Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, from a fluffy small dog to a sweet and gentle giant, and everything in between. Their temperaments and personalities can be as varied as their physical attributes due to breed specific traits, genetics and individuality.
Prey drive is just one part of the package, one of a dog's hard-wired and natural instincts, but depending on your home, situation and plans for your dog, it's can be an important part of the equation.
Prey drive is basically a dog's urge to chase down small animals, ie prey.
Dogs breeds with a low prey drive have a generally tolerant, laid back approach to other smaller animals including household pets such as cats, rabbits, guinea pigs... sometimes even smaller dogs too. Even if their interest is piqued, it's usually easy to train them to ignore, and not to chase other small pets.
However, a dog with a high prey drive can be very difficult to persuade to accept other small pets, or livestock, and even with proper training which can go a long way towards minimizing a dogs reactiveness, they may never be 100% reliable, especially when unsupervised, due to their seeing anything small and fast moving as potential prey.
It is an important thing to realize that this does NOT mean these are aggressive dogs! Prey drive is a very deep seated and strong urge to hunt/chase and even kill, anything seen as prey. It exists because dogs are natural predators, but in some breeds this trait has been bred out, or diluted, and in others it has been enhanced.
Either way this alteration is due to different types of dogs being bred for, and trained to do, a multitude of jobs for humans. If prey drive was an important part of the job (ie sight and scent hounds) it was encouraged, if it was a hindrance (ie companions or flock guardians) it was reduced.
It's also worth noting that many dog owners don't realize that a dog's prey drive isn't something that is purely triggered by other animals, or birds.
Anything that is small, moves quickly, makes a high pitched sound, and is possibly unpredictable in it's trajectory can trigger this instinctive behavior. Small children fit this description pretty well and another aspect of prey drive is that they may also be targets, especially for dogs who haven't been raised around kids.
The good news is that if you're looking for a dog with a calm demeanor to become part of the family, there's a fairly diverse collection of breeds for you to choose from. And although these dogs share the same level of prey drive, in terms of size, shape, coat, personality and needs, they can be as different as night and day!
Generally speaking a dog who is more likely to be good around other small animals is going to fall into one of these AKC Groups: Toy, Non Sporting or Working.
But that's not set in stone and there are some dogs from other groups, including the Herding and Sporting groups (such as the Vizsla, Labrador Retriever or Old English Sheepdog for example) that can also be a good choice. So, now let's take a look at some of the best dogs in the low prey drive category...
Here are a dozen low prey drive dogs who make great family pets and are likely to get along with all family members, two legged or four legged!
BICHON FRISE (Toy Group)
The Bichon Frise is an adorable powder puff of a small dog, but it's also fairly sturdy and robust, unlike many other tiny and toy breeds. They're loving, playful and cheerful but don't object to being a lap dog from time to time either. They're not particularly vocal, and due to their size and temperament moderate exercise is enough to keep them happy.
Their soft silky coat needs daily brushing to prevent tangles and matts, and some Bichon Frise owners say they can be a little extra challenging to potty train. An added bonus of the Bichon Frise is that their coat is low shedding and leans towards being hypoallergenic. A boon if you have family members with allergies.
This breeds overall personality, size, affectionate nature and low maintenance needs make them one of the best low prey-drive dogs for families of all kinds.
CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL (Toy Group)
'Full size' spaniels are usually found in the AKC's Sporting Group but the Cavalier King Charles is a tinier version of these dogs, topping out at just over 12" tall and with an average weight of about 15lbs, so he is appropriately categorized in the Toy Group.
Like the Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Spaniels are active dogs, who are adaptable, affectionate, playful and (apart from grooming needs) are fairly low maintenance. Short daily walks are enough to keep this happy little dog, well, happy... but he'll also be up for some horseplay with the kids or even a hike, run or activity like frisbee or dog agility.
With his low prey drive, friendly nature and happy-go-lucky ways this little guy makes a great family dog.
GREAT PYRENEES (Working Group)
The Great Pyrenees is a gentle giant of a dog, with a trademark gorgeous white coat and a sweet and gentle nature. Originally bred (and still frequently used ) as livestock guardians, this large breed can also make a confident, calm and affectionate family pet.
Their thick white coat does shed a fair amount, but grooming needs are moderate. Drool is somewhere in the mid range depending on the individual dog. Because the Great Pyrenees is a working breed who's task is to guard livestock, it has a low prey drive and is unlikely to be interested in, or chase, smaller animals or pets.
They're gentle with children and protective of their family (two legged and four legged). If you're looking for a big, gentle dog, this breed could be exactly what you need.
GOLDEN RETRIEVER (Sporting Group)
The Golden Retriever is a large dog with a low prey drive, and who needs no introduction! The lovable Golden has been steadfastly popular as a beloved family pet for decades, and for good reason.
Gentle, loving, stable and friendly, the Golden Retriever is the all around quintessential family dog (not to mention being one of the breeds that excels in programs for guide dogs and assistance animals).
They do shed quite a bit, and have a tendency to put on weight if not exercised enough (Goldens have mid range energy levels and can be inclined to be sedentary as they get older). Some health conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis can afflict the breed so choosing a pup from health tested parents is important.
KUVASZ (Working Group)
So far the dog breeds know for their low prey drive which are featured on this page are popular breeds that most people are familiar with.
The Kuvasz is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, but is not one that even devout dog lovers necessarily recognize, or know much, about. Like the Great Pyrenees, the Kuvasz were bred to be livestock guard dogs, and they resemble the Great Pyrenees in size and coat (which helped them to tolerate the cold weather in Hungary where the breed originated).
This guardian of livestock is generally not inclined to chase, or pay attention to, small animals, or to see them as prey. Kuvasz are very affectionate, good with young children, and extremely trainable, early socialization and training is important to ensure a well rounded and confident adult.
As with most working dogs they do need mental stimulation and adequate exercise in order to be happy and well balanced.
This is another great choice if you're looking for a large, confident and athletic dog whose prey drive is on the low end of the scale.
MALTESE (Toy Group)
We seem to be on a roll when it comes to white dogs with low prey drive, because the Maltese is yet another breed that has both!
A smaller breed that is at home in the AKC's Toy Group, this is a little dog who is easy going but bold and fearless at the same time.
Maltese are also active, playful dogs who are extremely affectionate... but can also be a lazy couch potato when the mood strikes. Short walks are all that's needed in terms of daily exercise but be aware that the beautiful Maltese coat needs daily grooming and professional maintenance.
Friendly with most other dogs, people and animals and with a low prey drive, the Maltese is definitely one of the best dog breeds on the smaller end of the scale if these traits are what you're looking for.
OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG (Herding Group)
With the word 'sheepdog' in his name, it's no surprise that this big, bouncy, shaggy dog is a herding breed!
The Old English is extremely loving and affectionate, adaptable, extremely playful, great with children and usually good with other dogs.
He's protective of his family and 'flock' but disinclined to chase down smaller pets or animals as his prey drive is low. As with all working dog breeds, especially herding dogs and the large/extra large breeds, early training and socialization are very important if you want your dog to be confident, social and well behaved.
The downsides (if you consider them that) of the Old English Sheepdog are his coat, which requires a fair amount of daily care at home, and regular professional maintenance, plus a tendency to drool . He also sheds a fair amount (not surprising when you look at all that hair!).
If you have room in your home and heart for this big, beautiful dog he will be an awesome family member.
PAPILLON (Toy Group)
The Papillon is an old European breed of toy spaniel, and the breeds name is a nod to the characteristic large, erect ears with long fringed hair.. they resemble butterfly wings and papillon means butterfly in French.
This is another of the small dog breeds who have a low prey drive, combined with a happy, upbeat, friendly personality and heart just overflowing with love and affection.
Adaptable and very trainable, this is a small dog who needs an above average amount of exercise and mental stimulation to be happy and healthy.
Papillons are sturdier than their delicate looks and silky coat suggest, and the coat needs less upkeep than many other small breeds. Overall these little dogs make great family pets.
POMERANIAN (Toy Group)
The Pomeranian is a feisty, friendly, energetic and affectionate ball of fluff.
They're great family dogs because of their lively and fun personality, trainability and adaptability. They also have a low prey drive and usually get along pretty well with other dogs, people and pets.
The Pomeranian coat does need regular grooming and they often like to hear the sound of their own voices!
Pomeranians have mid range energy levels and although they're small, they're intelligent dogs who need regular physical and mental exercise to be happy and stay out of trouble.
PUG (Toy Group)
The lovable Pug is one of the worlds oldest dog breeds, originating in China approximately 2000 years ago.
Bred to be companions to the Chinese Emperors, this little dog is laid back and easy going, he's basically a low energy breed, with naps being one of his favorite pastimes.
Prey drive is generally very low, with Pugs usually showing no inclination to bother or chase other small animals. Again, due to being bred as companions, Pugs LOVE to be with their people. They crave, and give, affection and are as lovable as their faces suggest.
Being a brachycephalic breed (ie short muzzle) they don't tolerate heat, or vigorous exercise, well. They also have a tendency to gain weight, so a good diet and a daily walk, or two, are needed to prevent your happy, curious and sweet little pug from becoming a roly-poly.
SAINT BERNARD (Working Group)
This huge breed is another gentle giant, and in spite of their massive and muscular build, Saint Bernards were originally bred to help rescuers in the Swiss Alps, and they are extremely gentle and affectionate.
Remember Nana in Peter Pan? She was a St. Bernard, and this breed is well known for it's tolerance, love and protectiveness when it comes to children.
Their prey drive is low and this breed is good with other dogs, pets and people.
So, Saint Bernards make great all round family dogs for a lot of reasons. The only other things to be aware of is that they do tend to shed a fair amount, and they drool quite a bit... and due to their sheer size they physically take up a fair amount of space.
VIZSLA (Sporting Group)
The Vizsla is an athletic dog who originates from Hungary and was used on game hunts.
This is an intelligent, lively and sensitive breed who needs a fair amount of exercise and mental stimulation daily. They make excellent companions for active people and families with an energetic lifestyle, and Vizslas enjoy jogging, hiking, games and long walks.
But the Vizsla isn't all go-go-go, they're also loving and affectionate dogs who need to be around their people and want to love, and be loved, and they love a good cuddle on the couch as much as the next dog!
Vizslas have a low prey drive because of their breeding, and are great around other dogs, children, small pets etc.
The dozen dogs listed above are all great dogs in a multitude of ways in addition to them having low prey drive instincts, but they're by no means the only dogs who don't have a strong prey drive, other breeds that also fit the bill include:
So far we've looked at the type of dog, and specific breeds, that have low prey drive, but of course there are two sides to every coin and there are many high prey drive dogs, and it's good idea to know which ones to avoid if this trait is important to you.
Dogs with a high prey drive tend to come from specific groups because their breed was created to use that prey drive and it's a trait that is bred for.
Breeds in the AKC Hound Group and Terrier Group are most like to be ones with high, to extremely high, prey drive. These include scenthounds (such as the Basset Hound and Beagle for example), sighthounds *(such as Greyhounds and Afghan Hounds.
When it comes to other breed groups they're more of a mixed bag. Herding dogs and hunting dogs (from the Sporting Group, and sometimes from the Working Group) may, or may not have a high prey drive. In general they're ones to be looked at individually and the breed traits and specific dog's personality has to be considered.
Non Sporting and Toy groups tend to have more of the low prey drive breeds, but that doesn't mean that a breed, or individual dog, from one of those groups is necessarily going to be good around other dogs, cats or small animals. Always do some research on the breed, or breeds, you're interested in before making a commitment.
Just to round off this section, here are some of the breeds who are known to have a high prey drive: