You might hear people say that their dog has a high prey drive or strong predatory behavior. What does that mean? Typically, people mean that their dog has a strong desire to chase, sometimes to catch – and even sometimes to kill – something, such as bunnies, squirrels, birds, or other animals. Some people will use those terms for dogs who have a strong desire to chase cars, bicyclists, skateboarders, runners or other moving objects. I've even seen some dogs who seem to be trying to chase airplanes flying at several thousand feet. Talk about aiming for the stars!

However this desire to chase moving objects displays itself, people sometimes think that this behavior cannot be changed. If you have a Golden Retriever who seems determined to chase every bird he sees, or a Border Collie who is determined to chase every car driving by, or a Greyhound who runs after the low flying vultures (yep, that last one would be Zuzu!), you might think there's nothing you can do about that behavior. That's just part of his nature. It's instinct. Nothing you can do about it. Wrong!! There is something you can do about it.

Certainly, these behaviors tend to be natural behaviors for dogs. Think about what your breed of dog (or mixture of various breeds) was originally bred to do. Retrievers were bred to find the prey and bring it back to you. Pointers were bred to find the prey in the first place and point it out to you. Sighthounds were bred to spot prey and chase it down. Herding dogs were bred to drive the “prey” together to be collected or moved to a specific location. Most breeds of dogs were bred to lock into one or more of those hunting skills and and be really really good at it. And they often are really good at it. But they often display it in inappropriate ways. If your dog was bred to herd cattle, but now he's trying to control the neighborhood kids or the cars driving down your street, that behavior that is so valuable to humans in one situation has now become a major problem in another situation.

That does not mean you can't change that behavior and help your dog learn to use better self control. And find other more appropriate outlets for it. Think about this: if it's a natural instinct that cannot be changed, then how do ranchers teach their herding dogs to move livestock in different directions or stop when the livestock is where they want them to be? How does the hunter stop his retriever from fetching the bird and then taking off with it for himself? To be useful for specific jobs, these dogs need great self control to be able to do the task when asked for it and not randomly at any time the dog spots something he thinks should be herded, retrieved, or what-have-you.

These behaviors can most certainly be changed. These dogs need to learn self control. These dogs need to learn when it is OK to act out these behaviors and when it's not. These dogs most definitely need outlets to be dogs and to do the things that come naturally to them – in some situations, under certain rules.

If your dog is displaying some of his “natural instincts” in inappropriate ways, you can and should do something about it. Everyone will be happier that you did!