A couple mornings ago I let V out to relieve himself. As part of the morning ritual I get the table set outside for breakfast as Kelly prepares our meals and V hangs out with us. I went inside to grab some napkins or something and when I came out, I saw something in V's mouth. Never do I see V with things in his mouth, so this was a little out of the norm. This caused me to exclaim, "V! Drop!" V dropped what was in his mouth and I went over to investigate. What was it? Well, if you read the title, you've probably already figured it out. It was a baby bunny. My dog V had just caught a baby bunny.
As a lover of all animals, this made me kind of sad. I went over to check on the little guy and unfortunately for him, he wasn't going to make it. V had chased lots of small animals before, but never caught them. I always jokingly said that I don't think he would know what to do if he actually caught one. I was obviously wrong. V is a dog. Dogs are predators and this is an absolutely normal behavior. I think that in a lot of cases we unintentionally hold our own dogs to higher standards. "My dog would never bite anyone." "My dog would never hurt a small animal." I really never thought that V would kill anything, but that was just ignorance on my part.
Prey drive is something that is in every dog. Whether it's tracking with their eyes, or actually chasing the "prey," this is built into dogs. This is part of how they would survive if they were out on their own. (That and rummaging through garbage.) Does your dog like to chase tennis balls? Does your dog like to play tug? Those are examples of prey drive. (V loves playing ball.)
The reason why I am writing this is because I want to bring awareness to how normal this actually is. I think that as we go through our everyday life with our dogs, sometimes we forget that they are actually dogs. And this may be the most obvious statement of the year, but dogs are animals. They've been domesticated but they're still animals. This behavior is so normal that the very next day I was bringing out V's brother Villere, and it happened again. I brought him out to the front of the yard on leash, and within 2 seconds of him sniffing a bush, he dove in and caught a baby bunny. It happened faster than lighting strikes. (At least it seemed like it.) I watched this one happen right in front of me and it looked just like he was chasing a ball or toy. This was not aggression. This was prey drive. The point of aggression is to increase distance between the dog and the thing. The point of prey drive is to eat.
If your dog has killed a small animal it doesn't mean you have a bad dog. It means you have a dog that is doing what dogs do. I will admit that I was a little shaken/ upset when the first incident happened. ( I felt bad for the bunny.) But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that V was just being a dog and this is a totally normal behavior.
Does your dog have difficulty settling down? Does your dog get a little too excited when someone arrives at the door? Does your dog hang out too close to the table when you're eating? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, or you can think of a similar situation where your dog is doing something that you'd prefer him to not be doing, then matwork is the answer you've been looking for.
Matwork is actually pretty easy to teach. All you need is a mat, rewards, and a clicker/verbal marker to let your dog know when it does the correct thing. As you'll see in the video below, the first thing you want to do is teach your dog that when it interacts with the mat, (looks at, steps on etc.) it gets a nice payout. Once your dog is getting the hang of it, you'll start to ask more of your dog before giving the rewards. In this video we show how to apply it to jumping on visitors, but once the foundation is taught you can use it in any scenario where you can't have your dog at your feet.
If you have a dog that enjoys turning a leisurely walk into a game of tug, then this video is for you. This can definitely be an annoying problem. With that in mind I made a video to give you a visual of how I remedy this situation. It really comes down to making sure that the behavior doesn't get any reinforcement, and that other behaviors get all the reinforcement. Take a look.