Updated: Jun 28
The flirt pole is a great way to provide exercise to a dog within a confined space, train for impulse control, and build communication. Many people are worried that it will increase their dog’s prey drive or teach him to chase things. In reality, the flirt pole can be an excellent outlet for satisfying a dog’s prey drive, resulting in a reduction of behaviors like chasing cats.
In this post:
Understanding prey drive.
Prey drive is an instinctual behavior. That means that dogs are born with it. It isn't something that we can teach them, and it isn't something that we can "train out" of a dog. We can, however, provide appropriate outlets for prey drive that decrease the behaviors we don't want to see.
Prey drive is a ‘modal action pattern,’ which means that it is made up of a series of behaviors. Prey drive is believed to be made up of seven behaviors:
Every dog will find more satisfaction in some areas than in others; for example, while one dog may enjoy the chase but not care about the bite (think of a dog that is excited to chase a toy, then doesn't actually pick the toy up when he gets to it), another dog may not care about chasing a toy, but has fun with the "bite-kill" (think of a dog who grabs a toy and shakes it with all his might).
Take note of your dog's actions and play style to help determine which behaviors are the most satisfying to him. While there is certainly a correlation between breed and prey drive, every dog is an individual and has the potential to deviate from their breed standard. The individual’s specific needs and behaviors should always be considered rather than what the breed is ‘supposed’ to do.
Meeting a dog's needs.
Think of a dog’s prey drive as a series of cups with a hole at the bottom. Some cups have a tiny hole and drain slowly, some have a large hole and drain quickly. When a cup is full, the dog is satisfied. As a cup drains, it needs to be refilled.
Think again of the dog who loves the chase, but doesn't seem to care about the bite. He has a large hole in his ‘chase’ cup but a small hole in his ‘bite-hold’ cup. He needs to practice the chase much more often than the bite to keep both cups full.
For a dog with a large hole in his ‘chase’ cup, the flirt pole can be an excellent way to give him an appropriate outlet for the behavior. This can lessen his need to chase other things, such as squirrels or cats. He may still perform an unwanted behavior if the opportunity arises, but he will be less likely to seek it out to fill his cup.
Using a flirt pole as an outlet.
If your dog is big on chasing cats or other small animals, using the flirt pole in combination with training can make a huge difference.
When introducing the flirt pole, you may need to entice your dog to chase the lure (the toy on the end of the cord). You can increase the value of the lure by acting excited about it yourself (intentionally inspecting it, carrying it around with you, treating it like it's special). Dogs often want what we have simply because it's ours.
You can also shape the behavior by rewarding your dog with a high value treat every time he interacts with the toy (when he sniffs it, then when he paws or mouths at it). Move the toy an inch, and reward your dog for moving towards it (which can be a simple head turn or stepping towards it). As your dog is successful, increase the difficulty by moving the toy a little further each time. If your dog catches the toy, reward him with food and praise.
A natural lure, such as one made of untreated feathers, may be more exciting due to its scent. You can also purchase deer or rabbit urine to make the lure more enticing.
Some dogs may find the "stalk" most satisfying. These dogs may get low to the ground or stand very still as they watch the toy, then pounce. This is common in some hunting breeds, such as German Short Haired Pointers. In these cases, your dog doesn't necessarily need to chase the lure to benefit from the flirt pole.
Try using the lure for a few minutes a couple of times a week. Increase the frequency for high-drive dogs, and decrease the frequency if your dog begins to lose interest. Keep play sessions short and end them before your dog gets bored to keep the flirt pole exciting.
Give your dog the opportunity to catch the lure frequently to avoid building frustration. Allow him to catch it every three seconds, slowly increasing the time between catches as he gains confidence (though continue to throw in some quick catches, too).
Flirt pole safety.
With any physical activity, it is important to pay close attention to your dog's physical needs to prevent injury.
Avoid sharp turns, especially if your dog chases at high speeds. A quick turn can result in joint and ligament injuries.
If your dog limps, appears to be sore, or seems "cranky" after a play session, he may be experiencing pain. Consult your vet before using the flirt pole again.
Always use the flirt pole with one dog at a time to avoid creating conflict between two or more dogs. High energy games can escalate into a tense situation.
If your dog presents any resource guarding behaviors (trying to keep the lure away from you, freezing over the lure, growling, etc.), consult with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer before using the flirt pole again.
Have questions about how to best introduce the flirt pole or otherwise manage behaviors related to prey drive? Schedule a consultation today!
Author: Margo Butler, CPDT-KA