Instinctively, dogs are hunters and scavengers. The level of their prey drive and whether they are biddable will determine whether they will be easy to train and be good companions.
Even today, the genes of certain high prey dog breeds incessantly yelp for the adrenalin rushing stimulation of the chase and thrill of the victory of their hunt. Nature furnished them with that extraordinary drive to continue to exist. It’s impossible to tame high prey fully drive, but you can focus on training your dog to listen to you and follow commands.
Low prey drive dog breeds are quite content to sit on your lap, or at your feet with the remote control nearby. Thousands of years of human companionship has diluted that instinct and drive for excitement and survival. They usually get along well with the other animals in the house. To them, the sound of a can opener is music to their ears and a lot less exhausting than having to chase down a meal every day.
Know your breed
Still, there are those dogs with phenomenally high prey drives that need the rush of adrenaline and nothing, but a good chase will take the edge off. They are the epitome of the canine hunter/provider. Humans have to take some responsibility for this behavior. In several cases, to transform the animal to meet our needs, we have encouraged and rewarded that drive and response.
The term drive means something your dog inherently finds rewarding, and they don’t need you to provide it. It is a natural drive, for a Beagle to stick his nose on the ground and follow it. The dog naturally wants to track and chase. The dogs don’t like to return to their owners when called, because the chase and the hunt are their ultimate reward.
The Siberian Husky has a high prey drive and sees other smaller dogs or animals as prey. They don’t do well in homes with cats or other small animals like rabbits, ferrets, or guinea pigs.
Australian Shepherds and Border Collies have an innate drive to herd and control, yet are usually biddable to training and rewards. Their temperament makes them easy to train. The dogs humor us by conforming, yet they retain a degree of intelligent disobedience, just in case they need it.
Is your dog biddable?
How dogs balance their response to their owners and handlers vs. their innate instincts and drive determines whether they are designated biddable or non-biddable.
Biddable dogs have a high need for human companionship and leadership and are obedient and submissive to their humans. This willingness and desire to please makes them easy to train and control. Praise, a ball, or a treat is their ultimate reward. They are also quite liberal about forgiveness.
Non-biddable dogs have less need for human companionship and leadership. They are less forgiving and more emotionally detached, independent, and self-directed. The dogs are more challenging to train and control because they don’t think pleasing their owner is their priority. These dogs don’t consider pleasing their owners a priority. Instead, they focus on self rewards.
When walking dogs with high prey drive, keep a firm hold on the leash. Do not rely on the dog obeying your commands. Dogs with a high prey drive will be prone to chasing rabbits, birds, or other small animals.
Low Prey Drive/Low Biddable
Here we have a dog that isn’t much into chasing, yet isn’t all that thrilled about being told what to do.
You’ll find many of the companion, guardian and herding breeds, such as Great Pyrenees, Bernese Mountain, and Greater Swiss Mountain dogs are included in this group.
They prefer to think for themselves, but will politely acquiesce when prompted. To them, it’s “OK, if you insist.” These dogs are moderately easy to train but hate to admit it.
Low Prey/High Biddable
The ideal pet for the inexperienced or average dog owner is one that has a low prey drive and rates high in the biddable department. Collies and Old English Sheepdogs fit into this group. Their need to please their person makes them easy to train and far outweighs their desire to chase anything.
They, as a rule, play well with others, be it animal or human. The dogs are perfect for someone with minimal experience with dog ownership or someone who has little time or inclination to work with and train his or her pet.
Almost by nature, they make incredible service and therapy dogs. Here is the dog that throws his or her paws up and says, “Whatever makes you happy, makes me happy too!”
High Prey/High Biddable
This group includes herding, working, and some sporting breeds. The breeds included are German and Australian Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Golden, and Labrador Retrievers.
These are breeds that have an unbelievable natural work ethic. They thrive on a blend of human companionship and high biddability, yet they maintain just enough intelligent disobedience to keep you on your toes.
They require intense physical and mental stimulation, in addition to fair, firm, and consistent leadership. The dogs forgive when their owner or handler screws up!
These breeds love to learn and interact with both humans and other animals. The dogs excel at providing teamwork and trust, and in some cases, that bonding and collaboration make a life or death difference.
They are fierce competitors and hard workers in herding, pulling, agility, flyball, search and rescue, security, cadaver, drug, and bomb-sniffing.
They make ideal pets for individuals who have the time and energy to invest in making their pet’s natural passion, plus willingness to please, develop to their full potential. “Did you see me? Wanna see me do it again?” is how these dogs think.
High Prey/Low Biddable
These dogs are the most challenging! You may as well be talking to yourself. Terriers, Corgis, sight, sound, and scent hounds commonly pack this group. They enjoy human companionship, to a limit. These dogs pick and choose who or what they want to listen to, or play with, and it’s generally not the family cat or even another dog in the house. They are unyielding believers in the “You aren’t the boss of me” philosophy.
The dogs are by, and large intelligent yet can be frustratingly difficult to train. As they age, these dogs think humans get dumber. They have high self-esteem, and when they are on the job, they have exceptionally selective hearing.
Ask any Beagle, Corgi, West Highland Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, or Rat Terrier owner about the challenges of high prey dog training. They will be more than thrilled to relate countless stories about the hours they have spent driving around, with a leash in one hand, calling for an adored dog that has selective hearing.
A high prey drive/low biddable dog is not one for an inexperienced or meek owner. This dog needs fair, firm, and consistent leadership at all times. They need to be reminded regularly, just who is the boss! One look in their eyes tells you they are thinking, “Whatever!”
To figure out which is the right dog for you, seriously consider the level of their instincts, prey drive, and biddable vs. non-biddable qualities. It will make a massive difference in how compatible you are with your pet.
When getting a puppy, make sure you meet their parents. That will give you a good indication of your the future. The parents will provide a fair assessment of the puppy’s drive, instincts, and how biddable they will be.
Mixed breeds with a combination of what you are looking for can be an excellent choice. Mutts often make the best pets!
Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.