If you’ve ever owned an outdoor dog, you probably are well familiar with prey drive. Most dogs have an instinctive nature to chase down anything that moves. Obviously, some canines have it more than others. It depends on the history and origins of the breed and where they came from. There are definitely different levels. So where do GSDs fit on that scale? Do German Shepherds have a high prey drive?
Yes, German Shepherds have a high prey drive. They have a natural instinct as herding dogs to chase down any animal they think is a threat. This instinct comes from their history of protecting flocks of sheep for shepherds in Germany. That same drive has carried over into the modern-day version of the breed.
A dog’s disposition to hunt can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the situation. This article will take a look at what it is, where it comes from, and what you can do to control it!
What Is German Shepherd Prey Drive?
It is a German Shepherd’s natural instinct to search for an animal, chase it down, and capture it for consumption or protection. Most canines have this drive but GSDs have it on a higher level.
Prey drive can be summed up in 6 steps:
- Search – Find and locate the animal using sight and smell.
- Stalk – Crouch down and sneak up on the animal.
- Chase – Run after the animal until in range of biting.
- Bite – Grab the animal in its mouth.
- Dissect – Tear the animal apart with its teeth.
- Consume – Eat the flesh of the animal.
Now not all dogs are going to complete all of these steps. German Shepherds for example, normally stop at step four. Because of their herding background, they are used to chasing down animals for protection and not food.
Where Does German Shepherd Prey Drive Come From?
Their predatory instinct goes all the way back to their ancestor the wolf. Since all dogs descended from wolves, they all inherited the natural instinct to catch and eat prey.
Unlike domesticated dogs, wild wolves use their high prey drive to find food for survival. They are excellent predators who hunt down large prey in packs. They will test their prey for any weakness through sight, smell and sounds.
They are extremely intelligent hunters who will travel long distances to locate and capture their prey. Wolves are so smart that different wolves have certain roles they play in the pack during the hunt.
In addition to their wolf-like instincts to hunt, the German Shepherd’s propensity to hunt was further instilled in the 1800’s by shepherds in Germany.
They were encouraged to chase off any animal that threatened their flock of sheep. Their extreme alertness, athleticism and loyalty made them a perfect fit for the job.
They had a keen sense of smell that allowed them to sniff out any predators nearby. When their predatory instinct kicked in, they would take off after the threat.
This natural instinct to protect, still sticks with them to this day. It was reinforced over the years through breeding and working.
Pros Of A German Shepherd’s Prey Drive:
Believe it or not, high prey drive can be a good thing. German Shepherds excel in canine sports and their instinct to chase anything moving can give them an advantage.
In fact, in the sport of Schutzhund, GSDs are trained in prey work from as early as 10-12 weeks old. The handler will encourage the dog to bite and grab a rag or a sack by quickly and sporadically moving it around.
Dock diving is another sport that uses their drive. Owners will throw a toy into a pool and their dog will have to run and jump off of a dock to retrieve it.
Another pro is that it helps with their ball drive. This makes German Shepherds much easier to train. They are able to focus on the ball and chase it when you throw it instead of getting distracted like some other breeds.
Additionally, it helps with their hunt drive. GSDs aren’t traditionally hunting dogs but they can be trained to hunt small prey by using their scent for tracking.
Finally, a German Shepherd’s predatory instinct helps them with military and police work. As K9s, they will often have to chase down criminals that are trying to escape.
Cons Of A German Shepherd’s Prey Drive:
On the flip side of the coin, there are some cons to a German Shepherd’s penchant to hunt. If you don’t plan on competing in any canine sports or hunting, it can be a negative.
Since GSDs are the third most popular dog in the United States, many families are simply searching for a companion dog. They may not be keen on the idea of their dog chasing animals in the backyard.
This can also be a negative if you take your German Shepherd to the park or a public area. Your GSD may want to instinctively chase after other animals or pets. This can lead to fights with other dogs resulting in injuries.
Additionally, their predatory instinct can lead to a German Shepherd chasing moving objects. They might go after a biker, car driving down the road, or skateboarder.
It may also make it harder for your dog to focus on things that aren’t moving. A GSD may get distracted and jump into action when you want him or her to stay calm and still instead.
Finally, it can lead to boredom and destructive behaviors if the dog doesn’t get enough activity to fulfill its drive.
This is the reason that German Shepherds are better suited for someone with an active lifestyle. They need to have jobs and stay busy to avoid boredom.
How To Recognize Prey Drive?
Before you learn how to control their prey drive, you need to know how to recognize it. There are plenty of giveaways that will let you know your German Shepherd’s predatory instincts are kicking in.
Personal Story: I had a mixed breed dog growing up named Montana. She would leave me presents on the front door mat. Often times I would open the front door to find a dead squirrel or rabbit. One time she was even nice enough to bring me a deer skull over from the neighbor’s house.
Here are some signs that your GSD may be more inclined to the chase:
- Your German Shepherd catches and brings you their dead prey.
- You notice your GSD using the eye-stalk to watch their potential prey.
- He or she ignores you when chasing or stalking an animal.
- Your GSD likes to sniff out or track potential prey.
- He or she chases anything that moves including animals, cars, or people.
- Your German Shepherd kills its catch but doesn’t consume it.
- Your GSD has a tendency to bite hard potentially hurting other animals or people.
Now that you know what to look for, lets learn how to control it so your German Shepherd isn’t chasing everything in sight.
How To Control German Shepherd Prey Drive?
There are many different ways to control your GSDs predatory instinct. If possible, you should start training them to control their drive from the time they are a puppy at 10-12 weeks old. Here are some tips on how to control it:
Don’t Encourage or Reward The Chase:
Firstly, you want to make sure they you don’t encourage or reward your German Shepherd for chasing any animals. This will only strengthen their drive.
Often times owners will praise their dog for chasing a wild animal up a tree. This will only enforce their predatory instinct. Additionally, certain states like Colorado and Utah prohibit dogs from chasing wildlife. You could face fines or even worse, your dog could be euthanized.
Important: Never yell at your GSD when he starts to chase after an animal. He or she may think that you are encouraging the chase.
Redirect Their Behavior:
This method can be used for many different unwanted behaviors including high prey drive. If you catch your German Shepherd going after an animal, redirect his or her behavior with a positive alternative.
You can use your German Shepherd’s favorite ball or rope to entice him or her into a game of fetch or tug-o-war. Call out his or her name sternly to grab their attention. You can then throw the ball or get them to start tugging on the rope.
Teach Your Dog To Focus:
There are a couple of instrumental training techniques that will help curb your dog’s natural instinct to go after prey.
Early on as a puppy, you should teach your German Shepherd how to focus on you and not get distracted by moving objects or potential prey.
The first method is to teach them to focus on you despite any distractions that may be taking place. This will help you redirect their focus when something catches their eye before they take off for the chase.
To teach them to focus, use the command “look” and then hold a treat out in front of their nose to get their attention. Then bring it up to your face. Once your dog makes eye contact with the treat, give it to them. If you need to increase their focus, move the treat back and forth.
Continue to repeat this process while increasing the amount of time that your dog holds eye contact. Once he or she can stay focused and stare at the treat for 5-10 seconds at a time, you can start to incorporate distractions.
Once you feel confident that your GSD is ready, you can test his or her focus in a real-life scenario like during a walk or playing out back in the yard. This should help and give you quick way to grab your dog’s attention the next time his predatory drive kicks in.
Train Your Dog In Reliable Recall:
Reliable recall is the ability to have your dog come to you 99.99% of the time when you call them. This is an important skill for many reasons but especially for stopping them once they have already instigated the chase.
Start when they are young in your house with very few distractions. You want to gradually work your way up over a period of time. Begin by showing your pup a treat and give them praise when they start to walk towards you. Reward them with the treat.
Repeat this a few times. Now add the verbal command “come” when they start to move towards you. Once they are familiar with the command, test them without the treat. Reward them with the treat when they successfully obey the command.
Repeat this process over time. As they get more confident with the command, you can start to test them in a more distracting environment. Test them at the park or on a walk. Continue the process until you can successfully recall them from chasing an object or an animal. Praise them and reward them with a treat for a job well done!
Manage their high prey drive:
One of the best ways to reduce their drive is to control it by managing certain situations and limiting their chances of chasing after bikers, cars or peoples’ pets.
Obviously inside the house, their predatory instinct won’t be as much of a problem. Outside is another story. Here are some good ways to manage their predatory instincts.
- Keep their mind active: The first thing you can do keep their brain stimulated with plenty of exercise, games and tasks. The busier they are, the less energy they will have to put towards chasing animals.
- Don’t stop during walks: German Shepherds are excellent at eye-stalking. If you make any stops during your daily walks, they may see it as an opportunity to locate and chase prey. Make sure you stay moving so they stay focused on the walk.
- Always use a leash and harness: Whenever you go out for a walk or to a public place, always keep your GSD on a leash and harness. Keeping them close by will prevent them from running after other people’s dogs or pets.
- Use your commands to keep them in check: Use the commands you have taught them to keep them in check whenever you go out. Keep them focused with the “look” command and use the “come” command to recall them from action.
- Use a muzzle in public: Depending on the dog, you may need to muzzle train them to avoid any accidental biting in public places. Some German Shepherds may instinctively reach the last stages of the prey drive sequence.
These tips should help you have better control over your GSDs natural instincts to go after any animals, pets or even people.
A German Shepherd’s natural tendency to hunt is both fascinating and interesting but you need to make sure you have a plan especially if you are a new owner. The last thing you want is your GSD chasing after and killing everything in the backyard or even worse someone’s pet.
This is why it is so important to start training them at a young age with commands like “come,” “leave it,” and “look.” Additionally, reliable recall can take months to even year to perfect. Be patient with your dog and consistent with training. The results will eventually come and you will have a well-trained dog that knows how to control his or her drive.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Do you own a German Shepherd? Have you had any success with controlling their high prey drive? Let us know! We would love to hear any personal advice or tips!