach to anything or anyone. I have seen these used at dog parks on Greyhounds that try to get small dogs. The Greyhounds think small dogs are rabbits.
Kris Bynum, Good Pooch! Dog Training, Villa Rica, Georgia

I had a similar problem with a Rottweiler Pit Bull mix. When I saw another dog coming our way I would make her walk off the path with me and look in another direction, telling her to stay until the other dog passed. It's the lock stare that you have to prevent. Eventually she would go off the path without my saying anything and begin eating grass to distract her as soon as she saw another dog. You need to make sure that the other dogs do not approach her when you do this so she doesn't get blindsided. It takes awhile and you need to be very firm and consistent every time you take her out for a walk but it works. Good luck! Don't give up. I eventually could take my dog into PetSmart and walk right past dogs with no incident.
I also worked with a Pit Bull with another person who was a trainer at PetSmart. We eventually could let the Pit Bull free in a ring with other dogs with no incident. That time we started out using a muzzle with both of us present in the ring with a mellow dog and a squirt gun. Every time he growled, we'd make a noise and squirt him on his back and then praise him. Eventually we dispensed with the muzzle and just used the squirt gun and finally we didn't need either. You have to make sure that you only put him with a non-aggressive dog when you begin this and must stay with him so he doesn't feel defenseless. You can do this and it's worth the effort. Don't give up. Susan Shillcock

I have had some success using a Gentle Leader while walking a predatory dog on lead. This allowed me to change directions on a walk when the predatory dog focused on another animal, thereby preventing the dog from moving towards it. I determined by the dog's body language the approximate distance from the target animal that I needed to change direction. I used a clicker to mark when the dog kept the leash loose and then rewarded with special treats that are only used when working on predatory behavior. (If the dog wasn't interested in the treat, then we were getting too close to the target before turning.)
This caused the dog to focus more on me, which I also reinforced with the click and treat technique. The improved behavior needs to be practiced a lot in a variety of settings. In the meantime, the trainer should introduce, condition and reinforce behavioral management training when target animals are NOT present so the dog learns how to exercise self-control on a daily basis. Cathi Carr-Lundfelt, Ravenhill Dog Training

My suggestions would be to take a few obedience classes and start over with the verbal commands. She needs to know when it’s okay, and when it’s not okay to behave in certain ways. The listening skills will help you succeed in overcoming this situation. Ala Oldroyd, Montour Falls, New York

I am dealing with this very issue with a client and her Pit Bull mix. We are working on a strong leave it command and attention. Right now what I have her doing is watching for approaching dogs (while out for a walk). When one is approaching, and BEFORE her dog reacts, she either praises, or praises and treats her dog then turns and walks the other direction, so she is no longer walking toward the dog. I have asked her to work on getting closer and closer before beginning the process so the dog will be able to eventually walk past an approaching dog. This has been working well as she just went through two group classes.
Every time he showed any signs of naughtiness with the other dogs, he was commanded to leave it, was removed from the group and did a down until composed. She is also working on having the dog watch her while they walk, so when she does have to walk past another dog, she can expect him to be watching her. Or she can command him to leave it (if he is showing too much interest) and to watch her as they go by. He is praised or praised/treated for doing this with no fuss. Renea L. Desorcy, Pawsitively Unleashed!, Stevens Point, WI

It has been our experience that preys drive can not be removed. However, to help the dog focus in these stressed situation will help, but will not be full proof. Desensitizing works in some situations, but a five year old dog that has had a sibling to run and play with will not focus as well on the owner, so one needs to work hard on attention. These types of training need to be done with an experienced trainer right at one’s side. Our company would work with the dog in several situations, first to establish focus and then work with the owners and see what type of training works best for them.
Robert & Lynn Boulier, Tail Waggin Training Center Inc, Levant, Maine

It is true that basic obedience commands can and will save your dog's life one day. This Pit Bull is becoming over stimulated when exposed to any small or mid-sized snack, like a squirrel or Schnauzer. Although listening skills are hugely important, even more so is the owner's ability to calm and redirect the Pit’s attention! I would highly recommend that the owner learn a few calming signals (just search the Internet or local library) in conjunction with some redirection where the Pit Bull is rewarded for directing his attention to an obedience routine. For instance, when the owner recognizes that their dog is becoming buzzed by a chipmunk 30 feet away, he turns the opposite direction and runs through a series of obedience commands and cues. The dog is rewarded for his good behavior and reprimanded for inattention. If you are truly stumped and concerned, then contact a dog trainer in your area and discuss your Pit Bull's prey issues. Pits are great dogs and they deserve to learn proper puppy behavior just like everyone else! Jennifer Zaidan, Dog Trainer, BARK Chicago

I work with a lot of aggression. The key is to give the dog a job so he cannot focus on the object. The pre-emptive command gives the dog something to do until the person or animal is out of sight. Also, the owner is then taking control of the situation so the dog realizes he is not allowed to act on his own instincts, especially when given a job to do by the alpha. Beth Bradley, BB Dog Training LLC, Paterson, NJ

It is not necessarily a negative to have a Pit with high drive. You will need to do a great deal of redirecting that drive. First, DON'T put this dog in the situations where she'll exhibit this behavior until you've established a relationship between her and the owner. She needs to go on a no free lunch regimen. Every morsel of food this dog eats should come from the owner (preferably from their hand) and the dog must work for every bite. Do that for three solid weeks without fail. Then teach the owner to play, using a toy, with the dog.
Tug is absolutely great for these dogs - they love it utterly. But it requires that the owner be strong enough to play that way and for the owner to teach the dog an out. You can use food (something REALLY good - like hot dog or cheese) and as the dog tugs, put a small piece of food directly on the dogs' nose. When the dog releases the toy, give it the food, then say out. Immediately return the toy to the dog's mouth and keep tugging. Do the out over and over until the dog thinks that it's the beginning of the next round of tug. When you have done this about ten times, but before the dog tires of it, have the dog out and jackpot with food. Remove the toy as the dog is eating the large quantity of treats you have.
Teach this dog to retrieve, but make sure you play that in an enclosed space where there are no other animals. Play these games over and over and you'll start to see the dog think that whatever mom plays is a lot more fun than those other critters. But you really need to manage this dog to not allow them to chase, and especially catch, another animal. The only time I think an electronic collar is okay is for just this situation. You can stop behavior based in prey drive with the collar. But that's a whole other discussion.
Carla Ladd - Certified Dog Trainer, Ladd Training Center, Spring Valley, MN

There is nothing like a drop-dead sit. You can't sit and attack a squirrel at the same time. I do it using all positive rewards. I also find a way for the dog to fulfill its basic need of getting the squirrel through lure coursing.
Tracy B Ann

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She will need to be trained to ignore, even dislike prey animals. You will need to use a different process with dogs. With rodents (squirrels and skunks), the idea is to have the dog learn that getting excited around those animals will make it physically ill. Talk to a veterinarian about giving the dog something that will make it vomit within five minutes of taking it. (Ipecac, apomorphine, or lithium chloride, for example.) Tell the vet the purpose is to cause the dog to associate vomiting with the prey animals it has been killing.
There's a ton of research on taste aversion on the web that will show the relationship of this process. Trap a squirrel in a Have-A-Heart cage and put it in an isolated area where there are no distractions -- sight or sound. Give the dog the medication and bring it into the area. Restrain it at a distance from the cage but where she can see the animal. Then leave the area so the dog makes the association with its own behavior not with your presence. Once the dog has vomited, it will have developed an avoidance response to such animals. You may need to repeat this one or two times for long-term results. Stephen Rafe

My suggestions would be to take a few obedience classes and start over with the verbal commands. She needs to know when it’s okay, and when it’s not okay to behave in certain ways. The listening skills will help you succeed in overcoming this situation. Kala Oldroyd, Montour Falls, New York

Teach your dog a Leave it command. Leave it means "turn your attention away from whatever you're looking at/smelling/thinking about and look at me." Practice this command first on cooler (less interesting) objects, and work your way up to “hot" objects. In your case, the hottest leave-it targets are live animals. Consistently use Leave It whenever other creatures come into view. Start when they are too far away to elicit a fixated response from your dog. When your dog looks at you, reward the daylights out of her with special treats, tug, or whatever she really likes. Do some quick heeling or other obedience work, continuing to reward generously. Practice this consistently and she may come to view the appearance of another animal as a cue to fall into obedience mode. Also, habituate her to a Gentle Leader head collar so that if training fails you still have physical control. Rick Riggs, Happy Training! LLC, Topeka, Kansas

I have had success but this kind of training takes a lot of work. You need to attack the problem on two fronts, the leadership front and the prey-drive mode. To establish yourself as a strong leader, teach the dog to physically look at you when the dog wants something. If the dog wants to play with the toy in your hand, the dog must make eye contact with you first. Also ask for eye contact when the dog wants the dinner bowl set down, a treat in your hand or if the dog wants out of the crate. To train in the prey-drive mode, train the dog to look at you for leadership while distracted. I’d use a Gentle Leader head halter for control and a command like watch me. Start with easier distractions for the dog to handle, and work up to prey-drive distractions like the squirrel. Finally, work with the dog when other dogs are tempting it. This work needs done one-on-one and not with another dog around. Once the dog is trained by itself, it can be asked to comply when out with the other dog. Peggy Swager

Successive approximation and reward for eye contact BEFORE full alert. But walking them together will be far and away in the future. Each dog will need to be bomb proof on attention before going out together. Walks together will also need to be short and with assistance before going it alone. However, if the dogs are ever unleashed, all bets are off. You can't teach a dog not to want the squirrel if you can only teach them not to act on it in your presence. And even then, if the relationship is good and you've done your homework AND you can back it up by preventing successful grab with the leash. D Clement, Pet Behavior Clinic, Maryland

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