When I adopted Kita, a GSD mix, two cats already shared my home, and I didn’t want a dog that would view them as chew toys and/or lunch. Kita was listed on Petfinder by a little shelter up near Traverse City. My application to adopt was accepted, but as that’s a long way to drive, I made sure I called and asked the ONE important question first: “Does she have a strong prey drive?” The staff member said, “Oh, no! Not at all!” or something like that. I even explained that I had cats and didn’t want to put them in a stressful situation when adopting a dog. The worker reassured me that there would be NO PROBLEM!
Actually, I don’t think it was conscious prevarication. I think they threw a ball for Kita and she ignored it. This seems to be the standard test for prey drive. Well, Kita is bored by balls. She’s slightly more excited by squeaky toys — especially if they’re fuzzy. A cloth squeaky toy lasts about 15 seconds: squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak, and then its head is torn off. What she really loves is live, furry fauna that she can CHASE, catch and kill! Because Kita has an extremely STRONG prey-drive!
Of course, by the time I discovered that, I was back home, 2-1/2 hours away from the little shelter and Kita was hunting my cats throughout the house. And I do mean HUNT — I’m sure she wasn’t playing! One cat spent the next 6 months in the basement, only feeling safe there because Kita couldn’t fit through the cat door. We eventually worked things out, and Kita no longer tries to eat the household kitties, but anything outside is fair game in every sense of the phrase.
This has made me wonder about testing methods. When I volunteered at the Humane Society of West Michigan, I sat in on temperament testing. The only test for prey drive was throwing a toy. I’ve looked up temperament tests online to use in my business, and ALL of them I found depend on the dog’s reaction to a tossed toy or crumpled paper — essentially equating fetching with prey drive.
Not only Kita, but her companion GSD, Rilka, were utterly indifferent to any form of fetching, and most toys that you’d use in such games like balls or frisbees. No matter how enthusiastically I would offer a toy and how excited I would get, once that toy was tossed the girls would just stand and look at me like, “You want me to do WHAT?” Yet, BOTH of my girls enthusiastically hunted rodents from small (mice and moles) to large (woodchucks.) Rilka also was death to any low-flying bird! But both of these girls tested as having a low prey drive.
Only one temperament test used a slightly different method. They recommended pulling a towel on a string past the puppy. This is a bit better. However, I would expand on that. I’ve put one of those new “unstuffed” animals (with squeakies in head and tail) on a string attached to a dowel. This gives me a fishing pole with a prey item as bait!(One of my favorite TV trainers, Victoria Stillwell of IT’S ME OR THE DOG calls this a “Fox on a Stick!” You can buy them ready-made at the pet store, but making one is cheaper.)
Kita LOVES this she will chase it for as long as I will cast it around. Her reaction to the fox-on-a-stick is identical with her reaction to the live, furry fauna she hunts outside. Indeed, I have to work on her “drop-it” cue so she doesn’t tear the head off whenever she catches it!
I wonder how many times dogs are brought back to a shelter because they weren’t fully tested. Kita is sill with me partially because of my stubborness, but I admit the decision was easier because of the long distance that would be involved in trying to return her. One thing is for sure, though! The next time I adopt a dog, I’m bringing a fox-on-a-stick with me to do my own test for prey-drive!