Chihuahua sniffing grass.

Coming in at 5 pounds, it’s sometimes hard to see the wolf inside our beloved chihuahuas. Yet even though they look nothing like their ancient ancestors, chihuahuas still have instincts for hunting and killing. We call these instincts your Chihuahua’s prey drive, and without outlets for these instincts, you may end up seeing inappropriate behavior in your pet.

Prey drive takes several forms. These forms include: searching, stalking, chasing, catching, killing, carrying, dissecting, and eating. We will cover each one of these instincts in this article, with appropriate outlets for each.

Searching

Before you can catch and kill prey, you have to find it. Wolves spend many hours in the wild searching for prey and tracking their location by scent. After they were domesticated, dogs spent generations doing the same thing alongside human companions.

Although your chihuahua is smaller than those original dogs, that instinct is well preserved. Your pet may express his urge to search for prey by:

  • “Finding” your leftover dinner up high on the table or counter, and alerting you to the fact that they want it.
  • Obsessively sniffing everything on walks and following tracks
  • Going crazy when they spot movement out the window.

These can tip into bad behavior when your dog is freaking over every leaf that falls from the sky. Although providing searches in your own house may not entirely resolve the behavior, it will stimulate your dog’s brain and give them something non-destructive to do.

You can give your dog a fun search activity by hiding their favorite toy or treat in a closed off room, and then bringing the dog in to find it.

At first, you’ll need to show your dog where it is and make a big fuss when they “find” it. After a few tries however, your pet will know the goal of the game is to find their special toy or a treat. You can be pretty sneaky about hiding it and as long as it is in reach, they’ll figure it out.

Hide and seek is a great game to entertain your pet when it is cold or rainy out, just for fun, or to ease separation anxiety.

Stalking/Chasing/Catching/Killing

When your dog sees a squirrel in the backyard, how does he approach it? Does he run at it yelling and barking, or does he approach slowly, freezing at key moments before rushing forward? If your dog ever freezes during play, stalking is a predatory behavior he enjoys.

Many dogs skip this part entirely, preferring instead to gleefully chase anything that moves. Regardless of which one he prefers, you can give them an outlet for these behaviors with a flirt pole.

A flirt pole looks like a fishing pole with the bait being a soft fluffy toy for your pet to grab. Flirt poles are better than fetch toys for dogs that like to stalk and chase, because it is easier for you to mimic a live animal.

Instead of merely moving the toy away from your chihuahua, try pausing and making erratic movements to let them stalk, chase, and catch to their hearts content.

Ripping/Tearing/Dissecting

You might think predatory instincts end with killing an animal to eat, but there are actually more predatory instincts for your pet to resolve. Ripping and tearing are common instincts that often get your pet into trouble. Ripping, tearing and dissecting prey are important behaviors for wild animals to eat, and your chihuahua still has those instincts.

If you’ve ever given your chihuahua a plush toy only to find stuffing everywhere, you’ve seen your chihuahua’s prey drive at work.

If you don’t want to spend an enormous amount of money buying sacrificial stuffies for your pet, you can simulate this need with paper. Offer your chihuahua a tissue, piece of paper, or paper towel and watch the fun.

As long as you can supervise the behavior and make sure they don’t ingest large amounts of paper, this is a fun and harmless activity. A single tissue costs a lot less than a whole stuffie, but still makes that satisfying ripping sensation for your pet.

Eating

Chihuahua with Kong.
Excavating food from a Kong is satisfying!

Eating is the final stage of prey behavior. Eating often gets satisfied to a degree because your dog is regularly fed. If your dog was eating whole prey however, that food would be hard won after a lot of that dissecting behavior.

You can make eating more fun for your dog, and fulfill that predatory drive, by giving them their food in puzzles. Food puzzles include things like Kongs, slow feeders, dispensing balls and snuffle mats. If you don’t want to spend money on a puzzle, you can simply wind kibble, treats, or other food into a dish towel, so he has to slowly unroll it to get it out.

Food puzzles benefit all dogs, but they are of particular use to dogs who exhibit signs of boredom. When a dog is constantly at rest and little changes in their day, they may start overreacting to exciting moments to make the most of them.

If your dog goes berserk at the mailman, freaks when you are leaving for work, or otherwise shows extreme behaviors, satisfying his predatory drive with a good mix of all these things may help.

When we see our tiny, cute chihuahuas, its hard to see the wolf within, but recognizing it with answers for their predatory drive can go a long way to making them happy and healthy pets.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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