5 Leash Training Tips for Walking Dogs with High Prey Drive


Leash walking a dog with a high prey drive is challenging, to say the least. Always being on the lookout for squirrels and having to swerve small dog owners makes walking tedious – and far from the relaxing and valuable bonding time it should be for you and your dog!

Fortunately, some dedication to leash training can ease the process. These five leash training tips are a great place to start making walks more enjoyable for both you and your canine companion.

Walking Dogs with a High Prey Drive

Many dogs possess a high prey drive – an instinctual need to chase potential “food,” tempting them to hunt any small creature that dares to move a muscle! Some dog breeds in particular have a strong drive to “hunt and gather,” and breeders developed breeds like terriers, scent hounds, sight hounds, collies, and cattle dogs to track down and kill or retrieve prey.

If your pup has any of these breeds in their genetic makeup, they’re more likely to possess a high prey drive: 

  • Weimaraner
  •  Australian Cattle Dog
  •  Siberian Husky 
  •  Doberman Pinscher 
  •  Border Collie 
  •  Any hounds, pointers, retrievers, or terriers

Over generations, man selectively bred these dogs to create prime hunting machines, and they did the job so well that even non-working dogs within those breed groups today retain a primitive need to hunt! Prey-drive is natural instinct that your dog should be allowed to exercise.

Over generations, man selectively bred these dogs to create prime hunting machines, and they did the job so well that even non-working dogs within those breed groups today retain a primitive need to hunt! Prey-drive is natural instinct that your dog should be allowed to exercise.

But the drive to run after squirrels or chase down rabbits – while ideal for working dogs – is less than perfect when strolling through the local park. In fact, for the average owner of a high prey drive dog, a stroll through the park means overcoming a multitude of challenges:

  • Constantly being on the lookout for small animals like squirrels, rabbits, and even birds. 
  • Having to avoid small dogs and their owners. 
  • Having to swerve the baseball diamond, soccer pitch, and anyone playing catch or Frisbee. 
  • Worrying about collars or leashes breaking.

Luckily, with consistent leash training sessions, these worries can become a thing of the past! You can learn how to walk a dog with high prey drive by dedicating some extra time to learning about their instincts and helping them address these needs through a healthier outlet.

5 Tips for Leash Training Prey-Driven Dogs

1. Understand Your Dog's Predatory Behavior Warning Signs

Before you can begin to leash train your prey-driven dog, you have to be able to read their predatory behavior warning signs and triggers.  

Watch your dog closely when they exhibit predatory behavior and take note of what triggered their behavior. For example, your dog may spot a squirrel in the park. When they see the squirrel, their ears prick upwards, they stand stock still with a single front foot held off the ground, and their gaze is fixated firmly on the squirrel. 

To correctly address predatory behavior, you need to nip it in the bud, so knowing that your dog is coming to a sudden standstill with ears perked up becomes your cue to step in and redirect your dog’s attention. For example, when you see your dog come to a standstill and posture in a predatory way, you might show them their favorite ball or require them to sit and wait using a treat as motivation.

2. Mimic the Hunting Experience Before Walks

Another way to make leash walking dogs with high prey drive easier is to address their innate need for hunting before heading out for a walk. Exercising your dog's need to hunt and kill satisfies their natural prey drive and helps to satisfy that urge so they’re less likely to exhibit that behavior during your stroll together! 

Some great ways to exercise your dog’s need to hunt include:

  • Playing fetch or frisbee to mimic flying prey.
  • Investing in self-propelled toys that resemble small animals’ movements.
  • Playing an outdoor game of hide and seek with scented toys or fragrant treats.
  • Letting your dog chase a flirt pole or teaser stick in the backyard.
  • Visiting a lure course or participating in lure clubs with other dog owners.

3. Test “Loose Leash” Walking & Reward Good Behavior On Walks

Loose leash walking takes time for high prey drive dogs, but practicing in small sessions and using positive reinforcement makes this process easier. As you leash walk, wait until your dog is relaxed and offer a little slack on the leash. Allow your dog to walk with a loose leash for a few moments, then reward any good, non-pulling behavior with treats, a favorite toy, or lots of attention and petting.

If your dog pulls the leash taut, stop walking immediately and wait for your dog to stop resisting their leash. When the leash becomes slack again, start walking and reward. You may do this over and over and over again during the first few weeks of leash training – but stick with it. Repetition and consistency are key!

Incorporating short loose-leash walking sessions into daily walks while using positive reinforcement encourages your dog to repeat the desired behavior. With enough practice, your dog will begin to loose-leash walk without prompting, and you can offer rewards a little less often.

4. Work On Training A More Reliable Recall

Recall is a crucial skill for any high-prey drive dog because it ensures that if your dog does break free while chasing prey that they will return on your command.

The best approach to recall training is to find a safe space like a fenced area (see our last tip for ideas) or a closed room. Begin by working on the sit and stay command using positive reinforcement. With each "sit and stay," move further from your dog and then call them to you, rewarding them only when they return directly to you.

As your dog masters sit, stay, and short recall, begin practicing recall while on a long leash. And when your dog masters a long leash sit, stay, and recall, you can begin to use recall and rewards while your dog is off-leash in a safe enclosed area. Even once your dog has fully mastered recall, continue to practice it daily to reinforce this behavior.

5. Use a Virtual Containment System For Free Roaming & Recall Training

Setting up a wireless containment system gives your dog the freedom to chase acceptable “prey items” like balls and frisbees while keeping them within a safe space. Exercising your dog’s prey drive in a contained area before walking increases the chance of a successful walk. 

A wireless fence also ensures that high prey drive dogs can freely roam and explore without the risk of chasing prey into a dangerous situation. With a reliable containment system, they can’t chase that chipmunk into traffic or follow a rabbit deep into the woods! Even better, they won’t have the option to hop the fence and go after prey.

If you have a large property, we recommend using a virtual fence with GPS technology. Not only is it more cost-effective and customizable than a physical fencing system, but it also allows you to track your dog’s position within the safe area, so you always know exactly where they are.

Leash training a high prey drive dog is hard work, but with the right tools at your disposal–and a lot of patience–you can enjoy a relaxed walk through the park or neighborhood with your dog!

Author Bio:
Amy Brannan is a British native who currently resides in North Carolina with Jet, her 15-year-old senior black lab. Throughout her life, Amy has been owned by numerous Labrador retrievers, a Great-Dane pit-bull mix, and a very demanding border collie. For over 16 years, Amy has dedicated her life to dog training, and she currently works as a freelance writer, promoter of rescue dog awareness, and part-time for a local veterinary clinic.

Related Stories

How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

We know your dog is a member of your family, and like any family member, they need exercise to stay healthy…

Why is SpotOn GPS Fence the most accurate GPS dog fence?

Why is SpotOn GPS Fence the most accurate GPS dog fence?

As the original GPS dog fence, SpotOn has been testing, learning and optimizing dog containment since January 2019...

Game of Throws: 9 Backyard Games that Reinforce your Dog's Skills

Game of Throws: 9 Backyard Games that Reinforce your Dog's Skills

With summer here and more time to play, we're all looking for ways to have some fun! What if we told you that you could have fun…

Read More

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published