Predatory Aggression in Dogs

This post is part of the series Working with Aggressive Dogs

Other posts in this series:

  1. Monkey, 8 lbs of Aggression
  2. Types of Aggression in Dogs
  3. Fear Based Aggression in Dogs

Dogs are natural predators, even after all these years of domestication.  Some dogs are still bred today for this natural instinct.  So it’s not really surprising when a dog shows predatory aggression towards wildlife, and in some instances domesticated cats.  Although not all dogs will.  Sporting breeds are much more likely to show predatory aggression.

Some people don’t regard dogs’ predatory nature as aggression.  As there is no mood change involved.  A dog that chases down a small animal, catches and kills it shows no other normal signs of aggression.  To him, he’s just catching dinner.

Is it Predatory Aggression?

So how do you tell if it is predatory aggression that your dog is showing?

Does he bark, or growl a warning before he attacks?  If so, then it’s probably not.  Dogs with a high prey drive don’t usually give their prey any warning before the attack.  They chase and try to bring down their prey without any warning.  Whether the prey be a jogging neighbor, or a small animal.

Does it usually begin with movement, chasing cars or small animals, or anything else that moves?  That’s one of the key factors in telling the difference between predatory aggression.  Movement usually triggers it.

Predatory Aggression and Sporting Dogs

Our Jack Russell Terrier and our Jack Russell mixes are definitely predators.  But even Woobie, the Pomeranian, occasionally brings me a small bunny, mouse or mole.  The JRTs love to chase things, they’ll chase squirrels, chipmunks and birds.  And the occasional neighborhood cat that unfortunately wanders onto our property.

Jackyl, the oldest, also has to be kept away from the quads, radio controlled cars and anything else that might incur his urge to chase and take it down.  He’s the only one that we really have to worry about predatory aggression with.  Unfortunately, he’s killed a couple of cats, cornered and killed snakes, bunnies, mice, moles, birds, chipmunks.  He’s also had a run in with a skunk, and a porcupine. (So have Santana and Pantera.)  Luckily, at least, with the skunk and porcupine, they all learned their lessons the first time.  After spending the day at the vet’s office knocked out and being plucked.

Amazingly enough though, foster puppies don’t phase any of them.  They seem to know they’re babies, and are very gentle with them when they do pay attention to them.  But most of the time, they act like they don’t exist.

Chewy, a Finnish Spitz mix, also has some predatory aggression.  Although he has never brought me anything dead, or half dead like the terriers.  We have to watch him closely with the foster puppies.  He’s the only one in the household that seems to have predatory aggression towards the puppies.  And their mama seems to sense this, as he’s the only one who she actively chases away from the playpen containing her babies.

Luckily for us, Chewy gets over his aggression towards the puppies as they grow up.  And by the time they’ve had their shots, and are ready for socialization he’s over it, and really wants nothing to do with them.

Managing Predatory Aggression

Predatory Aggression is something that is pretty much managed, at least in our household.  There really is no good treatment for predatory aggression.  You can try to distract your dog, or use your recall, to call him back.  But if he’s really focused on the hunt, he better have a great recall.  The best thing to do is to manage it.

Try to avoid having any triggers around, or make sure you have firm control over your dog when there are triggers around.

Never leave your high prey drive dog alone with children.

Train your dog in basic manners, so that he listens well to you.

Desensitization and Counter Conditioning can be tried, at least with the things that you can control.  Such as joggers, bicycles, etc.  But you’ll have a hard time getting the chipmunks and squirrels to cooperate with you.

We try to discourage the things that bring out the predators in our dogs, by not making our yard friendly for them.  The smell of dogs all over the property seems to help keep the small animals away.  Only occasionally do we have a family of suicidal bunnies move into the fence area.

We avoid fostering cats and kittens, and warn the neighbors to keep their cats out of our terriers’ reaches.  And we haven’t had any problems within the last few years.

Predatory behavior can be very disturbing when it’s directed toward a human baby. Sometimes the sound of a baby crying or the movement of lifting a baby out of a crib can trigger a lightening-fast reaction from a predatory dog. Fortunately, predatory aggression directed toward people or other dogs is extremely rare in dogs.

This post is part of the series Working with Aggressive Dogs

Other posts in this series:

  1. Monkey, 8 lbs of Aggression
  2. Types of Aggression in Dogs
  3. Fear Based Aggression in Dogs

Continue reading this series: