DEAR DIDI: We have a pit mix, female, about four years old that chases bees and has been stung three to four times in her mouth. I’m sure this is quite painful and she will have a swollen lip for a couple of days. She still tries to catch them, why would she do this knowing it will hurt? Is she just dumb? LOL or is this a common thing? We have had many dogs over the years and none of them ever got stung. Manteca Pit Daddy
DEAR PIT DADDY: This is issue is actually fairly common. It is her prey drive that causes her to do so. Prey drive is basically a term coined to describe an animal’s hardwired desire to chase things that move. Particularly small fuzzy things that move fast. Prey drive is inherited and can’t be “fixed.” It is, however, variable in strength. Some dogs take after joggers, moving cars, bicyclists, cats, squirrels, or little kids. It is very common for dogs to snap at flies. Bees are usually slower and louder which may further entice your girl to make sport of them.
Chasing flying insects can sometimes develop into an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The dog feels perpetually compelled to constantly search for the pests. It’s a challenge to capture them so they begin to obsess over the matter. Luckily, your pit bull only suffers mild swelling when she is successful at the hunt. Some canines break out into hives or swell to the point of potentially cutting off airways for breathing. This becomes an emergency visit to save their lives!
Unfortunately, there is no truly effective ‘fix’ for this behavior. You can certainly discourage bees from your yard by not growing flowering plants. If you are an avid gardener, this may put a real damper on your quality of life. Be sure that you aren’t playing games such as ‘laser lights’ with her. This only promotes the chase of small things that move. You can also learn to distract and redirect your dog when you notice the telltale signs of listening for bees, but before the chase actually begins.
She is not dumb, by any means. Animals of any sort, including humans, learn through rewards and consequences. If the reward is pleasant enough, the animal may tolerate discomfort to achieve said reward. Conversely, animals will continue to perform certain acts despite a consequence if the animal doesn’t perceive the consequence to be that big of a deal. Pit Bulls tend to have extremely high pain tolerances. The only thing that matters here is her perceptions. How she feels about the game and the consequence. A mere bee sting is probably no big deal to her, compared to the intense fun of the hunt.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.