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Definition – The catching and killing of prey.


Drive Goal - death to the prey.


Drive Satisfaction - the prey is dead and the carcass is shredded.


Prey Drive is the combat drive most often exploited in training dogs for law enforcement. However, many trainers mistake Play Drive for Prey Drive and never actually realize the significant power of this Drive. Prey Drive offers some unique advantages and disadvantages that must be addressed before reliability can be assured. Pronounced, over the top Prey Drive is a must for all detector dogs - both narcotics and explosives. It is also a must for evidence searches. It is desirable to have Prey Drive as one of the Combat Drives in a patrol dog.


If the dog does not catch and kill the prey, he will not eat.  If he does not eat, he will not survive.  Therefore, Nature gave the dog more endurance, a single mindedness, and a higher pain threshold when Prey Drive is invoked.  The bite is hard and full to prevent the prey’s escape, as well as to quicken its death. It is counter instinct to release the bite until the prey is vanquished (dead). The purpose of barking is to flush or stimulate the prey into flight.


On the practical side, Prey Drive is very desirable. Prey Drive fits into most training systems and is easily invoked. It is important to determine what level of Prey Drive the dog possesses, how to invoke it, and adjust accordingly.


Here are the Assets and Liabilities of Prey Drive for the Patrol Dog:





There are no liabilities for the pronounced Prey Drive detector dog other than he is a royal pain in the neck to the handler.


All dogs have some semblance of Prey Drive left over from the wolf and first domesticated dogs. This includes all breeds, even mixed.

Invoking Prey Drive

Prey Drive is primarily triggered by the actions of the prey. They move from spot to spot foraging. They attempt to escape by quickly running away - scurrying to a hole or concealment. The movements are jerky, unpredictable, and are designed to avoid capture.

Patrol Dogs

Many trainers wrongly think they need to be vocal and exhibit grandiose body gestures to simulate this action. They make grand and exaggerated movements. Sometimes they emit loud cries of pain or submission thinking this will cause the dog to bite harder. And some won’t look the dog in the eyes thinking  that prey needs to be submissive or the dog may be defeated. This is amateur stuff and sets the K9 team in training up for failure. If you can defeat a dog with eye contact or a little pressure, you have the wrong dog for police work. If you employ this training, even with a dog that possesses present Prey Drive, the dog will never experience that he can overcome adversity with more power. When the crook puts the wood to him on the street, the dog will be out of there.

A decoy should emulate prey. But the movements should be subtle. First the dog must accept a challenge for combat. We’re not talking about a bunch of puppies on an agitation line here, we’re discussing adult dogs. If you need to use puppy training techniques to train your police dog, then you are in trouble. Start with as subtle a  prey move as possible. The dog will tell you by his actions how strong the move has to be to invoke Prey Drive. Decrease the move incrementally until all it takes is a look (yes - eye to eye) and a nearly imperceptible move. Save the big moves for when you might need them to balance the dog later. The more subtle the prey move the better.

I also see way to many decoys making big overt verbal and or physical moves when the dog is on the bite. Once again, armature. The two previous paragraphs apply here too. Getting the dog to play tug of war with a piece of equipment on your arm is not the proper goal of training. The big up and down movement is counterproductive. We are training the dog for the street and are employing Prey Drive not Play Drive to do that. Our job is to condition the dog to get stronger and stronger while the decoy increases pressure incrementally during combat exercises. We are not teaching the dog to play with a toy.. The movement inside the bite sleeve or bite suit should mimic a prey animal’s attempt to escape or the subtle death jerk or wiggle of a dying rat. Believe me, you get more Prey Drive from that than some tug of war game.

A personal pet peeve of mine is slipping the sleeve or jacket and letting the dog run around with it in his mouth. It is worse when the dog brings the “toy” equipment back to the decoy and presents it to him for another round of tug of war game. This drives me nuts when I see police dogs trained this way. This is a sport technique designed for elementary levels of training for very young and or weak dogs. It is based on a whole bunch of theory that either conflicts with or has nothing to do with what we do. It is supposed to be based in Prey Drive but it really has a whole lot of Play Drive mixed in.

This is ok in the very beginning of training with a young dog or a dog with little to no prior training. But it is only for a very few exercises to establish a deep bite and to condition the dog to sustain the combat through increasingly intense and lengthy combat exercises. But we need the focus of combat to be the man, not a piece of equipment. It is bad juju. The dog must immediately spit the slipped equipment and come back at the man. This is police work, not some back yard game of tug of war. Perhaps I will write an entire article on this subject at a later date.

Prey Drive is also triggered by circumstance. By that I mean the dog can be conditioned to recognize an environment that may contain prey. Like when your dog goes nuts when you pull up to your normal training field or a building in which your dog has found prey in the past. For me, I want the dog in drive anytime I take him out of the car. When I open the door he is already in drive. A good example are the narcotic detector dogs I recently trained for the Highway Patrol. I concentrated heavily on cars in training because that is what the Highway Patrol does - search cars. Their dogs will drag their handlers to every car in sight because they know there are often “prey nests” on or in cars. Use this circumstance or association trigger to your advantage. Take it to the professional level - prey can be anywhere in any environment. There should be no start and no end to a search. For detector dogs, the hunt for prey should start as soon as you open the car door.

One of the concerns regarding Prey Drive is that it may not stand up to a strong opponent. It is a valid concern. One of the tenants of Prey Drive is that if the prey is too strong or tough then the dog will release the bite or disengage from combat altogether. It is something you should at least have in the back of your mind if you have a patrol dog whose primary Combat Drive is pronounced Prey Drive without another pronounced Combat Drive strong enough to defeat the opponent. However, if you have a strong pronounced Prey Drive dog, he can discover through experience that he can overcome no matter how tough the prey is. I have seen a number of Prey dogs on the street take a pretty good whipping and still come out on top. It depends on the dog, how the handler leads the dog, and obviously, the training.


Detector Dogs


In order to invoke Prey Drive in a detector dog you must first select a Primary Prey Object that will lend itself well to all 5 elements of Prey Drive. That means that it must be something that will trigger the Hunt, the dog can Find it by scent, it can be Flushed out, it can simulate escape behavior so the dog can Catch it, and the dog can Kill it and shred it. Balls, PVC pipe, and tug toys are probably the most common PPO’s used for this work today. The problem is that if you look closely, the physical make up and or actions of each of these objects leave out at least one element. For example, the ball clearly triggers pursuit, can be concealed, can be found, and can be caught. The problem is that it can never be killed - it just keeps bouncing and scurrying away. It can not be disputed that the ball  has been used very successfully in training detector dogs, but it is that last element of the kill and carcass shredding that affords the dog drive satisfaction and takes the training to a new level of focus and reliability. The difference is like day and night.


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Rank Drive
Combat Drive
Fight Drive
Hunt Drive
Play Drive
The Retrieve
Patrol K9
Prey Drive
Detector K9
Training Laws
Quips & Quotes
Other Articles