Some dogs have predatory instincts that trigger them to catch and kill small animals. Dogs are not usually predatory to humans.
All in the genes
Some dogs may be very predatory and others not very interested. Whether they are or not depends on their genetic make-up, which is dependent on their parents and what their ancestors were bred to do.
Although dogs may practice predatory actions during play in puppyhood, the genes for instinctive predation often do not fully switch on until adolescence or later.
What animals are at risk?
Many dogs view small fast-moving animals as prey. Cats, rabbits, rats, mice, and hamsters are at risk from a predatory dog, as are birds if they can catch them. Sometimes large dogs that are used to chasing animals such as rabbits, will see a small hairy dog in the park and mistake it for prey. Unfortunately, during a fast chase, there is no time for them to realise that their ‘prey’ is another dog and so this type of chase can have fatal consequences.
Dogs will not usually see animals that they live with and are sufficiently familiar with as prey. An exception to this may be if a dog has a strong predatory instinct and a fast movement from a small animal such as a rabbit or mouse triggers an instinctive bite.
Cats that live peacefully in a household with a dog are not at risk, although occasional incidents have been known where a cat has come home very injured and the family dog has finished them off.
Adult humans and children are too large to be considered prey, even by the largest dog, although there have been rare incidents where children have been chased and later partially eaten by packs of semi-feral starving dogs. Well-fed dogs that live in homes with good owners are no threat to children in this way.
Babies are sometimes at risk in homes where the dog receives very little stimulation and exercise. In these cases, it is thought that the dog starts off by playing with the baby and its cries stimulate excitement and hard bites which can result in death. Consequently, this is not considered true predation.
Is it chase or predation?
Chase is part of the predatory sequence and so it is very easy for dogs to move for the chase part of the process into the ‘catch and kill’ phase, especially given the excitement and arousal that occurs during the chase. However, not all dogs want to catch and kill, some only want to chase and will stop once the ‘prey’ stops moving. Others are just not fast enough and will only catch and kill sick or injured animals.
Is there a cure?
Since predation is instinctive and hard-wired, there is no cure. Control methods are needed such as muzzles and leads with free-running allowed only where no other animal is at risk (although muzzles can help prevent a killing bite, dogs wearing muzzles can cause fatal injuries to small dogs or other animals if there is sufficient impact).
Sometimes controlling the chase part of the predatory sequence and channelling all chase and predation into games with fast-moving squeaky toys can help, especially for puppies – go to ‘Chasing’
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