Building Prey Drive in Puppies

Author: John Lockett|Print|Return

Developing PREY DRIVE in puppies maybe the most important / biggest step in training successful working dogs. At the same time, it’s possibly the most over-looked step in potential young working dogs and puppies. I will start from the litter box - to the sleeve.

The Dog Trainer’s Tool Bag

Prey drive: The inherent instinct to pursue, acquire and kill prey. This is the drive that your dog should be working in 95% of the time. In this drive your dog is at it's most comfortable and confident. If you can build your dogs prey drive and teach it to work primarily in prey drive, be it protection, scent work (tracking or detection) and/or obedience, your dog will have less stress and therefore learn faster.

As a breeder, I’ve found its good to start prey development between 4 to 5 wks old. If I could, I would start even earlier. This will help you to build your litter as a whole. Because I don’t let my pups go to their new homes until 8 wks old, it also allows me to see the ebb and flow of the litter’s temperament.


Once your puppies are walking around well, I like to add a string pole (a string or bungee with a 16oz bottle of pennies and a square ft. of terry cloth) to their pen. Out of pure curiosity or them knocking against it should trigger a prey reaction from its movement. The bottle of pennies will began to acclimate them to loud and strange noise. This is a small step, but can tell you a lot about your litter (dominance, pack order, passiveness and so on). By starting in the pen, this will also allow you to later see which puppies drives will change when the bite environment differs.

6 wks.

By now your pups should be enjoying the spring pole in short spurts. At this point, I like to remove the spring pole and take them to the yard and on to different flooring. I also separate the males from the females. I can get a better look at them for documentation purposes mostly and this simply makes it easer to make your picks. Once I have the pups where in plan on working them, I break out the Flirt Pole (a buggy whip or thin pvc pipe with a 16oz bottle and a square ft of terry cloth) No matter how you make your flirt pole, the most important thing is that its very flexible. The flexibility of the pole will help greatly with the prey movement of the rag.

I like to start with the rag about 2 ft out from the litter in a herky-jerky movement in an attempt to emulate natural prey movement ie: a mouse, cat, rabbit. In the beginning, make it easy for them and as the weeks go by, begin making them miss the rag once or twice only and then allowing them to bite. Remember, puppies have a very short attention span, so these sessions should be very short at first; 3-4 minutes at the most. Shorter is better in this case. I’m a big believer that nerve is as important as drive so I also break out the whip and anything that make strange noises once they understand the game.


By now you have an idea which are your top candidates. These are the puppies I would take to the next level of drive building. The other pups I would continue working in a group, free, until you see the drive you would like to see from them. Continue working with your pick of males and females still separate, unless there’s only one or two of them. If this is the case, I just work them together.

At this point I like to began my tie-out work. You still should be using the power of competition, so place them on tie-out very close together, but far enough apart so that they can’t reach each other and began your flirt pole work with the other pups at a close distance. Once the pups begin to bark at the action and show some frustration toward the prey work with the other pup turn to the tied-out pup or pups with some short agitation and then a short bite. Remember to keep your rag moment from side to side. Your bite presentation should also go sideward, it can be intimidating to some pups and older dogs if the rag comes straight at their faces. It may make in their minds a friendly game of prey turn the game defensive.

9wks- 15wks.

Ok you’ve already made your picks and now its time to take them to the next level. Most trainers at this point will begin imprinting the grip and counter (teaching the pup to bite with its whole mouth.) I, on the other hand thank it more important at this age to teach the pup to drive as hard as it can and not to release said prey.

VERY IMPORTANT to start this step before teething, because you never want a dog to associate biting with pain, especially a young dog. Until this point we’ve used the rag and the bottle, now we'll move straight to a bottle only. I like to repeat the earlier training but now using a bottle at the end of the flirt pole and making it harder for said pup to catch it should last about 3 to 5 min longer than earlier stated.

Why a Bottle?

Simple. Because its harder for the pup to hold on to, once your pup can lock on to the bottle, the sleeve and suit will, although bigger, be easer to grip. But because you never stopped the using the flirt pole work your puppy is now crazy for bite work.

Summary these are the same steps I take to build the prey drive in older pups and dog as well….and I’ll do these thing over and over until the pup is ready to move to the next step THE GRIP….coming soon.