Canines are by nature, predators, no matter how different they are now from their wolf ancestors. Every modern breed has some prey drive, but some breeds have a lot more or less than others, and each individual in a breed is different. A lot of a breed's prey drive stems from their original working role, energy, playfulness, and guarding instincts. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the trusty Aussie and see what kind of prey drive you can expect this breed to have.
Let's take a quick look at the origins of this lovable breed so we can better understand their natural tendencies and how that affects them in our modern world. Firstly, the Australian Shepherd isn't a native Australian breed but the breed did have some refining in the country. They actually originated in the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe and were the shepherd dogs developed by the indigenous Basque.
They were primarily sheepherders who needed medium-sized dogs with endless energy and sharp minds to help them move the flocks of sheep around the fertile pasture land. From that need, the original Aussie was developed and then refined with some English breeds in the 1800s in Australia. Upon arrival in the promising lands of California in the 1900s, local ranches fell in love with the intelligent working dog and they've been a staple in cowboy culture ever since.
Like I mentioned a moment ago, all canines have some prey drive and it varies between breeds and individuals and Aussies are no exception. One of the best things you can teach your Aussie is a reliable recall and 'leave it' command for their own safety and when curiosity gets the better of them, and of course, keeping them out of situations where they are set-up to fail.
As a working canine Aussies typically find roles in, of course, herding livestock which are all prey animals. They herd everything from Geese and Ducks, to sheep and goats, to horses and cattle with amazing dexterity. Since their primary working role has changed little since the breed’s development, they retain that high energy level and herding instinct When raised with many different types of prey animals, you’ll find the Aussie has a fairly low prey-drive and is usally more curious than anything when it comes to small animals. Still, it requires a lot of work on your part to set consistent boundaries. It’s up to you, as their canine leader, to direct this working drive and energy in constructive ways so when they investigate small animals, like cats or chickens who will likely move away, they have a reliable recall.
As I mentioned before, when Aussie’s are raised with potential prey animals like cats and chickens, they can appear to have a minimal prey drive. That's not to say, given the right set of circumstances, that they wouldn't go after something they usually don't bother. Even though Aussie’s are highly trainable and excellent family companions, it's best to keep an eye on them around small animals even after their puppyhood. You can direct their playful puppy energy to obedience training and games; just be mindful of the games you chose. You might want to avoid things like a Flur pull until they are older and established around small prey animals since this activity taps directly into their prey drive. Frequent obedience work is a great way to build your relationship and improve their recall and ‘leave it’ commands.
Being a herding breed with a high energy levels means Aussie’s can be quite reactive, especially if you have more than one or other dogs in the home. Allowing too much roughhousing or depending on the other dogs to work off the Aussie’s energy is a recipe for disaster. Aussie’s can and will think for themselves. They also form deep family bonds, making them effective watchdogs and helping them excel at service work in a professional capacity. Some Aussie’s will be more reactive to a situation while others may be more proactive, and either way, it's vital that they see you, and every member of your family, as their canine leader. While they won’t see you or your family as prey, they can get over-excited when playing, and it's critical that anyone who is home with them be able to control them in any situation.
The Aussie generally has a low to moderate prey drive once they reach maturity, but this will vary between individuals. You'll want to introduce them to any small animals in your home at the youngest possible age, so they grow up seeing them as part of the family. Always supervise their interactions with potential prey animals or make sure there are plenty of secure places for the smaller animals to get to if you'll be a step away. Most Aussie owners never have a problem, but I can't stress this enough, these are fast, and deceptively powerful canines that must have a calm, consistent leader.