An excellent question from the web:
“Since we don’t all “work” our dogs enough to let them fully express their natural prey instincts – we don’t all have access to sheep for herding, wild fowl for hunting, or decoys for biting), pet owners of dogs with high prey drives can really have a hard time dealing with it on a daily basis – imagine your dog going nuts on the leash whirling, spinning, vocalizing every time he sees or hears something he thinks is a prey animal and not being able to come back down to earth for another 20 minutes even after that thing is long gone!. These dogs can be very easy work with if you can focus their instincts on a toy that you control – they can be the most enthusiastic and eager to please. No difficulty in motivating these dogs! But it can also be difficult when other things that you can’t control, trigger their prey instincts at inopportune moments!”
This question is understandable from the perspective of behavioral science because if something like a “fixed action pattern” is being “reinforced” won’t it become stronger and more of a feature of the dog’s orientation? Isn’t my dog going to become more and more maniacal about incidental prey, deer, squirrels, etc. that we run across on walks or in the yard if I’m encouraging it to bite things? Revealingly, we can see in the current state of dogdom that the exact opposite is the case. Millions of owners have been successfully educated by behavioral science that they should discourage their dog’s oral urges and prey instinct in order to maximize its domesticated nature. The modern dog owner is now far more worried about teaching their dog not to bite than were previous generations of owners when it was more commonly accepted that not all dogs were friendly or should be expected to be friendly. How often do you hear the expression that’s a “one man dog” these days? The idea that one should teach a dog not-to-bite is seemingly buttressed by the theory of domestication that dogs are denatured from their wild heritage in that they are descended from scavengers that came in from the cold of the village dump, and are now so thoroughly adapted to human culture that their nature is fundamentally different from proto-dog or ancestral wolf. But the paradox has now become that currently there is so much aggression and hyper-reactivity in dogs precisely because their prey-making hardware/software was either, under-exercised or was actively repressed, distracted, and desensitized.
To understand this we need to make a distinction between prey instincts and prey DRIVE. Prey instinct is a fixed action pattern that elicits a hardwired string of reflexes. Drive on the other hand is a state of emotional suspension that is attuned to the energetic parameters of the moment, and can smoothly select from a repertoire of reflexes that FEEL most suitable to the context. Therefore, PREY DRIVE DOESN’T EXCITE PREY INSTINCT, IT CALMS IT.
Being In-Drive is the capacity to feel potential energy and the strength of this feeling enables a dog to self-modify and even limit its actions in order to maintain that state of suspension. Instinct is a sheer downloading, relief-seeking from a build up of tension state of experience. And a feeling of potential energy (rather than any kind of cognitive understanding) allows a dog to hold itself back without building up an emotional charge, in other words, actually feeling rewarded by doing nothing or working to attune itself to its owner if that is called for. An instinct is the collapse of an animal’s emotional capacity into a species-specific repertoire of reflexes whereas when a dog is in drive its feeling of potential energy is the strongest part of its awareness and its feeling of being in suspension with its owner, is its reward so that therefore the incidental prey animal IS NOT potential energy. An owner does not need sheep or birds or anything natural to induce a state of suspension with a dog. They just need to become a complex object of resistance that the dog can overcome by tuning in and attuning to.
So by encouraging a dog’s drive, and since NDT says all drive is related to the hunt/prey, it therefore lowers the dog’s threshold of excitation toward its owner while simultaneously raising the dog’s excitation toward an actual prey animal that hasn’t become integrated as part of the drive expression. Amazingly, the dog becomes more excited by the fake prey as offered by its owner than the real prey that might be encountered naturally. Drive in service to the hunt is emotional alchemy.