Whilst dogs have been bred away from being predators like their wolf ancestors, most of them still retain the instinctive ability and want to hunt – due to breeding, the prey drive manifests in many different ways in different dog breeds. Prey drive includes a few different behaviours including searching, stalking, chasing, biting to grab or biting to kill. Obviously not all dogs have such a strong prey drive, but it’s good to be aware of the specific behaviours as all dogs are individuals and temperaments can vary.
Labrador Retrievers do have a strong prey drive, but through careful, consistent and early training, this can be gently curbed through redirecting it in a positive way by playing fun and safe interactive games with them.
When looking at the prey drive of a Labrador, it’s helpful to understand a few more of the breed’s drives rather than just the prey drive, including pack drive, food drive, retrieve drive, play drive, defence or territorial drive, and herding or hunting drive. Understanding a dog’s natural instincts helps you, as an owner, to be able to better understand your dogs’ behaviours and to find the best ways to train them.
Labs are known for having a high pack drive and are very sociable dogs as a result of this making them a great family pet as they love to spend time with their owners. Being a people-orientated dog with a high pack drive means that they are easy to train due to them being very eager to please their owner and enjoy all the attention they get given during training. As always, you should be aware of the difference between a dog playing and a dog pushing the boundaries to see how far they can go.
Labradors have an extremely high food drive and even though they are regularly fed they instinctively feel they need to eat in order to “survive”. Using food as a reward system in training can come in very handy and make training your Lab even easier. This high food drive can become an issue though as the breed can easily put-on weight and this massively impacts their health and wellbeing.
A Labradors’ retrieve drive is extremely high, as you would expect, which is why they are so highly used by hunters as gundogs in the field. In a home environment they love to play games where they retrieve different items for their owners. The retrieve drive may mean that if your dog spots or smells something in the distance then they may be so focused on finding it that they ignore your recalls – but with lots of consistent training this can be worked on.
These impressive dogs need to be well stimulated both physically and mentally in order for them to be well-balanced dogs and to prevent them from developing destructive or unwanted behaviours. They are a high energy breed and boredom needs to be prevented – the more exercise your Lab is given, the more relaxed they will be in the home.
Their defence drive is not as high as other breeds, but a well socialised Lab will defend their territory and families if the time comes to do so – just not as much as say a Rottweiler would.
It is the Labradors high hunting drive which is deep in their instincts and their extremely impressive sense of smell enables them to track down anything at quite a large distance. Their desire to hunt can be redirected through interactive playtime where they have to find items like their favourite toys that have been hidden around the house or the garden.
As I mentioned already, the Labrador is a very intelligent breed, and they must be socialised from a very young age with other dogs, people and situations.
It’s important to understand the difference between prey drive and aggression as they can very easily look like they are one in the same. A dog’s aggression is driven by very strong emotions like fear whereas their prey drive is instinctive. Aggressive dogs will want to increase the distance between themselves and the object of their aggression, but a dog’s prey drive will draw them closer to the target. So why does this really matter? Well – as a dog’s prey drive is not driven by emotions, it is most often easier to manage than emotion-based aggression.
An extremely strong prey drive can be particularly problematic if you dog wants to chase absolutely anything that it sees – going for walks could become a nightmare for you as an owner. So, they need to be properly trained and corrected in order to prevent your dog from ignoring your every call. Most of a dog’s prey drive behaviours are harmless, but can cause problems for you as an owner, being unable to go for a walk with your canine companion and to be constantly worrying that they are going to take off.
It’s super important to look into the specifics of a dog breed before bringing them into your home to make sure that you and your pup will be a good match. Plus, it’s good to be aware of the different behaviours that your breed of interest may show more than another breed would.