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The Prey Drive Sequence

Prey drive is a genetically driven and innate survival instinct that is apparent in our dogs because of their ancestral roots; the wolf (Lindley, 2013). Throughout the domestication of dogs, this drive has reduced to various levels in many breeds, but it is still there and can be utilised for training when the dog is in the right hands. In the wrong hands, a high prey drive could lead to undesirable behaviours like livestock worrying.

Prey drive is defined by an action sequence. If a dog does not complete the full sequence then they may not necessarily have a high prey drive, but instead a high drive to chase or stalk (Stilwell, 2020) There are various yet not dissimilar versions of the sequence available with the most commonly used following this pattern; Eye, Orient, Stalk, Chase, Bite to Grab, Bite to Kill, Dissect and Eat (Coppinger, 2001). The wolf would complete this full sequence, so long as the prey did not escape, because it needs to eat for survival. The sequence in dogs can vary between breeds as well as the dogs within those breeds. Through intentional breeding it has been possible to emphasise or de-emphasise specific actions in the sequence (Langlands, 2020) so that one action is stronger or weaker than the others. This is most useful when breeding dogs for specific roles like herding, gun dogs and scent detection, yet this doesn’t mean that prey drive only relates to working dogs. As an owner, whilst you may not have seen your dog kill a deer you probably have seen other actions from the sequence. When a dog rags or shakes their toy (bite to grab/kill), when he pulls all of the stuffing and squeaker out of a new toy (Dissect) and when he stares and stalks a squirrel (Eye, Orient, Stalk).

When a dog fulfils some or all of the predatory sequence, feel good chemicals are released which makes the behaviour self rewarding (Richmond, 2010). If a dog has strong prey drive then this high release of hormones paired with increased arousal levels can result in a loss of control for the owner, thus with each practice of the sequence being self rewarded, it can soon become a more problematic behaviour. These are the kind of dogs that chase small animals, cars, bicycles, joggers and even small children. Although obedience training would be beneficial for these dogs, it is just as important to ensure that the dogs are provided with an outlet for these behaviours in order to reduce the likelihood of undesirable situations occurring (Ryan, 2013). For example, if a Border Collie is not given a desired outlet for herding, then you might find that they start herding cars or the rest of the dogs at the dog park. This does not mean that if you own a Border Collie you need to also buy some sheep. There is a large variety of dog sports, activities and training techniques that can harness their prey drive, like agility. An inability to provide such outlets can result in behaviour problems in other areas too due to the build up of frustration (Salter, 2019).

The term ‘prey drive’ has both positive and negative connotations attached to it. Some use it to describe a good working dog, whilst others place blame on it for their dogs behaviour. There is a similar imbalance in science too. Whilst a majority argue that the prey drive exists, some scientists suggest that the term is outdated (Leedom, 2014). Cecil (2015) notes that studies completed on the temperament of dogs have not managed to identify such a simple and inclusive trait. He argues that in order for prey drive to hold scientific meaning it needs to be more precisely defined.

Which parts of the prey drive sequence do you see in your own dog?


Cecil, L., 2015. Drive: Where It Came From. Where It’S Gone To. What Now?.

Langlands, J., 2020. Prey Drive — Balance Behaviour. [online] Balance Behaviour. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

Coppinger, Raymond (2001). Dogs, A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution. University of Chicago Press. p. 116.

Lindley, P., 2013. The Canine Prey Drive Instinct. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

Richmond, M., 2010. Understanding Highly Predatory Dogs - Whole Dog Journal. [online] Whole Dog Journal. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

Ryan, D., 2013. Dog Secrets: What Your Dog Wishes You To Know.

Salter, C., 2019. Channeling Prey Drive. [online] All Dogs Toronto. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

Stilwell, V., 2020. Predatory Behavior In Dogs. [online] Victoria Stilwell Positively. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].


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