Why do dogs play with their prey?

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Dogs play with their prey because they come from a long line of predatory canines that stalked, hunted, and killed their prey in the wild. Our modern, domesticated dogs no longer have to hunt and kill their own food, but they still exhibit some of the same instinctual habits that wild dogs possess. Dogs in the hunting and herding groups are especially likely to play with their prey.

There is a predatory sequence that dogs in the wild demonstrate while hunting. The sequence that they instinctually follow is see, stalk, chase, bite, kill, dissect and finally eat. You can see how many of these steps could be seen as “playing.” Domesticated dogs will demonstrate many of these hunting abilities throughout their days, whether it is chasing a squirrel or rabbit, or simply thrashing around a toy at home.

For a dog, the fun in the hunt is the chase and the first bite. Most domesticated dogs will not hunt anything to kill, as they know that they get their food elsewhere. Domesticated dogs will often lose interest in the prey shortly after they’ve caught it, and instead turn to playing with the prey instead of consuming it.

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