Prey drive: The instinctive behavior of a predator animal to chase prey. Like many other terms in the world of dog behavior; prey drive is a hot one. I just read one definition of prey drive being the drive of a prey animal (fight or flight). And the predator definition was in fact predator drive; makes more sense actually. But we all know the hardwired behavior as prey drive; so I will use it. Most dogs have some sort of drive relating to the instinctive chase. Although there have been a few dogs that have none; I mean absolutely no drive to chase at all. I am always shocked when I am in the presence of these dogs and find it most interesting that they have been domesticated beyond their insticts. Watching a dog in a yard with birds wandering around; the birds flapping in mock take-offs as the dog simply watches them? I am simply mesmerized. Most dogs seeing a flapping bird on the ground instinctively go into "chase" mode.
I tend to use the term "chase drive" more often as it gives a clearer explanation of what is going on in the dogs mind. Some dogs are more driven by idea of prey; the end goal being to catch the prey. Many are driven by the chase; they may catch whatever they are after ie: frisbee or ball but have no kill instinct. My girl Tilley is a great example of drive. Her drive is off the charts. It manifested into a problem behavior quite young; at the age of only 4 months she was displaying shadow chasing; a common issue with dogs who have high drive. She quickly learned that in a big sunny yard a shadow was a very reliable prey. This gave her an almost constant victim for her drive. But Tilley has no kill instinct; she accidentally killed one rabbit years ago simply by catching it. There was no shaking; no kill tactics involved, it simply died of fright when she caught it. Rabbits are very delicate creatures.
Jessie on the other hand has killed her fair share of creatures and she does kill them. She is a typical Jack Russell; highly triggered by motion and pursuit follows, if the catch is accomplished the kill follows. Once the tiny creature is no longer moving; there is no longer drive. Many dogs will walk away at this point. Jessie has but she has also swallowed down several of the tinier creatures when asked to drop them. This is also very instinctive; rather than loose the prize, swallow. With intense behavior work Tilley's drive was manipulated and redirected. This was accomplished by rewarding her for chasing balls and frisbees and verbally scolding any shadow chasing.
High drive dogs make for very good performance dogs; frisbee, flyball, schutzhund etc. But drive can be tough for the inexperienced; that is why temperament testing is so important. Often during one of my temperament tests not one puppy will chase or follow an object. Sometimes there is one, two or a whole litter of driven puppies. Mostly it depends on the breed, sometimes the lines within the particular breeding. There is now a big push to breed more driven performance dogs. On one hand this makes perfect sense but on the other it is extremely detrimental. Many puppies bred with super drive and end up as "just the family dog" finally make their way to the shelter because their family cannot handle the drive. Drive can be good and bad; depending on where the dog ends up.