Dog Behaviour - Reactivity - Predator Motor Patterns (PMP), Predatory Drift & Trigger Stacking

Updated: 7 days ago

Dogs and How They Behave...

When they say a picture is worth a 1000 words i didn't quite understand.... until now! This picture above really sums up what we are talking about, this is a post for the working pet dog or large breed dog owners, that's the dogs bred for working that are now pet dogs in homes or those of you with large dog breeds. That's a very broad spectrum i know.... its including all the cross breeds pedigree's, and large breeds but especially the collies of the world that are now in loving family homes. What we talk about here is the technical science stuff that fuels our understanding of the behaviour that might cause us problems with our pet dogs. My aim is not to worry you but to empower you… A better understanding of the route cause can help you help your dog.

In the last 20 years studies have shown dogs in a very different light, our understanding has gone from… ‘they are decedents of wolves and live in huarache packs’ to ‘they are their own sub species, emotional and smart animals, bred to be mans best friend.’

Grab yourself a coffee and perhaps a slice of cake (if you want the full experience :-))

Pause for the kettle…..


I often find myself in conversations with like minded dog owners and professionals

and a topic that comes up a lot is aggression play or selective hearing. Play can go swimmingly well between dogs if they are well matched in play styles, but even then, play can take a turn and the otherwise happy go lucky, wouldn't hurt a fly kind of dog can seem to go into attack mode.... likewise a dog can become stimulated in an environment causing them to run off and just wont pay you the blindest bit of attention…… so what is happening there....

Panksepp released many books and studies on his theory of 7 emotional brain systems, the most relevant of the 7 systems here are the SEEKING system and the PLAY system. Please note these are in capital letters because ‘SEEKING’ & ‘PLAY’ are slightly different words from seeking and play as we know them and carry a slightly different meaning.

The SEEKING system is all about needs for life, the drive is very strong and innate, this is referring to when we are cold we look for warmth, hungry - food, life is in danger - safety etc…. The release of hormones can be very strong when the SEEKING system is fulfilled and the need is met. The relief that comes from a successful completion of the SEEKING system can be very strong and almost addictive.

SEEKING behaviour is dopamine driven, that means it’s nothing todo with reward or reinforcement, it simply creates such an internal happy feeling all on its own.

A dog that is in SEEKING mode is externally highly motivated, think of the spaniel running away because it saw a bird fly off, everything about the SEEKING system is supportive of exploration.

The PLAY system is a little more like it sounds, its the drive for social interactions and all the associations that come along with playing with ones kin. It’s important to know according to Panksepp and Biven (2012) brain circuitry of PLAY is evident with dogs that are relaxed and happy. That means PLAY does not happen if there is hunger, thirst, pain, discomfort, or threat (ie SEEKING).

How do you know it’s PLAY: • Play signals like a happy play face (no tension, relaxed, possible smile) or play bow. • Larger exaggerated movements like puppy jumping • Changing roles regularly • Bouncy body language • Use of other objects such as the chasing of toys, tug of war grabbing, this is usually mutual. • Body pushing and mouthing at feet or jaws without grabbing.

PLAY facilitates dopamine, and oxytocin, but also involves other opioids and neurotransmitters. When these hormones are released a dog is in the best possible state of mind to learn.

When your dog plays with family dogs in a large group, or extremely familiar dogs you might see plenty of boisterous play, this type of play doesn’t normally happen with dogs that occasionally meet up unless the dogs are not communicating that well, perhaps one is a puppy, play styles miss matched or unsocialised so lacking in some important signal following skills.

It’s also very important to know Coppinger & Coppinger (2001) have discovered dogs have a set prey drive, this prey drive goes in a set pattern that could change slightly through breeding, based on the dogs intended purpose i.e herding dogs and hunting dogs etc... The PREDATORY MOTOR PATTERN (PMP) depends on the type of dog.