Prey drive with small dogs

So being off leash was one of the first things I trained my basenji (1.5 year old girl) to do because I go hiking multiple times a week with my dogs. She does wander and she does chase squirrels and other critters, and I am ok with these behaviors since 1) they’re instinctive and 2) she knows to come back and check in with me. It’s never been a problem.

Recently, however, she’s started to equate small dogs (particularly small fluffy dogs) with prey and shows typical hunting behaviors when we come across them. She stalks, chases and nips at them when she reaches them. Sometimes they run, which of course exacerbates her prey drive.

I’m afraid she’s going to do some real harm and can’t justify having her off leash in the woods anymore, on the off chance we come across a small dog and I’m not able to grab and leash her in time. Right now my plan is to put her on a long lead and go back to the basics, redirecting her any time she wants to chase anything.

I’ve seen other people discuss this issue in the forums and wanted to ask for any tips/tricks/ setting expectations that others have used that have been effective.

My goal is to hopefully one day be able to allow her off leash again but again, I can’t justify it right now

Edit: I think my biggest question is, how do I eventually differentiate squirrels and birds etc from small dogs? I don’t want to forever restrict her from chasing everything, just for her to know what’s appropriate to chase and what’s not

last edited by theresab

You said the magic word... Prey Drive.... this is part of their DNA.... some more than others... and if it "runs" it is chased.

last edited by tanza

I've had Basenjis chase small dogs, large dogs, and everything in between. And I've had Basenjis chased by small dogs, large dogs, and everything in between. As tanza says, It's prey drive. If it runs you chase it. Now not every Basenji has he same drive. Some will just look and decide it's not worth the bother. Others will go after anything that moves. If a dog has a strong prey drive it will be a huge job to stop it. You're fighting the DNA.

On the other hand, I've never seen a Basenji purposefully injure another dog after the chase. If they're nipping, especially the tail, this is just a game of "It". You know your dog but from what you've said it doesn't seem that there is much of a possibility of an intentional injury. I understand that some dogs will freak out at being chased. However, that raises an interesting point: Who is responsible for this encounter? The owner of the chasing dog or the owner of the chased dog? My opinion is that if your dog is afraid of other dogs and doesn't know how to deal with them then you shouldn't leave him/her off-leash. No point in penalizing a dog for doing what it's supposed to be doing. YMMV.

If there is lure coursing near you -- I know not likely at the moment -- you might want to give that a try.

@tanza Joggers too. Mine run free and chase squirrels and if, as often happens, we mere walkers are effectively elbowed out of their way by joggers, I call to my Basenjis "If it runs, chase it !" But they don't usually bother, they know these 'athletes' wouldn't taste good.

Are the small 'prey-dogs' also running free and what does she actually do when she catches (up with) one ?

last edited by Zande

@zande said in Prey drive with small dogs:

Are the small 'prey-dogs' also running free and what does she actually do when she catches (up with) one ?

I saw my girl start playing with a very small, fluffy little black dog at the dog park one day. They seemed like they were just playing, doodle would chase, the fluffball would roll over. Repeatedly. But then I noticed that doodle put her mouth over the dogs neck. I watched them, carefully. The two would play when they saw eachother without any animosity. They seemed like pals, despite the fluffball's dimunitive size. Then one day after the fluffball had flipped over onto it's back and doodle had her neck in her mouth, I noticed doodle start to move her head from side to side. I was horrified. I realized that one quick jerk and that little fluffball would be dead. The thought still rattles me.

doodle's personality indicates that she would never intentally hurt another dog. But the fluffball probably weighs as much as a squirrel. And doodle's instinctive prey drive was literally a moment away from something that couldn't have been undone.

I've talked to fluffball's owner and explained my concerns. Fluffball should be allowed to run and play at the park the same as any other dog. But I can't bear the thought that doodle could hurt it, so... from that moment on, when I see this pup come in the gate, we politely leave.


p.s. It didn't help that this dog sounded like a squeek toy.

last edited by elbrant

@elbrant said in Prey drive with small dogs:

p.s. It didn't help that this dog sounded like a squeek toy.

A squeaky toy is meant to be chewed and shaken until the stuffing falls out. That must have been an unpleasant experience.

@elbrant - Exactly why I never and have never used dog parks... period...

They do not differentiate between squirrel and fluffy puppy....prey is prey it is instinctive and deep seeded. a basenji off leash will be a dead basenji.....may not today or tomorrow but eventually.

@dmcarty said in Prey drive with small dogs:

They do not differentiate between squirrel and fluffy puppy....prey is prey it is instinctive and deep seeded. a basenji off leash will be a dead basenji.....may not today or tomorrow but eventually.

I learned the hard way that I wasn't capable of having a Basenji off leash in an unstructured environment, so I understand the recommendation. But I think a Basenji can tell the difference between a dog, whatever the size, and a rabbit or squirrel as well as you or I can.

@donc said in Prey drive with small dogs:

But I think a Basenji can tell the difference between a dog, whatever the size, and a rabbit or squirrel as well as you or I can.

Basenjis like to be the boss - I'm sure they can tell the difference. If the 'squeaky toy' dog squeaks when shaken - that's submission !

And by the way - I have let all my Basenjis run off-leash for the past 39 years - A couple of years ago I did a calculation on their average age at death. 13.5 years. Most lived beyond 14, some beyond 16. Almost all lived into their teens. The average was brought down by one who developed a mast cell tumour before she was ten.

So yes, an off-leash Basenji is a dead Basenji - eventually, but not necessarily before their 'time' to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

last edited by Zande

I have also had off leash Basenjis, none of which came to grief from being loose. However, my niece who is a vet has seen several dogs hit by cars while on flex leads. Owner inattention can definitely get your dog killed, even when "securely" on a leash!

@donc we were all set to do lure coursing this spring! I was super excited but obviously covid10 put a stop to those plans. But exactly, I was hoping this would provide the appropriate environment for her to give in to those instincts

@zande yep, basenjis off leash has yet to be a problem for me and I've had 3 now. I only ever let them off in the woods, far away from traffic.

And yes, I absolutely believe she knows the difference between prey and dog, even small fluffy dog. I don't want to take away the joy of running through the woods for her, but I can't in good conscience allow her to frighten other dogs and their owners. My job, hard as it is, is going to have to be getting her to listen when other dogs say 'stop'

I know your problem - difficult one when it is your dog who could be doing the harm rather than receiving it.

Stupid question. Is it possible for you to avoid the time of day when the fluffy bunny will be out and about ?

During Lockdown I learned never to go to the woods at the end of this village so as to be arriving or leaving between 8.45 and 9.15. If I did, I was sure to meet a bad tempered couple walking two huge ??? on leads. The poor animals were literally dragged along, not allowed to sniff or stop for anything.

I would meet them just at the entrance where there is a steep incline through birch trees and coppicing. It is impossible to see if anyone is coming up the path because of the greenery but the man always shouted at me 'Dogs should be kept on a lead around other dogs' - I never saw him before we were on top of each other as it were.

Mine never paid his the slightest heed ! They were as frightened of him as I was. LOL

But seriously, can you avoid meeting this particular dog or can you make a big fuss of her and get it through to your Basenji that this is YOUR friend and should be hers ?

and as a general note, I REALLY don't believe in 'well that's just the way basenjis are so I don't have to try to correct inappropriate or dangerous behavior' - yeah, it's going to take more time and effort than with other breeds, but that's sort of what you sign up for when you get a basenji. It's your responsibility to make sure they are respectful members of dog (and human) society. That goes for any breed. Yes, basenjis have deeply buried instincts, prey drive being at the forefront, obviously, but throwing your hands up isn't fair to them or other dogs/owners

last edited by theresab

@zande thank you for your reply! That's a great suggestion!

This behavior of hers applies to any small dog we come across, so it's not something that I can predict, unfortunately, which is part of what makes it so hard! We also go to lots of different woods, so I can't ever be positive who we're going to meet. She doesn't do it in dog parks, interestingly, but those are closed right now and all my dogs and I much prefer the woods anyway.

Aiii anyway, I really appreciate your thoughtful replies!

@theresab said in Prey drive with small dogs:

REALLY don't believe in 'well that's just the way basenjis are so I don't have to try to correct inappropriate or dangerous behavior' -

Nor do I - Basenjis CAN be trained. Possibly not using the same methods as for other dogs, but anything IS possible if you are understanding and patient

Having a sense of humour helps - - -

@theresab said in Prey drive with small dogs:

and as a general note, I REALLY don't believe in 'well that's just the way basenjis are so I don't have to try to correct inappropriate or dangerous behavior' - yeah, it's going to take more time and effort than with other breeds, but that's sort of what you sign up for when you get a basenji. It's your responsibility to make sure they are respectful members of dog (and human) society. That goes for any breed. Yes, basenjis have deeply buried instincts, prey drive being at the forefront, obviously, but throwing your hands up isn't fair to them or other dogs/owners

Uh no. You're more likely to control how children play than how dogs play, and you're not likely to control how children play. In my experience a huge part of the problem is how the dog's owner behaves. The little dog runs, which causes the other dog to chase, and then acts afraid, which causes the owner to pick him/her up and soothe him. That's simply reinforcing the "victim" behavior. It also works on the other side. A dog will chase another dog, causing his/her owner to make a big fuss of saying "No", after which they pick him up. Scolding him/her won't do anything because (a) it's attention; and (b) the dog will have no clue what the issue is.

Now just attacking dogs and/or people would be entirely different. But that not what you're describing. What you're calling "inappropriate behavior" is just dog behavior. I've had dogs who would take off and dare other dogs to chase them. The only issue with this was when some other dog joined in and blindsided them. Dog play rough. I've included a pic of one of my dogs getting bounced around by a German Shepard. This would horrify some but she didn't think it was any big deal. Dogs are tough. Even the little furry ones.

IMO opinion the saying "if you can't run with the big dogs stay on the porch" applies. If the dog can't deal with other dogs -- meaning if they're going to run and then get freaked out when they are chased -- then he/she has no dog skills and should be on a leash. Plus being on the leash will allow the owner to easily pick them up and then get freaked out when the other dog(s) jump up. (JK but that is usually how it goes).

In all likelihood your dog will grow out the chase behavior soon enough, so it's a transient issue. If you want to keep him on a leash that's your decision, but it hardly seems like a dangerous situation. You're not being fair to your dog when failing to hold the other dogs and their owners responsible.

0_1589929786290_German Shepard.jpg

The problem with off leash parks is that it's all fun and games until suddenly it isn't. Which is why, IMO, you should not have your dog loose at a park unless you have a really solid recall and are paying attention to what is going on, instead of chatting to other owners while things are gradually escalating. Yes, most of the time dogs will sort out their problems and nobody gets hurt, but ask a vet and you will find that dogs can and do get injured at dog parks and at doggie daycares when supervision is lax, and even when it isn't. Multiple dog families can also experience a situation that "works until it doesn't", and in my experience Basenjis as a breed and particularly the bitches can definitely hold a grudge, and if they get into it "for real", generally they don't quit until somebody gets hurt.

last edited by eeeefarm

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