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:
- High Intensity
- Good Focus, Single Mindedness.
- Full Controlling Bite
- More Speed, Power, and Endurance
- High Pain Threshold
- Difficult To Control
- Difficult To Keep Balanced
- Release Of Bite Goes Against Instinct.
- Difficult To Redirect
- Requires elevated levels of force to control
- May disengage combat if prey is too strong or dangerous.
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
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.
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.