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Companion Dogs and Their Prey Drive – Dead Skunk

Dogs Kill Skunk – Friend Thinks Their Prey Drive is Abnormal and Owner’s Fault

My dogs recently mauled a skunk in our back yard. The skunk died. I have a friend who is absolutely shocked that my “tame and domesticated” pets would ever do that. After all, they are not wild animals she says!! I have tried to explain to her that they are still very close to wolves. Dogs have prey drive instincts and nothing can erase that.

They (my dogs) will kill squirrels, chipmunks, skunks and anything that appears to be prey. They live with a cat that they recognize as part of their pack. However, I’m not sure they would be as considerate to a cat that is not a member of our family.

Can you address the expectations that our sweet and gentle family pets are somehow beyond their natural prey drive instincts to hunt and kill? She seems to think my training of the dogs is inadequate. I think my fencing to keep the skunks out is inadequate, but that is a different concern.

Thanks, John.

‘101 Dalmatians’ and ‘The Lady and The Tramp’ Weren’t Documentaries.

Dear C.

Sadly, the bad news is that your friend’s skewed perspective about a dog’s prey drive isn’t that unusual. At least amongst many urban dog owners. The good news is they’re great for businesses that specialize in canine behaviour problems like mine.

You may first have to sit this friend down to break the news that the Disney movies, 101 Dalmatians and The Lady and the Tramp weren’t documentaries.

Obedience Training Exists in Part Because of Prey Drive

It’s a rare dog that doesn’t at least upon occasion remember what their great grand parents did for a living. Some long for those olden times. While it’s not the entire reason for obedience training, prey drive and other natural urges are a big part of the reason obedience training exists. Obedience training exists not to change the nature of a dog. It exists because of the nature of dogs.

Your dogs’ prey drive is in my mind a perfect examples of normal dog behaviour. Maybe fairer to say it’s not abnormal. Their ancestors did what they had to do to survive and dogs are not so far removed that they have forgotten. There’s an old dog saying that I’ve always loved. You don’t teach a good hunting dog to hunt. You have to teach a good hunting dog to stop hunting. All dogs are hunters to some extent, some breeds more so then others.

In a Perfect World . . .

I will agree, with your friend that in a perfect world where you were supervising your dogs every moment of their day and you had invested hours upon hours of training time around high level prey drive type distractions (good luck with all that) you might curb the dog(s) behaviour, but you still wouldn’t be changing its nature.

Ironically, people that harbour unrealistic dog behaviour views and standards (more ironically, many are dog trainers) often, through the way they treat their and other dogs, cause a lot of harm. They’re the people that get bit in the face leaning down to hug strange dogs (because all dogs love them). They’re often the ones dressing dogs suited to the weather in inappropriate and unnecessary clothing, casting nary an eye to bootless, mitten less, hatless children going hungry to the school closest to where they live every day. Almost all of them use the term fur babies (ugh). They are often, but not always, a common denominator in the canine anxiety cases I see. What creature, human or beast wouldn’t suffer from anxiety from some person projecting their need for a surrogate spouse or child or friend 24/7?

Those That Can Do Those That Can’t Often Use the Term Fur Babies

Much of their criticism stems from what they think or want dogs to be. They often feel justified criticizing others from such ill supported vantage points not because they don’t think others love their dogs, but because others don’t love them as much as they themselves do.

In their favour I will say that these sort of people when their lifestyle suits (with a little professional guidance and a willingness to take it back a notch or two or three or ten) can make great owners of dogs with anxiety or other special needs. The problem is they’re often a source of the problem which makes you wonder if on some level they unconsciously aren’t doing what they do to give themselves purpose. Better they should see a therapist I think.

What does your friend think about the amount of hunting/killing the average domesticated cat does?Are they motivated by prey drive or just homicidal maniacs? Are these serial killers forgetting their much longer domestication roots as well? Then again, maybe we shouldn’t open that can of worms.

Here’s a recent article I wrote on the other side of the coin – Animal Aggressive Australian Shepherd (Also Killed Another Family Dog)

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