Why having a dog with a strong predation instinct isn’t always a bad thing

Chester looking very proud after a successful night of mouse hunting.
Chester looking very proud after a successful night of mouse hunting.

By Bill Mayeroff

It’s not easy to love terriers. But I do it anyway.

Anyone who knows anything about terriers can tell you that my dog Chester is indeed 100 percent terrier. He’s stubborn. He’s got a ton of energy. He loves to try to run after whatever small, fuzzy critters might cross his path. He’s perfect for me, but he wouldn’t be the right dog for everyone.

One of the toughest aspects of Chester’s personality to deal with is his ridiculously strong predation instinct. He’s a terrier and terriers were originally bred to hunt and kill vermin. So when we go out for walks, he wants to go after any squirrels, rabbits, mice, rats or chipmunks we might encounter. It’s tough, but with management, it’s fine. If I see him starting to eye a rodent of some sort, I usually just turn him around and walk in the other direction or just stop him in his tracks until the rodent runs off. I’m unlikely to ever be able to train him to not go after fuzzy creatures, so this is the best I can do.

That strong predation instinct isn’t always a bad thing, either. Recently, I was hanging out on my couch with Chester when I saw a little mouse scurry across the floor behind my TV stand. I hate mice and I hate them even more when they’re in my apartment, so I was not happy about this.

But luckily, I have my own, personal, live-in mouse killer. That’s right, folks. Chester was there to save the day. I pointed out the mouse to him and he went after it. He stalked it back and forth across the living room. He flushed it out from behind the couch. When he finally got it into the open, he got it in his mouth and that was that. And the best part? He dropped it immediately after he killed it. He didn’t even try to eat it. So I was able to pick it up and quickly get it out to the trash without having to pry it out of his mouth.

It’s moments like that when I’m really glad I never attempted to train him out of going after rodents. I love the fact that if a mouse makes its way into the apartment, I can turn Chester loose and he’ll take care of the problem. He’s done it before, in fact. He got another mouse in my apartment a few months back and he’s gotten a couple rats in my parents’ backyard (among other things; his total kill count stands at 8 since September of 2011).

I’ve written before about how dog training isn’t about creating a perfectly-behaved dog. Rather, it’s about figuring out what behaviors you can and can’t live with in order to peacefully coexist with your dog. Chester’s drive and ability to kill rodents is a behavior I’m happy to live with because while most days, it could be seen as a hassle (I don’t actually see it that way; I’m just pointing out that some might), it has occasional benefits that I think outweigh the cons. 

There’s no real moral to this story, by the way. I just wanted to point out that sometimes, behaviors we tend to think are undesirable can have unexpected payoffs.

********

Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

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