Should we continue using the term “drive” when it comes to predatory behaviour?

My dog has a high “prey drive!” I hear this all the time and I get it, it’s catchy and everybody knows what it means.

In one of my last blog posts “Why predatory behaviour is not a drive”, I suggested to use the word “predatory motivation” and I stirred quite a discussion. Although it is commonly referred to as a ‘drive’ there are many reasons why calling predation a ‘drive’ is scientifically incorrect:

1. We can’t measure “drive” – however, we can measure behaviour

When we talk about drive, we are suggesting that something is building up inside the dog, and putting pressure on them to behave in a certain way. However, this cannot be measured scientifically, as we can’t accurately measure a dog’s emotions and what may be happening inside their body.

So, it’s unscientific to say that the dog is losing control because of this build-up of pressure, as we simply cannot know whether this is true.

However, we can measure a dog’s behaviour and relate this to the environment they are in at the time, and make observations based on this. Behaviour is always seen in the context of the environment. It is a more accurate and scientific way to describe and measure behaviour than some ominous “drive”.

2. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – or maybe a mix?

A drive would be completely intrinsically motivating and would mean it would come solely from within the dog. However, predation also relies on external stimuli (extrinsic motivation) to be present, in order for the dog to show predatory behaviour. This might be the sight or scent of wildlife, a certain movement or even a particular type of landscape that triggers predatory behaviour.

Therefore, it’s more likely that a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is present, and it does not come solely from an inner drive.

3. We impose a human concept on dogs

We are very influenced by Freud’s drive theory so we automatically try to use this on our dogs. But, it’s important to remember that this is a human concept that cannot simply be transferred to dogs. Freud found that drives are a part of our personality that is rooted in the Id. But in order for this theory to hold up, the individual also needs to have a Super-Ego and Ego that all form parts of our psyche. This cannot be measured in dogs, so this means our dogs either do not have it, or we do not know about it scientifically at this moment in time. So, it’s not sound science or reputable to transfer this human-based theory to our dogs.

4. “Drive” cements the idea of a hierarchical gap

There is also a sociopsychological component to this problem. If we assume that drive is something that comes from within, and it can’t be controlled. This means neither your dog, or you, can control your dog’s drive. It’s an involuntary response which nobody has control over, not even the dog themselves. So, this means one of two things;

Firstly, that you are a victim of your dog’s drive as you don’t have any control over it. This means you either use it as an excuse that you cannot control your dog, or you resort to using increasingly aversive methods to try and regain control.

Secondly, it may be that you see yourself as above your dog and try and exploit them by being a victim of their own drive, for your own use or personal gain.

Either option is part of a hierarchical system, whereby you see yourself as either below or above your dog, but never on the same level.

This suits the narrative that it is impossible to train ”high drive dogs” without the use of punitive measures.

5. We may not mean the same

For people in general, the word “drive” is open to interpretation. When people talk about drive, they are usually referring to the loss of control your dog is experiencing and are unaware of the deeper scientific implications.

Let me explain what I mean with another example of a term being misunderstood by the general public: punishment.

The ‘layman’ use of the term punishment tends to be this:

Punishment is something that is often used morally or out of a feeling of revenge: “you shouldn’t have done that, so now I am going to do this as a punishment.”

For example, your dog goes out on a walk and ignores their recall. As a “punishment”, an owner may shout at the dog when they get them back and keep them on the lead for the rest of the walk. However, this isn’t technically a punishment to the dog, as it has not decreased the likelihood of this happening again the next time you go on a walk.

If you do something unpleasant to your dog, it is just that, unpleasant.

However, when we look at punishment from a scientific viewpoint, this is what we mean:

From a learning theory point of view, something can only be classed as punishment when there is a notable decrease in the frequency of a behaviour being shown as a result of the punishment.


So, when “laypeople” talk about “drive”, it’s commonly thought and understood that a drive results in a dog being eager, or longing to do something or to behave in a certain way, and they cannot hold themselves back. It’s an impulsion that must be carried out no matter what is done to try and control this.

What they often mean is a loss of impulse control.

Scientifically what we are saying is that predation is not a drive, it is actually a need, making it a need-orientated behaviour.

6. “Drive” makes all training obsolete

If predatory behaviour was a drive, there would be no way of controlling or managing it whatsoever. As we have already mentioned, “drives” are uncontrollable, both by the dog themselves and by humans. If this were the case, positive training protocols like Predation Substitute Training would be obsolete, because no matter what training and management measures were put in place, they would be ineffective at controlling or managing a driven behaviour.

Let me know:

What do you think about the term predatory “drive”? Do you think it’s fair to keep using this term?

The author: Simone Mueller
Predation Substitute Expert &
Founder of Predation Substitute Training™