Posting from Tintagel

Canis lupus predatory sequence / prey drive

August 16, 2017 | 8 Minute Read

The history of hunting with dogs is strictly related to the history of human and technological and cultural development. Throughout history the needs of the hunter evolved, the hunting formula also changed. Primitive spears and javelins have been replaced with bows and crossbows, and finally with modern firearms. Formerly hunters used the help of dogs which tracked the wild animal, chased and cornered it until the human arrived. Today they rely on gun dogs specialized in locating the hunted animal (pointers), flushing out (spaniels, dachshunds), fetching (retrievers) or tracking a wounded animal (limers). Formerly means when hunting was a human profession or directly a factor for survival.

Wolves are typical predators, their menu is composed of hunted prey, mostly ungulates (deer), though in case of its lack they won’t despise a hare, bird or a small rodent. The pack - or part of of the pack, depending on the situation - adapts their hunting strategy to the tracked/spotted prey, its size and condition. The trackers start, their job which is locating the prey and informing the rest of the pack about it. After them the stalkers enter, scattering the herd, from which a potential prey has been singled out, they surround it and cut off the escape routes guiding it straight towards the remaining wolves which wait with the attack until their potential prey drops out of strength.
The system of their ‘primal’ hunting is extremely similar to the classic hunting with scent-hounds. It relied on unleashing the dogs for the purpose of tracking and waiting for their first characteristic barking (“proclamation”) informing about spotting a track - a signal for the human (far away) that the dogs start the chase (“roundup”). From that moment the hunter could follow the constant barking (“real hunt”) which encircled when the tracked pray was localized (“obvious hunt”) by dogs and their “readable” barking changed tone (“enactment”). This way the hunter, back in the day, read “the map of the hunt” from a distance so he could reach the sound signaled spot at the right time.[1] Scent-hounds didn’t stalk the animal towards the hunter as the wolves do their towards pack mates. Their job didn’t exceed cutting off the escape routes until the human arrives.
I found - going to history - hunting with sight-hounds especially interesting. Dogs of that breed played a comprehensive role in the hunt, including wolf hunting. Sight-hounds are representatives of one of the oldest types. Unlike many others they followed sight instead of scent during the hunt. They were not only agile but also primarily independent. Hunting usually on open terrain, after localizing the prey pivoting among the bushes, they cut its route in a straight line and hit it with great speed. The accompanying horsemen had to catch up to them at the moment of the grabbing in order to take over the prey.[2] Interestingly, in Poland sight-hounds are the breed which requires obtaining a special permission from appropriate institutions in order to keep/breed them. Hunting with them has been prohibited by law since 1945. They’re officially recognized as ‘melee weapon’.

The dog predatory sequence has been permanently shortened during its domestication process.


It’s not complete, like it is in the case of the wolf or any other wild predator in it’s natural environment. Moreover, the human initially selected and consequently manipulated on purpose with each link of that sequence, performing a selection, creating types of dogs fitting human’s needs. Dogs used as aid during hunting - to tracking, pointing, flushing it out - should stop the pattern on chasing/grabbing the potential prey.


Scent-hounds were specialized in tracking, working independently were supposed to pick up a track and follow it.


Other dogs, participating in the modern hunt, have the predatory sequence links reinforced according to their purpose of pointing the located pray.


Retrievers assist the hunt by fetching the shot animal. They don’t participate in exact hunting but cooperate with the huntsman.


From the primal prey drive behavior permanently disappeared two more links connecting the domesticated dog with the wild wolf. Remaining ones were selectively reinforced or weakened - a dog assisting the human during a hunt should not kill the cornered prey, that’s the human’s job. Dog food resources are disposed by a human, that’s why dogs don’t need to hunt. Cows and sheep (herbivore) herding required (and still requires) a rational leading and protection - herds count many animals (domesticated, human dependent) and need a certain space.

australian shepherd: WTCH Cut’n Loose Cowpoke “Jake” | Wabun K-Jee “Bread” /source: ASCA/

Herding dogs follow their herding behavior thanks to their modified predatory sequence inclination where inherited treating livestock as a potential prey was reduced by strict selective breeding. German Shepherds are tending guard dogs acting like a living fence during herding. Similarly Australian Shepherds work independently, especially with cows - by attacking their head/horns and grabbing pasterns if it’s necessary.


Border Collies rather stay behind the herd for keeping a livestock in a group. They get in the front of it using the strong eye to stare down the animals.


Historically, dogs which were able to attack the livestock could be used to hunt. Those which still presented youthful behavior as an adult and didn’t have a drive to herd or hunt, became the perfect livestock guarding dogs. Their prey drive remained permanently and almost completely weakened. Their job was to locate potential predator and to chase it away (by barking for example). Polish Tatra Sheepdogs don’t try to attack the approaching predator (in order not to leave the livestock unattended) but gather up the sheep and stand by them instead. Central Asian Shepherd Dogs were breed especially to protect the livestock against wolves. Both of them are territorial, protective and make fully independent decisions. Contrary to them, terriers, as a breed type, were specialized in killing rodents (i.e. rats), rabbits or foxes. That’s why their prey drive was preserved almost in complete (excluding the final chain-link).

Prey drive is an instinctive carnivore behavior which triggers the predatory sequence. The wolf predatory sequence remains complete. It means that as a typical predator, a wolf can not only kill but - when necessary - consume its prey, where movement has meaning - by moving the potential prey initiates the predatory sequence into action and fleeing is an element of the traditional prey drive mechanism.


Similarly scent-hounds as sight-hounds worked in group but did not create a pack. They cooperated with one another during tracking and the rest of hunt. Excluding mentioned elements they were used to calmly accompany the human who traveled by foot or rode a horse.
Living in a family pack is a wolf domain. Each pack hunts on a strictly outlined terrain where borders are carefully guarded, solidly marked and respected by neighboring wolf packs. The structure of that territory is strict while humans - with or without dogs - usually hunt in many, random, freely picked places.
Before the human began farming and as a result of that cutting out forests as the wolf adversary for hunting grounds, his main source of survival was hunting and hence competing with the wolf - and other predators - for the prey. As time passed by, instead of forests, farming grounds emerged and after them industrial human settlements. Modern huntsmen hunt with rifles, they spot and shot from afar, so they specialize their dogs basing on their practical use and/or their breed predispositions, for example dachshunds are used to flush rabbits out of their dens, fox-terriers to battue. Looking on it from a strictly “mechanical” side - the human doesn’t take part in the modern hunting.

[1] about the hunt with scent-hounds /Polish only/
[2] about the hunt with sight-hounds /Polish only/
used photos:
(1) Yellowstone the Leopold pack - elk stalking, source: Yellowstone National Park
(2) “Calling the Hounds Out of Cover” by Heywood Hardy
(3) “Borzoi” wolf hunting by Alexei Stepanov
(4) “English Setters” by Thomas Blinks
(5) Jeanine’s Sam border collie by Sue Deutscher
(6) Yellowstone the Druid pack - elk chasing, source: Yellowstone National Park