"Prey Fixation" on Other Dogs??

GSD started a discussion on December 12th

Hi, I found out about NDT during a search and am looking into it if it can help sort out some problems I am having with my dog. Ever since I got her, as an adult, she has been "obsessed" with other dogs. As she escalates (which I try to avoid, if I can help it), she will whine and pull and bark. It is not barking in a mean way, it is more excited. I tried different trainers and they all basically wanted to train my dog by using food and going closer little by little, letting her look so long as she didn't react, etc. My dog doesn't just "look" at things when she's in that state, it's more like targeting. I feel that this training made my dog even more stressed and I felt like they didn't understand my dog. But, what do I know? I'm not a dog trainer. Finally, I found a trainer that seemed to understand my dog and also who does Schutzhund. She told me, my dog is not really reactive and that desensitizing will not work with the problem we are having. By looking at her, she saw that she gets that "prey fixation" when she sees other dogs, and gets agitated when she can't get to them. The trainer said this often happens when a dog like mine with high drive will fixate on things when their needs are not being met and/or they are never blocked and redirected from fixating on undesireable (to us) things. Like it could be, since my dog who spent most of her time in a back yard alone to her own devices, that she was basically just fixating on things to try to satisfy her drive and developed this obsession. At least, that is how I understood it. I also understood that frustration builds, so the more she wanted to go after something and couldn't, it only made her want it more, like vicious cycle. We practiced things like having her go after her toy while on a long leash in the presence of another dog that the trainer was walking. Holy crap, she hit that toy 10x harder than usual. Holy crap, she actually had a 95% recall rate on the first call, in the presence of the largest distraction ever (for her)! The trainer said my dog has to learn that I am the one who satisfies her and that my dog will start to learn to stop fixating on other dogs. We are also starting some obedience training with her and the trainer often has a dog in a kennel to serve as a distraction. The problem is, after only a few times, my dog does not even notice the dogs there much any more. The first day we were there, she was a crazy mess over a dog in the kennel, she saw it before we even got out of the car. Now, she doesn't even look at it. I think because she knows she is going for training. But, at home, we are still having difficulties when out on walks, it's getting better and vocal reactions are down, but she still tries to pull. Can I ever expect this to stop? I am reading a Schutzhund book and it says that dogs can make an "imprint" with particular training places, could this be what is happening and why her reactions are different compared to in real life situations? I wanted to write to you and was wondering if NDT can help us, because even though her training seems to be going well on the "training field", it is taking much longer to cross-over into real life. Do you have any exercises to recommend that can complement what we are already doing? Thanks for reading, sorry for being so long-winded.


Kevin Behan over 3 years ago
Yes what you are articulating is manic prey instinct "missile lock," a state of fixation indeed. The problem remains however that you must shift your dog into Prey Drive and get beyond prey instinct. Prey Drive could more accurately be called "The Drive-to-Make-Contact." (All behavior has a preyful aspect as its emotional ground, the essence toward which the animal is drawn, this is true even for prey animals as well.) The difference between prey instinct and Prey Drive is that the latter is flexible, it can take new inputs as the stimuli (in your case the distracting dog) is incorporated into the dog's sense of its group. In Prey Drive she can feel that the "Object-of-Resistance" is a dog, with an essence--this encourages smelling--as opposed to going by form and seeing dog as prey animal. She's not trying to make contact with dog, integrate with it, just bring it to ground. (Consider that when a wolf is hunting a physically superior prey, he must feel what the prey is feeling in order to sense what to do next. As hard as it might seem to believe, this is the genesis of social energy. In prey instinct on the other hand the predator doesn't need to make social contact with its prey because it can dispatch it singly.) Unfortunately you are continuing to reinforce your dog's state of fixation with the manner of play, which doesn't diminish that it's having a therapeutic influence since at least she has an emotional ground in her mouth. But nevertheless you're not shifting her emotional impression of dogs, just tuning them out leaves them highly charged in her mind and then when you are on your neighborhood walks that charge eventually bleeds back in. There are five core exercises that convert the manic prey instinct into Prey Drive (Drive-to-Make-Contact) so that your dog begins to soften to "dog on the horizon" stimuli which at the moment she now perceives as a small-prey trigger. When you engage with your dog on this level, you then have the opportunity to begin to teach your dog how to connect with other dogs. You are playing the role of the other dog and shaping her Drive to be of a higher capacity so that she can feel how to integrate with another dog. Your dog doesn't need to socialize with dogs to become more social, the handler can teach the dog to become social with them, molding the Drive-to-Make-Contact by way of the five core exercises begins to soften her. You should stop all ball play, eye-contacting exercises and a giving your dog attention indoors, these all reinforce the state of being overly fixated whenever stimulated. Shift to bite-and-carry a large heavy bite object, like a sleeve or heavy rope tug. Another common symptom of this syndrome is hyper-friendliness to people, so it's likely that you will have to increase her aggression to strangers (aggression raises her "Prey Threshold" and thus initiates a process of elaboration so that emotional values can shift rather than remain fixated in memory) in order to convert the manic prey instinct into Prey Drive.
GSD over 3 years ago
Thanks for your advice and information. That's so interesting that you mention "hyper-friendliness to people", because that is exactly how she is. Way too friendly and interested in people and greeting visitors. She's the dog that will lick a robber to death rather than do anything. Heck, she doesn't even bark when people come to the door. But, after she's met a visitor, she will ignore them. I don't play ball with her, more tug. You mean that I have to use a larger, heavier tug? Like how big? What is "bite and carry", let her get it and have it to carry around? As for eye-contacting exercises, you mean eye contact with other dogs or with me or both? I haven't been doing eye-contact exercises with other dogs (the first trainers wanted me to to that, but I stopped with them). But, I have been practicing focus exercises with me. As for no contact indoors, is she allowed around us if we ignore her or you mean to keep her more isolated? I do also have another dog that she gets along with super well. What to do with him as far as allowing play, etc? Thanks again for reading. I am just hoping we can get through this, but sometimes it feels like fighting a loosing battle. She's a great dog aside from this problem, I'm trying my best for her!!
GSD over 3 years ago
I made a larger tug out of a jean leg to use for now until I can get a better one. I tugged with her a bit and then let her carry it around. She was shaking it like crazy and then kind of slouching over it and got very calm, acting very different than usual. She had never done this with her regular tug, with that she more prances around when I let her have it. When I outed her, she went back to her perky, wide-eyed self, waiting for the okay again. Her demeanour completely changed. Is this the purpose of using a sleeve or larger tug, to simulate a more substantial prey? Or did I do something wrong? I was also wondering, but forgot to ask before, what is the correlation between manic prey instinct and hyper-friendliness towards people? I don't know how I'd even start to find a trainer to help me "teach my dog to be less friendly", I don't think that will fly very well, lol. All kidding aside, I don't necessarily want her to be less friendly, just less interested, if that makes sense. I would really prefer she just ignore people or be indifferent towards them, unless that it what you meant. Same with dogs. Thanks again for reading.
Kevin Behan over 3 years ago
One way of stating the problem your dog is experiencing is that she has a high prey threshold by temperament, but she's been developed along a low prey threshold approach. So killing the mouse won't satisfy her temperament since she needs to take on the moose. This is the purpose of the big, heavy bite toy that you want her to carry rather than shake, rattle and vibrate. Have tug and dog both on a lead/rope and only allow her to carry it, not tear it apart. Also, do not out her, you need to challenge her and let her growl at you and then carry it around. When you want to get the tug away, you have her jump up on a raised platform, stone, box of some sort and you can use a high collar, but she might just drop it automatically. It's a finesse issue and one should not make it a control issue. You don't want her to want to give you the tug, all this training is at the root of her problem. You want her to exhibit the fight to maintain contact, this is the energy that dogs on the horizon are attracting. Ideally you could have a helper try to steal the toy from her in order to develop some sharpness to strangers, again this is attracting dog-on-horizon energy. Friendliness is a defensive response. So she feels defensive toward people, hence the intense expression of personality (note how you feel when you manifest intense displays of personality. Personality is a coping response to Pressure) Also it's impossible to ask a dog to not show interest. Millions of years of evolved instinct, her own life history, has informed her that she should be interested and there is no Reason one can give her that can neutralize this pent up charge. What one has to recognize that she is attracted to dog-on-horizon with a charged degree of energy that is too intense for her temperament to process, hence hyper-manic prey instinct is activated since it conducts the most amount of instinctive energy. In the human point of view your dog is on the prowl for a dog to attack. But from your dog's point of view she is merely being vigilant for a dog about to attack her. Imagine what one would feel like if on walks down street someone jumped out and attacked us? We'd become hyper vigilant and pro-active about attacking first rather than being blind sided. The overwhelming influence of physical memory on the dog's mind is the fundamental distinction between human and canine perspective. So to cure the dog the charge has to return to neutral, she can't just forget that she has a charge, that would defy all known laws of physics. Instead we have to attract that which we don't like our dog expressing so that we are in position to bring it to resolution. Having her fight for the big tug converts hyper-manic prey instinct into Drive-To-Make-Contact. Trust this is clear.
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