Predatory Motor Sequence Basics
Eyes, ears, nose. Can get their attention using short, quick, erratic movements. Think prey animal darting from one safe spot to another.
This is the target-lock. Can engage by using slow, more predictable movements interspersed with small amount of erratic movement. Think prey who hasn’t noticed predator yet, moving calmly.
This is the chase prep. Target is acquired, movement pattern assessed, dog begins moving into advantageous position for chase/ambush. Can engage by adding slightly more erratic movement in direction away from dog. Causes dog to need continued evaluation of movement pattern to choose optimum time to begin chase
Involves commitment. Orient, Eye Stalk, and Stalk are aimed at minimising effort needed for hunt to be successful. Chase is where the dog truly commits to the plan they’ve made. Thinking vs Doing.
This is the most arousing section of the PMS, with arousal peaking the instant before the dog catches (or thinks they’re about to catch) their prey.
We can make this extra rewarding by using long, fast, sweeping motions to allow the dog to get a good run in, letting them get close to the toy, and then whipping it away at the last second. Can add in some change in directions, like large zig-zag motions.
Warning: adding in too many direction changes may take the dog out of Doing mode, and put them back in Thinking mode. We have to find the balance that keeps our dogs feeling as if they’re just about to win. If there’s too much direction change, too much unpredictable movement, or too much failure, this tells the dog they need to go back to the beginning of the sequence, because their plan is failing and they’re expending too much energy.
The moment the prey is caught. Prey are held in place for a short moment in an effort to subdue the prey’s movement, and allow the dog to focus all energy on delivering the kill-bite. They don’t want to also be fighting the prey to stop it from escaping. We can make this extra rewarding by jerking the toy around in their grip for short periods, then simply letting them hold it. The act of holding prey in their mouths produces endorphins, and begins the downward slope of the arousal curve.
Kill-bites can involve extended periods of deep pressure (usually holding the neck for strangulation), and/or intense shaking of the head (to break the neck, or cause fatal organ injury). To make this part satisfying, the best thing we can do is let them have full control of the toy and cheer them on. Some breeds/breed groups need this time to hold their “kill” and begin bringing their arousal levels down. The combo of grab-bite and kill-bite – and the act of holding on to or possessing prey – is an important part of emotional regulation, and allows dogs to bring themselves back down to homeostasis after high arousal and high energy activity.
Tearing the outer flesh and breaking bones in order to access most valuable part of the kill, which is the internal organs. These contain the most nutrient density, and make the expensive activity of hunting calorically worthwhile.
Dissecting can be done on their own, or with friends! Alone, this usually involves using the claws (this is what dew claws are for!) to hold the prey down and tear upwards with the teeth. With friends, this involves each dog holding part of the prey and pulling oppositionally.
If our dogs most enjoy doing this activity individually, or display resource guarding behaviour, we can allow them to enjoy this activity and simply encourage them from the sidelines. Otherwise, this is what tug is for! Move the toy side to side, interspersed with long pulls towards you, and release the tension often to allow your dog to pull back. Release the toy often to allow your dog to show you whether they would like the tug to continue, or whether it’s time to stop.
The eating of the prey. Of course, we don’t want our dogs to actually eat their toys! But individual dogs will find different types of textiles satisfying to chew in this portion of the sequence. Dogs who have this portion of their PMS intact will often find chewing on a rubber leather, or hard plastic toy very satisfying. Chuck It balls are my favourite for this, but Kongs also work very well.
Dissect and Consume are important self-soothers that activate the neuroendocrine system. Digestive systems are closely related to neurological systems of stress response and management, such as the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal)-axis.
The mechanics of eating, such as chewing and licking, are self-soothing behaviours as a result of this relationship. When dogs settle down to dissect and consume “prey”, their systems are flooded with hormones like endorphins and dopamine, which work to counteract the adrenaline used by the body in the first half of the predatory motor sequence.