3 year old female with strong prey drive problem
We have a three year old female Rottweiler who as she has gotten older exhibits a strong prey drive. Lately she has become aggressive around small dogs.
We walk her at least four miles a day so she is getting exercise. We also have her in an agility class. She has learned all the basic commands, sit, stay, down, come, heel etc. Something about small dogs sets her off. There are four other dogs in our group and when they run the course our dog immediately wants to give chase .
We have worked with her to watch our eyes , but today she went off. While getting ready to run the course some of the people in the next class came in and the rule is dogs are to be crated until they run. The person came in with a small poodle which started barking in a high pitch tone and jumping around. My wife gave our dog the command to start the course and she beelined straight at this other dog which was on the other side of the training facility . She immediately became aggressive with this dog and started to fight.
We broke it up before any damage was done, but now we are concerned that this could escalate. She will not do this type of behavior if I am handling her, but with my wife she will if loose chase after squirrels, birds, and especially rabbits.
What should we do ? Thanks.
This is certainly a situation where there could be a tragedy if your Rottie gets loose when there is a small dog or other small pet around... and you're right to want to deal with it quickly.
However, you need more help than I can provide as I really feel some professional hands-on evaluation is necessary and training to 'reshape' her behavior and control this instinctive behavior.
Chasing prey is a very deep-rooted canine instinct, and some breeds (and some individual dogs within each breed) will have a stronger prey drive than others. When it's a large or guardian breed then obviously the risk of someone, or something, getting hurt is much greater. It's difficult to control this behavior (both for the dog and the human) because from the dog's point of view it's instinctive and therefore they don't even think about it they just go! From the owners point of view that makes it happen very fast, often it's unpredictable and there's an element of preventative care needed.
Anything that moves quickly, unpredictably or in a jerky manner is a target... if the movement is accompanied by high-pitched noises, it's even more of a trigger. This is why small dogs, small pets and even children all trigger the prey drive in dogs.
Agility is a great sport that both dogs and owners enjoy, but because of the level of excitement and arousal that running a course at speed entails, it will 'ramp up' your dogs prey drive and make the situation worse. I wouldn't want you to stop the agility, but I really would recommend getting her into an obedience class (or get some at-home lessons) where you can get hands-on, one on one help from a professional trainer who will be able to help you find ways to deal with your dog's tendency to chase anything down.
It won't be a 'quick fix' because the behavior is so instinctive, but with time, patience and repetition you should be able to at least manage it. But personally I absolutely recommend getting professional help to get things under control.
Sorry I can't help more but I hope you find someone who can and that you manage to control her behavior so that she and the other dogs (and you and your wife!) can enjoy agility together.