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Pets Corner: The problem with prey drive

Recently I have witnessed a variety of dogs whizzing around various local parks, off lead and in hot pursuit of some small furry- usually a squirrel. I’ve seen them repeatedly leap, baying and clawing at the nearest tree in an effort to reach the object of their blood lust, which is seeking refuge in the branches. Others adopt the classic ‘pointer pose’- a statue-like, motionless fixation on a furry object of desire, one paw up, nose and body pointed forward, and in this immoveable state, completely impervious to owner entreaty or command- that is if the owner is anywhere to be seen, and mostly they are not.

It seems a proportion of dog owners feel this is excellent exercise and a great way for their pet to let off steam. Well, I must disagree. Is it instinctive? Yes, highly. Do some dogs want to do it more than others? Yes. Do some of us view squirrels and rats as pestilent and therefore fair game? Sadly, yes. However, those owners should think what they are encouraging their dog to learn, because once the genie called prey drive is let loose it is very difficult to put back in the bottle. Allowed to practice and refine this highly instinctive behaviour you will have a dog with zero recall, looking to hunt and pursue other animals at every opportunity and these animals may come to include cats, other small pets and occasionally even small dogs.

Of course, mankind has harnessed and channelled the dog’s hunting and chasing instincts for aeons. Working Spaniels and Labradors are still taught a version of prey drive, flushing and retrieving game to hand, but with a soft mouth. In other countries sighthounds are developed to run down various types of game, including deer, over here we bet on lure racing dogs instead. Sheep and cattle dog breeds are trained in attenuated versions of chase behaviours, like herding and droving. In each instance, canine predatory instinct is harnessed and channelled- not given free rein. An exception to this are categories of dog like terriers- developed to hunt and kill independent of owner direction.

Prey drive is different to any other type of aggressive behaviour and is mediated by a different part of the brain. It is the hardwired instinct to stalk, pursue and kill other animals, ultimately for food. These behaviours are common to all predatory species for which almost nothing compares to the thrill of the chase. Why encourage our domesticated companion predator to have freedom to practice and revert? As with all instincts, certain responses are triggered by the environment early. Quick movements will prompt most young dogs and cats to pursue and capture anything from tumbling leaves to flies. Squealing noises tend to incite immediate focus and even fixation. Unharnessed, nature will take its course.

The responsible dog owner will recognise that the ‘killing game’ is particularly inappropriate for modern city dwellers. Even if your dog never catches the squirrel he chases, he is still refining and augmenting his desire to catch something living with each repetition. Someone’s pet Chihuahua or puppy may come to look very enticing to a dog in a predatory state of mind and body; species recognition failing in the heat of the moment.

Ideally, start to channel your pup’s predatory instincts from the day you get him. Forget freedom of expression, think controlled expression. Train him to chase and retrieve toys and other objects you choose instead of letting him discover his own. Control and satisfy his hunting appetite by teaching ‘find’ and tracking games. Many dogs, especially terriers, will want to rip and destroy at some point. Teach tuggy with very clear rules, provide chew toys and games where he can mouth with your permission. Teach a solid ‘leave’ and train your dog to listen to you anytime, anywhere. Dogs are not wolves, they do not need to hunt and chase other animals to survive. A responsible owner will recognise the need to harness those wolf-like instincts in ways that are socially acceptable. Don’t let your dog chase squirrels as a substitute for interactive training, exercise and play.

Leonie St Clair|www.londondogstraining

This article first appeared in the February 2018 issue of SE22 magazine.

Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash



Home-made with Jessica Walker

Spring is served….

On these bleak grey days its wonderful to have a promise of Spring in the house.
I went in search of a mix of Spring bulbs and fresh flowers, available almost everywhere.
Using a pewter serving plate, found in one of the many charity shops on Lordship lane, and a mix of votives I “served Spring”.

  1. Gently separate the flowers and bulbs. I potted the bulbs and used moss to finish.
  2. Cut the flowers, and arrange in the votives.  I choose tulips, for colour and texture, and narcissi, for fragrance.
  3. I added a candle to my centre piece for delicate light.
  4. Finish by arranging extra moss around the tray.

You can now sit back and embrace the fragrance, beauty and light of spring.


Are you SAD? Do you suffer from the winter blues?

As the cold weather and the darker nights and mornings draw in do you suffer from a lack of energy or low mood? Do you find it harder to get up in the morning and generally lose a bit of motivation and ‘lust for life’? Do you find it more difficult to focus on work or generally just feel a bit ‘down in the dumps’?

If the answer is yes to any of the above you may be suffering from a bout of winter depression; the medical name of which is SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder). There’s sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods and it’s thought that SAD affects 1 in 15 people in the UK.

What causes SAD?

We don’t know for sure what causes these changes in mood but scientists believe that part of the problem is due to the reduced hours of daylight. The theory is that when light enters the eyes it alters the levels of hormones in the body. Light is thought to reduce melatonin, the hormone that causes us to sleep. Less light means higher amounts of melatonin, making us feel more tired and lethargic, also during the daytime.

What steps can we take to help ourselves?

  • Get as much natural light as possible. The charity Mind says research has shown that a walk or run outside, especially on brighter days can really help. Also, sitting next to a window if possible, can make a big difference to your mood.
  • Eat well! We naturally crave heavier, more calorific foods in the colder weather, but ensure you also include plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Get moving! The positive effects of exercise on the mind are well known. It relieves stress and anxiety, aids sleep and releases natural feel-good hormones called endorphins, lifting the mood and helping us to feel more positive.
  • Be social- even if you don’t really feel like it, spending time with friends and family at this time of year will make you feel more connected and less alone.
  • Take up a new hobby or set yourself a motivating goal. It could be taking up meditation, enrolling in a cooking or writing class or entering an event like a run or walk for charity. Choose something that will motivate and inspire you and create a new focus.

Becca Teers – Author, Clinical Hypnotherapist

New business awards to reward firms that bind the community together

The sponsors at the launch

Southwark’s prestigious new business awards will recognise the firms “at the heart” of what is one of London’s biggest and most vibrant communities.

The Southwark Business Excellence Awards in association with Lewisham Southwark College, is open for entries from all 18,000 businesses in a borough that stretches east from Southbank to London Bridge and Surrey Docks, and south to Bermondsey, Peckham, Camberwell and Dulwich.

Welcoming the new programme, Stuart Berkoff, Chief Financial Officer of launch sponsor, Sellar, said they were a measure of how far Southwark has come since the company bought the site of The Shard 20 years ago.

He said: “Once overlooked and ignored, Southwark has become one of the capital’s great places to live, work and play.”

Speakers on the launch night included Southwark Chamber Chairman Richard Kalmar, the Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Charlie Smith, Barry Langfield, Vice-Principal of Lewisham Southwark College, and Stuart Berkoff, Chief Financial Officer of launch sponsor, Sellar.

Urging firms to enter, Councillor Johnson Situ, Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for Business Culture and Regeneration, said the awards will also recognise the borough’s many small businesses.

He commented: “As Southwark continues to transform thanks to a number of regeneration programmes, it is hoped the awards will showcase the achievements of the businesses that are key to the borough’s economic success.”

The new awards programme offers 16 free-to-enter categories (*full list below), including Best Start Up Award, Woman in Business Award and Diversity & Inclusion in Business Award. Each category has been designed to appeal to the widest range of business types and sizes, from start-ups and SME’s to large corporates and social enterprises.

The closing date for entries is Friday 29th March. A shortlist will be announced in mid-April before the second round of judging.

The finale of the event will be the glittering, black-tie Gala Dinner and Charity Ball awards ceremony for 400 people on 21st June, hosted by a celebrity compere.

The new awards are backed by Headline Partner, Lewisham Southwark College, and Awards Partners, Southwark Chamber of Commerce, Southwark Council, and White Label Creative, are sponsored by British Land, and Grosvenor, and supported by Shangri-La Hotel, Jensen’s Gin and Media Partner, Southwark News.

To enter the awards visit

The Southwark Business Excellence Awards 2018 – Categories:

  1. Business of the Year
  2. Entrepreneur of the Year
  3. The SME Excellence Award
  4. Best Business for Customer Service
  5. Independent Retailer of the Year
  6. Business Commitment to Education and Skills
  7. Best Employer
  8. Best New Start-Up
  9. Best Business for Hospitality and Food Excellence
  10. The Award for Excellence in Leisure and Tourism
  11. The Southwark Cultural Commitment Award
  12. Best Charity or Social Enterprise
  13. Best Business for Tech and Innovation
  14. Award for Diversity and Inclusion
  15. Commitment to the Community
  16. Best Woman in Business

Interested in sponsoring or supporting the awards? Please contact: Joanne Horton at or call 0208 726 7968




First ever Woof Cancer Day organised to raise cash for Cancer Research UK

A family fundraiser welcoming four legged friends has been organised to raise vital cash for Cancer Research UK.

Pet pooches and their owners are being invited to sign up for Woof Cancer Day – a 5km dog walk around Dulwich, which has been organised by the Dulwich Woof Committee in aid of Cancer Research UK.

The event takes place on March 4th at 11am and there will be a number of activities to get involved in including top dog and fancy-dress competition, refreshments and of course some poochtastic stalls! Entry is just £5 for each adult and £5 for each dog.

Cancer Research UK is dedicated to saving more lives by preventing, controlling and curing all cancers. The charity funds the work of thousands of scientists, doctors and nurses who are fighting over 200 types of cancer.

Laura Megatli, local fundraising manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Thanks to Cancer Research UK’s work, more people are surviving cancer than ever before.

“Survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years and the charity’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

“But despite improvements in treatment, cancer causes more than one in four of all deaths in the UK.

“Cancer Research UK wants to change that and needs the help of the people in the community to accelerate the progress that is being made against this devastating disease.

To register or for more information go to

Kimberley, volunteer event lead, said: “We’re encouraging everyone and their four legged friends to Woof Cancer Day which promises to be an enjoyable day for both participants and their furry friends.

“The event is being held for the first time this year and we hope it will be a huge success.

“Funds raised from the event will go directly towards Cancer Research UK’s world-class research, which is helping to save thousands of lives every year.”

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1861 or visit

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