Prey drive is the natural instinct to chase prey and objects that resemble prey, including children. Because the doberman is a highly intelligent working dog, it tends to notice prey-like items in its environment and is very likely to chase them. With careful training, you can dramatically reduce prey drive.
Socialize your dog to small animals and children beginning in puppyhood. Early socialization can dramatically decrease your dog's likelihood of chasing prey and is much easier than eliminating prey drive once it's become a problem. Expose your dog to children, cats and other prey-like animals on a daily basis at pet stores, dog parks and walking down the street. Ask your dog to sit or stay and reward him with a treat and a click from the training clicker when he doesn't chase children and animals.
Give your doberman plenty of exercise. The breed is bred to work all day and has lots of energy. When dobermans don't have an outlet for this energy, their prey drive can increase and they may develop behavior problems. Advanced obedience classes and schutzhund training can help keep your dog's mind and body active. At minimum, give your dog at least one hour of exercise daily.
Teach your dog not to chase animals by starting at a safe distance. If your dog reacts to cats who are 10 feet away, start with a cat 11 feet away. When you see the cat, ask your dog to sit or look at you, and stuff her full of treats. This teaches her that paying attention to you is more rewarding than chasing prey. Repeat this exercise as frequently as possible on a daily basis for one to two weeks. You may need to enlist the assistance of a dog trainer or a friend who has cats to ensure you can repeat the exercise regularly.
Decrease the distance between your dog and the prey animal or child by one foot each week. Continue rewarding your dog for not chasing the animal, and if he attempts to give chase, hold him firmly to prevent him running, but do not give him any attention or tug harshly on the leash. If your dog pulls particularly hard, an anti-pull harness can help you control him when he's inclined to chase.
- If your dog has previously attacked small animals or children, never leave him alone with them, even after you've conditioned away the prey drive. Your dog may react differently when you're not there to reward him.
Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.