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Predatory Behavior in Dogs
Dogs were originally domesticated to take advantage of their hunting abilities. People redirected the natural instinct of the dog's wolf-like ancestor to hunt in packs, benefitting from its tracking skill and speed in pursuit of common prey. Thousands of years of selective breeding have produced a wide variety of breeds. Most of these are distinguished by specialized hunting ability, like the Bloodhound's sense of smell or keen eyesight of the Saluki and Borzoi. Dogs were specialized for hunting specific prey, such as birds by the Labrador Retriever, raccoons by the Coonhound, or lions by the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Some dog breeds were developed to hunt their own distant relatives, such as the Irish Wolfhound and the Foxhound. Other dogs, such as the Border Collie and Elkhound, have been bred to protect other domestic animals. A particular body shape or size may aid in pursuit of certain prey, as seen in the Dachshunds and Terriers, both tenacious hunters of ground prey. Different coat types are better adapted to particular climates and hunting or herding conditions, such as the water-resistant coats of the Poodle and Puli, or the double-coated Samoyed and Keeshond.
Some breeders purposely developed breeds, such as the English Bulldog and American Pit Bull Terrier, that redirected predatory aggression for the entertainment of their owners. Other breeds were intended for more humanitarian application, such as the search and rescue talents of the Saint Bernard and German Shepherd. The hunting instinct is not uniform among individuals of any given breed; rather, it is usually seen as a range of behavioral tendencies. Some training is frequently necessary but is unsuccessful, for the most part, unless the dog has an inborn predisposition to hunt or herd. Some dogs show strong inborn responses, such as assuming an alert "pointing" stance, but may demonstrate little talent for retrieving. In some breeds, it is desirable that the dog have a "soft mouth," to hold the prey in a controlled bite. This requirement is contrary to a dog's basic instinct to grasp prey. In herding breeds, the instinct to herd is frequently expressed even in the absence of a herd or flock, and is directed instead toward other moving targets, such as children or motor vehicles.
Undesirable predatory behavior is relatively common in dogs of many breeds. Most pet dogs are genetically predisposed toward some form of predatory behavior. Predatory behavior is a problem because the dog can cause injury or can itself be injured or exposed to contagious diseases. To some pet owners, predatory behavior is undesirable simply because it is offensive or inconvenient. Owners may resent contact with the dead animals retrieved by their pet or the mess its death caused to their property or their dog. The most obvious disadvantage of predatory behavior by domestic dogs is the unnecessary injury or death of other animals, including wildlife and other pets. It can also take on a more sinister form when directed against family members, particularly if these are children and infants. Predatory instincts are most likely to be redirected toward children when an infant begins to crawl and walk. A pet dog, with or without recognized predatory interests, previously displaying no objection to an immobile newborn, may not recognize it to be the same creature when the baby begins crawling around your home. Never leave a child (toddler) unattended with even the most trusted pet during this critical phase.
Preventing Predatory Behavior
Several methods have been recommended to control predatory behavior in dogs. Of these, the only method that is effective incorporates 2 simple approaches. First, deny your dog the opportunity to hunt. Prevent opportunities to roam unrestricted or unsupervised outdoors. Every dog should be walked on a leash at least twice each day. Construct a fence around your yard if hunting occurs beyond your property. Place a pen within your yard, restricting access to prey on your property. Consider attaching your dog's collar to a long lead (anchored to the ground), as long as the dog is not left there during bad weather or for long periods without supervision. Second, minimize your dog's desire to roam and hunt. Discourage wild and undisciplined behavior so that your dog is less likely to follow its primitive instincts. Practice obedience skills daily. This reinforces appropriate and desirable behavior. Set aside time each day to play with your pet, engaging in games that apply obedience skills, such as retrieval of objects. More playful interaction of this kind also increases your dog's intellectual and physical activity. Do not interpret your dog's basic instinct to hunt as an indication of ingratitude or malice. Once a dog has experienced the primitive arousal associated with pursuit and capture of prey, it is not forgotten. If there is an opportunity to hunt, a predisposed dog will hunt. Concentrate on preventing your dog's undesirable behavior without resorting to the destruction of your otherwise cherished pet. As your dog ages, its motivation (and ability) to roam and to hunt will decline.