A sudden increase in predatory behaviour can give you an insight into your dog’s physical and mental well-being. So, before you try and control this increased predation, it’s helpful to understand what may be causing it to happen in the first place. Increased predation is often a side effect of something more underlying, so this must be investigated thoroughly. This allows you to see the bigger picture, understand what your dog needs help with, and figure out how best to manage their behaviour.
This article is dedicated to dog owners and dog professionals! If you are a dog pro, keep an eye on these boxes to gather some deeper extra-information.
Reasons why a dog shows increased hunting behaviour
If you are finding that your dog is showing increased levels of predation, it’s likely an increase in their stress levels causing this. This stress can be caused by psychological or physiological factors, which we will look at further here:
- Excessive Energy
- Lack of Stimulation
- Repetitive Behaviour
- Lower Tolerance Thresholds
- Decreased Controllability
Let’s dive into this!
Be Aware of Pseudo Predation
Here’s the thing: Although you may think you know how to identify predatory behaviour, have you ever considered it could be down to ‘Pseudo-Predation?’ This is something that can be overlooked, so you should be aware of it and be able to identify it correctly. Otherwise, you may choose the wrong training or management approach!
So, what’s “Pseudo Predation”?
Pseudo-Predation describes the fact that the underlying reason for a dog showing excessive predatory motivation might not be solely related to predation.
If you are able to detect and fix the underlying behaviour problem, the dog will not show excessive predatory behaviour anymore.
PRO-TIP: If you work with clients and their dogs, you should be very aware of pseudo predation and look twice! Ask the right questions about the dog & his life in general before you start working on the predatory behaviour.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it’s possible for this to increase their predatory behaviour. For example, they are left home alone all day, feeling increasingly anxious and stressed. You return home to them, and they feel an overwhelming sense of relief, yet they don’t have an outlet for the stress hormones still racing through their systems. So, when you get home and go for a walk, they may use predation to deal with the stress and anxiety they have been feeling throughout the day.
Sometimes less is more. You need to know how to work with a dog in a way that really meets their intrinsic canine needs, instead of just doing “more”. Because these needs are, what makes the behaviour so difficult to control for dog owners.
PRO-TIP: Teaching your clients how to follow the Predation Substitute Training protocol enables them to work with their dog in a way that meets their intrinsic canine needs.
Pain is one of the biggest causes of suddenly increased levels of predation. Although it may seem counterintuitive, dogs can attempt to self-medicate the pain they are experiencing by practicing predation. This releases feel-good hormones like Dopamine into their system, which has been shown to reduce pain levels. This is your dog’s own version of a painkiller!
Lower Tolerance Thresholds
If your dog is feeling uncomfortable, unwell or not quite themselves, this can reduce their tolerance thresholds. This means that they may go into the predation sequence faster than usual, because they find it harder to resist the urge. In the same way, we may turn to unhealthy foods like chocolate when we are feeling down or under the weather, even though we are usually strong-willed enough to resist!
Common fears such as noises, people, dogs, other animals etc. , can trigger your dog to go into predation mode as a coping mechanism. They use predatory behaviour to deal with their fear or anxiety because it makes them feel better and removes them from the situation they feel uncomfortable or scared of.
If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise each day, it’s likely they will have a lot of built-up up energy and frustration. So, they look for an outlet for this, to help themselves to feel calmer, and this may well be manifested as an increase in predatory behaviour.
Lack Of Stimulation
If your dog is bored and frustrated due to lack of exercise and enrichment, they will be looking for something to do to entertain themselves! Because predation is fun for them, this fulfills this need perfectly, which can explain why they are showing an increase in predatory behaviour.
Elements taken from the predation sequence may manifest themselves in other repetitive behaviours. For example, chasing shadows mimics the stalk and chase part of the predation sequence. Or, catching flies mimics the grab part of the sequence. So, although your dog isn’t showing the entire predation sequence, they are still repetitively showing certain aspects of it.
Your dog may be using predation as an escape method due to high levels of stress in their environment. So, if your dog finds life at home particularly stressful, they may use predation to distract themselves and make themselves feel calmer. Some owners will see an increase in predatory behaviour when their dog’s routine has changed, I.e. Your dog goes to daycare with lots of other dogs when they are not used to this, or you have moved house, or you have recently had a baby, for example.
As well as potentially increasing the predatory behaviour your dog shows, pain can also reduce the control you have over your dog’s predation. For example, if you could previously interrupt your dog successfully by asking them to sit instead of chasing wildlife, if it now hurts them to sit comfortably, this is much less likely to be effective. Secondly, if your reward for your dog listening to our cues around predation management was a game of tug, then if your dog has painful joints, this becomes a much less valuable reward.
Keep in mind: Dogs are individuals, and there are multiple reasons, why your dog might show increased chasing, scavenging, hunting, stalking, sniffing,… Look closely to find the right solutions!
Predation Substitute Expert & Founder of Predation Substitute Training