Your Dog’s Predatory Nature

One aspect of dog training I love is the opportunity to work with many different types of dogs.  Every dog has a unique story, but they all have something in common…the remnants of their ancestor’s predatory instinct. 

Wolves and other canids have what is called a Predatory Motor Pattern, which goes as follows: 

  • ORIENT (sniff out the prey)
  • EYE  (get prey to freeze in place)
  • STALK (slowly approach to get closer and gain advantage)
  • CHASE (exhaust prey to collapse)
  • GRAB-BITE (catch prey)
  • KILL-BITE (kill prey)
  • DISSECT (underbelly
  • CONSUME (organs are consumed first because they are most nutritious)

This pattern has been essential to survival for hundreds of thousands of years. Like dominoes, ‘Orient’ naturally triggers the next step in the sequence until prey is caught and ‘Consumed’. If they fail to catch any prey then the process starts again. The success rate for wolves, by the way, is about 15%

Then modern humans came along

Over the past 14 thousand years, humans have been MANipulating this Predatory Motor Pattern to create various types of dogs for multiple types of jobs.  In typical human fashion, we favored some aspects over others. For instance:

  • Hunters wanted a dog to ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE. But stop at KILL-BITE
  • Shepherds wanted a dog to ORIENT > EYE > STALK. But stop at CHASE.
  • People with a rat problem wanted a dog that loved to GRAB-BITE and KILL-BITE all day long.

However, in today’s world

Most folks simply want a companion, a goodwill ambassador to walk beside them calmly through life, and by all means…forgo the KILL BITE!

That said, being a companion and goodwill ambassador in today’s world could be the most challenging job yet because all dogs still have this powerful sequence firmly in their DNA. Just ask any squirrel… they know your dog!

Photo by Marcin Wojna

Drive, Persistence, and Doggedness

Every part of this Predatory Motor Pattern needs energy to fuel the sequence and in dog training, we call that force Drive.

Drive describes a dog’s persistence. Depending on where that drive is focused begets a certain type of dog.  

  • Hounds are more driven to ORIENT(sniffing) and CHASE. 
  • Herding dogs are more driven to EYE and STALK. 
  • Retrievers are more driven to CHASE and GRAB-BITE (softly) 
  • Terriers are all about that KILL BITE, just watch a Yorkie shake a toy to death and dissect for the coveted squeaker.
  • Supermutts could have the entire sequence or any combination thereof.

Humans did not train any particular instinct into or out of the dog. Certain parts of the Predatory Motor Pattern were altered by selectively breeding dogs with heightened drive energy in desired parts of the sequence. The best sniffer/chasers were bred with other good sniffer/chasers and Hounds came into being. The best Eye/Stalkers were bred with other good Eye/Stalkers and Herding Dogs came into being. I really oversimplified this process, but that’s a general concept and for the most part, it was successful!  Right?

Well, we now have a bit of a problem

We now have various types of specialized dogs with massive drive energy flowing through incomplete Predatory Motor Patterns and very few jobs available for which they were specifically designed. If you think that sounds frustrating, you’re right! A dog is happiest when it is living out its purpose and we must provide our dogs with the opportunity to exercise their specific purpose. In short…it’s their mental health.

Now I’m not proposing owners of terriers buy rats for disembowelment fun, but we should consider their needs in regard to how and why we play/train with our dogs. Below are some common games and toys we already use that can satiate each aspect of the Predatory Motor Pattern. Which ones does your dog naturally gravitate toward?

ORIENT: Sniffing new territories. Hide and Seek. Find It games hiding treats or toys.

EYE:  Eye contact exercises with treats and toys as well as incorporating eye contact into your training and playing. Socializating with other dogs and people.

STALK:  Dogs will sometimes play this with other dogs, but we can also incorporate a favorite toy that a dog has to ‘wait’ to pounce on. Flirt Pole. 

CHASE:  Fetch and retrieve, lure sport, frisbee, and Flirt Pole. Dogs will also play chase with other dogs.

GRAB-BITE:  Fetch, tug-o-war, stuffed toys, tennis ball.  Chew toys that offer resistance. Flirt Pole.  (I prefer this to be played in a specific context with the OUT command)

KILLBITE:  Plush toys with squeakers.  Toys that can be shaken and thrashed. (I prefer this to be played in a specific context with the OUT command)

DISSECT:  Toys that can be torn apart to remove the squeaker. Sticks, uncooked bones, antlers, animal part treats, and Kongs. (Monitor your dog if they tend to consume sticks and plastic. Dogs should also be positively conditioned to not be possessive)

CONSUME:  Find it games with treats and Kongs with food.  

Your dog may like to play specific games over others and that is OK!  Most likely they have a partial Predatory Motor Pattern.  My dog Belle for instance loves to ORIENT (sniff), CHASE (frisbee and balls), and DISSECT (remove squeakers from plush toys).  She is a hound mix and chasing squirrels and rabbits is her nature. 

People who enjoy dog sports, agility, and protection dog competitions, are more likely to prefer a higher drive dog for better performance.  I am the opposite, I typically want to use up drive energy as soon as I see it build, which I feel makes for a calmer, everyday dog.

A dog’s Predatory Motor Pattern cannot be trained out of a dog, nor should we try. It is literally what makes a dog a dog. I seek to reduce the energy that fuels the Predatory Motor Pattern by providing mentally stimulating situations to exhaust drive energy as efficiently as possible.

A tired dog is a happy dog and that makes for a happy human.

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