Prey drive

Prey drive

Prey drive is the instinctive behavior of a carnivore to pursue and capture prey.

In dog training, prey drive can be used as an advantage because dogs with strong prey drive are also willing to pursue moving objects such as toys, which can then be used to encourage certain kinds of behavior, such as that of greyhound racing or the speed required in dog agility. The prey drive can be an important component of pet dog training, obedience training and schutzhund as well. Games such as fetch and tug-of-war, can be an effective motivator and reward for learning.

In all predators the prey drive follows an inevitable sequence: the search, the eye-stalk, the chase, the grab bite, and the kill bite. In wolves the prey drive is complete and balanced. In different breeds of dog certain of these five steps have been amplified or reduced by human-controlled selective breeding, for various purposes. The search aspect of the prey drive, for example, is very valuable in detection dogs such as bloodhounds and beagles. The eye-stalk is a strong component of the behaviors used by herding dogs, who find herding its own reward. The chase is seen most clearly in racing dogs, while the grab-bite and kill-bite are valuable in the training of terriers. In many breeds of dog, prey drive is so strong that the chance to satisfy the drive is its own reward, and extrinsic reinforcers are not required to compel the dog to perform the behaviour.

Certain aspects of the prey drive can be a disadvantage in some dogs. In retrievers for example, the dog is expected to chase prey and bring it back to the human hunter, but not bite or damage it. Herding dogs must exhibit the stalking and chasing aspects of prey drive, but should have strongly inhibited grab bite and kill bite stages to prevent them wounding stock. Bull Terriers such as the Staffordshire bull terrier have an amplified grab-bite as in they were originally bred to "bait bulls" (restrain bulls by hanging onto their noses), but were never needed to find or stalk the prey.

Levels of prey drive often vary substantially in different dogs. Narcotics detection dogs and search and rescue dogs must have enough prey drive to keep them searching for hours in the hope of finding their quarry (a find which is generally rewarded with a game of tug). A dog with low drive will therefore not make a successful detection or search dog. On the other hand, a dog who is too high in prey drive may be unsuitable as a pet for a suburban home, as it may become bored and destructive when its high drive is not regularly satisfied.

Dogs are happiest and most balanced in their overall behavior when the prey drive is properly stimulated and satisfied through play.

Fight or Flight

Fight or Flight is the instinctive behavior of a herbivore to flee or evade capture by a predator.

With various types of animals in the animal kingdom, there are many examples of prey animals that exhibit the the fight or flight response or instinct. A popular example is seen on documentaries about animals. The prey animal is usually a gazelle that is seen loping across the savannahs of Africa being chased by a predatory lion hunting dinner.

In any instance where a prey animal smells, hears, sees or otherwise senses a predator in the vicinity, the prey animal will immediately react. The first reaction seen may only take a split second but may include an alert to other prey animals in the area. The alert may be a sound, a sudden and obvious raising of the head and neck, sudden pricking of the ears, a stomping or striking of the ground with a front foot, a flick of a tail, aka: flagging, or even a bounding leap away from the predator in pursuit and other prey animals in the area that are vulnerable to attack. These gestures are a means of alerting and even protecting other prey animals in the group or area.

This fight or flight instinct that has been passed down from generation to generation of prey animals and is also a learned skill. Fight or flight is an instinct when, (for example an orphan) an animal recognizes a predator without training from its parents or other prey animals. Prey animals teach their young about predators, evading predators, hiding from predators and even physically defending themselves from predators. This "fight or flight Instinct" is actually a feeling of anxiety, fear or terror when an unfamilar or predatorial animal is approaching. The Fight or Flight instinct, tells the prey animal to defend itself or run away. Prey animals exhibiting a "Flight Instinct" or response will run away from a predator and/or run in random directions, kick with the back legs, climb rocks, trees, fences, etc. A prey animal exhibiting the "Fight Instinct" will exhibit signs of self defense in the form of stomping the ground with front foot, charging the predator, head butting, rearing or even defensive grunts, bugles, roars and other sounds including snorting (making noise by forcing air through the nostrils in a sudden way).

Prey animals are those that most often can be found in a herd or group setting with family members. There is usually one animal in the group that exhibits dominance and one that exhibits leadership. There are some instances when one animal will do both jobs. The dominant animal in some prey animal herds will try to ward off danger by showing dominance to a predator or potential predator, (Fight Instinct). The leader in the prey animal group usually is the decision maker for the herd deciding when and where to eat, when to go to the watering hole, what time of day to get there, when to rest and who will stand guard while the others sleep, (Flight Instinct).

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