Your dog walks beautifully on leash, right next to your side. It’s a thing of beauty. And then! A squirrel crosses your path about 30 feet in front of you and your dog goes bonkers! She pulls like a sled dog and away you go.
Clearly your dog has a high prey drive. But what can you do about it. Honestly, it’s a very hard thing to break, but with time, repetition, technique and lots of patience, it’s possible to reduce the prey drive substantially. Here is the plan.
The first thing to do is play the “look at that” game. The goal is to have your dog look at low-level triggers and then look back at you for a treat. Start by putting your dog on leash and work in a place that is clear of distractions. Start out by having a friend assist you in being the low-level trigger. Have her walk perpendicular to your position about 30 feet in front of you. Say “look at that!” and when your dog turns his attention from the friend to you, say “yes!” and treat with high-value treats. I have another blog that addresses which treats are high-value. Do this about 10 to 15 times in one session. Then do it again in another session. From there, move up to more interesting triggers such as a squeaky toy that you throw and say “look at that!” and “yes!” when she looks back at you. Do this for the same number of sessions as the friend. Then get a squeaky ball and repeat the above for 2 sessions.
You can work on the next step either before or after the above, but this is important – recall WITH distractions. I would enlist a friend to toss toys and balls and even jump up and down and run around, all at the same time you are commanding your dog (who is on a 30-foot lead) to come or touch your hand. Your dog should be proficient before moving on to the next step.
Next, I know it sounds weird but get a fake squirrel toy, fuzz and all and some twine rope. Enlist your friend again. At 40 feet away, have your friend tie the twine onto the fuzzy toy and gently and slowly move it perpendicular to your path. Say the magic words “look at that!” and “yes!” when she looks back at you. Do this until your dog is consistently looking at the fake squirrel and then looking at you for the treat. Then increase the speed at which the squirrel moves and continue the “look at that!” game. After doing a full session, start the next session doing the faster movements and slowly increase them to fast erratic movements, like a squirrel. Next, move the squirrel closer to you, like 20 feet. Then if your friend is still your friend, have her run around you with the squirrel dragging 10 feet behind her while you have your dog in a down-stay. When your dog gets up, say “no!” a couple of times, have your friend stop, and put your dog back in a down-stay and start it back up again.
Lastly, have your friend and squirrel at 20 feet distant. As your friend starts jogging with the squirrel 10 feet behind her, say “leave it!” and pull your dog on leash backwards 5 steps and then say “yes! Leave It!” and reward. Repeat for as many sessions as it takes for your dog to start moving backwards before you do.
In real life, when your dog sees a squirrel or cat (hopefully you see first) run the exercise “leave it!” every time.
You can also run other impulse control games like wait and stay to help with her prey drive impulse control. Remember, this will take a lot of time to reduce her prey drive, so have lots of patience!