These are a mixture of my own thoughts and thoughts
that I have learned from other folks during the years. There could be a hint of
truth in them or then not:
The subject "prey drive" and how it interacts with
other mental characteristics in a dog is an interesting one. It is difficult to
precisely define it. The observers might have different opinions about when the
prey drive is triggered and what "drives" the dog before it is triggered. Among
the duty dog circles the prey drive is what drives the dog in a hunting pack
during the search until the very moment when the prey is killed. For a duty dog
a hunting pack can be its handler and in addition perhaps the group of
police officers it works with. To the duty dog it does not matter if it
has been trained to direct its prey drive towards humans, scent or sight. It is
still hunting the same way as it would be hunting deer or other game if the
circumstances were different.
What if there is no hunting pack that gradually
will teach the puppy the reason for the search? We all know that it does not
matter much, well bred gundog breeds will start to search and chase anyway. The
behaviour is in other words inherited, it is there in the genes and so is the
interest for different types of scents and movements of other objects, let it be
balls, birds, rabbits, cars, bicycles or the neighbours cat. We do not have
to teach the puppy to search and chase, it will anyway be triggered to search
and chase by different stimuli.
To me this subject is very complex and I really do
not know how to continue from here. Lets take a setter that is a "joy runner".
Our joy runner is not a setter that by bad training has been induced to
neglect game but a true joy runner, a dog that has no prey drive at all but
really kind of enjoys the speed, the wind and the open ground it is covering. It
looks like it is searching, it has stamina, speed and style but it never shows
any interest in any kind of game. It will start to "search" the very moment it
is allowed to do so but it never produces game. Its other behaviours might be
very similar to other good working setters; gentle and attractive at home and
socially, a little bit difficult to motivate for obedience work and difficult to
handle on the field. The problem is that it never produces game or
This is a dog that lacks prey drive.
The opposite example might be our first dog, the
Kleiner Munsterlander. It was a rather active dog but it never seemed to have
any aim with its activity. It was grubbing about in the field in a very slow
pace, could be stuck in a scent for a long time here and there until it
literally stumbled into game. Then there was no limit, no head and tail in the
chase he put up, totally out of control the dog was not aware of the outside
world. When the stimuli (the game) had fooled him he made no attempt to analyse
the situation but gave up the chase. This dog had some prey drive but not that
strong, it was only triggered when the stimuli was very strong and as the
stimuli weakened the prey drive rapidly faded away.
The best example I have of a very strong and
positive prey drive, a somewhat balanced, strong prey drive that can
be used productively, can be found in our old Foxy. She can search long days,
day after day, on sometimes empty mountains and never, ever give up. She has
always been confident that beyond the next mountain ridge there will be
birds and she has ranged very wide to find them and never lost track of us,
thereby proving that she does not hunt without using her head. When she finally
has found birds she has at younger age, before gaining experience, sometimes
been a little bit too bold with them by putting too much pressure on them. That
was turned into an advantage later when she got some experience and she can nail
anything to the spot, let it be grouse or elephants (whenever they can be found
this far north)) ).
In order to be "of a useable nature" her strong
prey drive must be "balanced" with other positive characteristics like boldness
and a good nerve stability, otherwise it will make the dog to topple over. The
boldness and nerve stability helps the dog with the very strong prey drive to
keep contact with the outer world, and hence the handler while highly
motivated to catch a game. Since it is not soft it will not be easy to handle
but with firmness it is possible to handle, like a Ferrari. And like a Ferrari
it will give you the best performance, provided you know how to drive it. Foxy
has been very consistent. Out on the field she has been about the same character
from day one to today, 13 years later. She has a good nerve stability that cant
be much affected by stressors.
Another example of a strong prey drive I have is
from my late Springer the spaniel. It was positive to start with, say the first
4 - 5 years. It drove her to do great things but she lacked something - a good
nerve stability. Every situation with game built up stress within her, if ever
so slightly, and this stress, contrary to Foxy's stress, was never washed away
during the next nights sleep. Small, small pieces of stress was laid one above
the other and it built up the basic stress level in her so that in the end,
after say 5 - 6 years, she was very much wound up already at the start of the
day at driven shoots and out of control at the end of the day.
As a working springer spaniel she was pretty much
"normal" in that sense. Generally they are not expected to last for much longer
if frequently run on driven shoots. If they are bred to be "really easy to
handle" with a lot of "will to please", in other words "very soft", and still
have a strong prey drive, they will not last that long.
The cocker spaniels in particular, as I saw them in
the past, or other breeds for that matter like the flatcoats, that are
primarily bred for softness, often shows an "explosive" prey drive when they run
into game. I do not know what happens in their brain but probably they get an
sudden and too huge injection of adrenalin, nor-adrenalin, hormones and
whatever chemicals that affect their behaviour, what the stimuli, like a
bolting rabbit, calls for. A well-known cocker breeder in Sweden once told me
when I asked him what to expect from his dogs and at what age, to "not expect
much before the age of 2 years".
I have no idea of what Don's springer puppy
is up to and cant comment his dog.
However I have been critical to the breeding
practice of the Swedish springers, continuously imported from UK, during
many years, no attention has been paid to the nerve stability and boldness of
the dogs but only the number of FTCH's and FTW's in the pedigree has been
important. Hence most of our spaniels are now so soft so they can be somewhat
productive in the hands of true experts and the ordinary hunter has little use
for them. I have thought I have been alone in my critics but recently
I have got a hint that from UK similar opinions are raised.
Miss "The Peep" Sophie, that I had for one year,
showed similar "explosive" behaviour and hence I handed her forward to an expert
in spaniels. There she performs well. Details can be found on our website,
search for "The Miss Sophie Story" .
The strong prey drive is basically a very
good and very desirable characteristic in our gundogs provided
it is combined with other good characteristics and a firm and
consistent hand that calls for a lot of hard work from the owner of the dog. I
prefer a rather hard, headstrong and bold, but still balanced dog, to a soft dog
that has to be handled with ultimate care in every situation and that is not
only easy to train to some degree but also easy to spoil unless given truckloads
Well, this is how I think about the subject.
Generally we get lazy and lazy and in order to compensate for that we breed dogs
that are softer and hence, as we think, easier to train. In reality it is not
that easy... There is no substitute for cubic inch..., sorry, for hard work
Borta Med Vindens Kennel
"Ask not what your dog can do for you.
what you can do for your dog."www.rospigan.net