Skip to main content
Farm Fresh Forensics
rss feedour twitterour facebook page
site map
Latest Posts

Farm Fresh Blog

Tuesday, August 02 2016

What is zero percent prey drive, and do you really want it?

A recent discussion among Livestock Guardian Dog people has been the idea of producing a dog with "zero percent" prey drive, the argument being that a dog with no prey drive is more trustworthy with poultry and small livestock. Hand in hand with this idea was the argument that saying 'puppies need to be supervised with livestock' is just a cop-out and an excuse that breeders make for a less-than-desirable pup. Their rationale is that if the dog has the correct breeding he will just do it from the beginning. No training needed.

Seriously? After all these years, are we still going there?

This is why so many Livestock Guardian Dog breeds end up dumped at the pound. This is why rescue organizations are often too afraid to adopt LGD breeds out to farm homes. This worn-out argument is like a booger on the end of our finger that we just can't fling off!

Turning a puppy of any breed loose with pen of chickens is like giving a teenage boy the keys to your classic corvette. He might go the grocery store and come home with groceries and your change, or he might just wrap that car around a telephone pole. Genes aren't enough. I guarantee you that Mario Andretti did not hand the keys of his race car to his ten year old son and send him out on the track alone. Education and supervision is paramount.

Let's address the two parts of the argument for the Zero Percent Prey Drive camp, and in order to do that, we must first explain what is prey drive. When your dog stalks, chases, pounces, shakes a toy, rips it apart, carries it around, buries it, or eats it, that is prey drive. These are the behaviors associated with catching and killing prey.

Prey drive is most often brought out by motion, and because lambs bounce, and chickens flap and run, for this reason, proponents of the Zero Prey Drive Camp, believe that if a dog has no prey drive, then it will not chase and kill the very animals it is supposed to protect. Horse Hockey.

I would argue the opposite. I want a hearty prey drive in my Livestock Guardian Dogs. I expect my dog to see the raccoon and the coyote and I want them to chase it and kill it.  Dogs kill predators when in prey drive. A predator is prey to an LGD. A Livestock Guardian Dog that does not chase and kill things is merely a poster of a guard dog. If you have success with a large white lump that lies in the barnyard and occasionally raises its head to bark, that tells me there are not real predatory threats on your farm. That LGD is a poster that smells like a dog.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trashing these dogs. This is the perfect job for old dogs, lame dogs, and dogs with low drive. What I'm saying is that this behavior should not be held up as the gold standard by which we judge Livestock Guardian Dogs because not only is it unreasonable, it has sent countless dogs on a date with a euthanasia needle. Not only that, you are fooling yourself if you think that dog is capable of addressing serious threats around the ranch. That dog may do fine in an area with a low predator load, but other places will need less Mr Rogers and more Seal Team Six.

And people, Seal Team Six is about prey drive.

Let me give you a watered down example. Consider the raccoons that have recently been visiting my barnyard. Since Other Half started feeding cattle against the yard fence, at least three raccoons began to come in regularly when he called the cows. The Border Collies were so focused on the cows that they failed to even notice and address the raccoons wandering out in plain sight just across the fence. While Other Half found this boldness cute, I have chickens, so I was less than smitten with our masked visitors.  The raccoons had no fear whatsoever of us, and thought nothing of waddling out to pick up a cattle cube while we stood right beside the fence. Because the Border Collies did not address their impertinence, they soon lost all caution around the dogs who remained focused on the cattle.

This came to a screeching halt however the night I let the Anatolians in the yard. The LGDs immediately acquired target and addressed the issue. The raccoon was sent scurrying into the forest. One dog then hopped into the bed of a pickup truck so that he could get a better vantange point while the other stood tall by the fence like a sentry, scanning the treeline. These dogs did not think to themselves,

"Wow, raccoons kill chickens so we should chase the raccoon away to protect our chickens."

No. More likely they thought to themselves,

"Wow, squishy, furry thing that moves. I wonder if it tastes like chicken!"

They spent the better part of an hour waiting for the raccoon to make another appearance, hoping raccoon tasted like chicken. And guess what? The same raccoons that have visited every evening for three weeks, have not been back. Why? Because raccoon was just scribbled on the menu as today's special. And tomorrow's. And the next day's.

Friends and neighbors, that is prey drive.

For the sake of argument, let us propose that perhaps chasing coyotes and loose dogs is not prey drive, but is territorial behavior instead. This also shoots the Zero Percent Prey Drive argument in the foot because dogs high in a territorial drive also tend to be high in prey drive. It's not an all or nothing behavior. Because of this, my argument is not that you want a Livestock Guardian Dog with low prey drive, but rather, you want a Livestock Guardian Dog with high PACK drive.

Yes, pack drive. When you see dogs licking and grooming sheep, that's pack behavior. Dogs are pack animals. They recognize family units. Livestock Guardian Dog breeds tend to be very open-minded about forming bonds within the family unit. Your job is to TEACH your LGD what animals are part of his family. This is why education is so important. They aren't born knowing they're supposed to protect chickens or goats, or sheep. They are born with a strong sense of family. They LEARN that chickens, goats, and sheep are part of their family.

Will a young dog still wrap the family car around a telephone pole and kill a chicken? Yes, it can happen. And if it does you don't say the dog is from bad breeding, dump this one at the pound and buy another one.  You use it as a learning experience for the dog and YOU. If the dog killed a chicken, he wasn't ready for Prime Time yet. He needs more training. That doesn't mean that next year he won't be the best darned Bird Dawg you'll ever have, but you'll never know if you don't take the time to train him.

If you aren't ready to invest a couple of years into training a Livestock Guardian Dog properly, then you might be better off installing a lot of electric fencing instead of getting a dog. It will take you two years to train a dog that can work for ten more years. That's two years of close supervision. That's two years of worrying about whether or not he climbed over or under the fence. That's two years of wondering if the lambs are too little to be alone with the dog yet. That's two years of not letting him alone with birthing mothers. If your dog is flying solo with birds or lambs before that time, don't freak when mistakes happen. From time to time, they can, and do. You don't send your kid to prison when he wrecks your car. A dog is an investment. Invest the time to train him. It's well worth it.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
I have passed this excellent article on . well done..
Posted by Liz [Vic Aust} on 08/03/2016 - 07:01 PM
I remember being surprised when Briar killed a chicken but later I read on your blog that it was a neighbor's chicken and not one that is part of her pack. Your explanations are excellent. I just re-checked the Briar patch (love re-reading those!). Is Briar really 16 years old?!?
Posted by MI Sister on 08/05/2016 - 11:21 AM
Briar 16?!! Oh my no! I'd have to check the dates again but I think she was born in 2009 or 2010.
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 08/05/2016 - 11:57 AM
Oh, yep sorry. I had glanced at something else while reading. Darn ADD (not to mention the implausibility).
Posted by MI Sister on 08/06/2016 - 07:58 AM

Post comment
Email Address

(max 750 characters)
* Required Fields
Note: All comments are subject to approval. Your comment will not appear until it has been approved.

Red Feather Ranch, Failte Gate Farm

© 2009-2019, Farm Fresh Forenics, Forensicfarmgirl, Failte Gate Farm, Red Feather Ranch All Rights Reserved.

rss feedour twitterour facebook page