So Your Dog Has ‘Drive’?

When it comes to dogs, what does “drive”
mean? Is there more than one type of drive?
People talk about sex drive, play drive, prey
drive. They also talk about drive in terms of
high or low: a certain breed has a high prey
drive, for example.
I have read everything I could find on drive and
have found no scientific evidence that “drives”
can be generalized in dog behavior. Every dog
is an individual and should be treated as such.
There is no special energy stored in a dog for
sex drive or prey drive or ball drive. What’s important is not whether a dog has a high prey or
play drive, but what motivates each dog as an
We can learn how to use the dog’s preferences
to encourage behavior we want or that the dog
will enjoy. For instance, we can direct the dog’s
energy into actions such as retrieving a toy,
herding, lure coursing, participating in agility or
flyball, catching a Frisbee, or doing scent work
(detection or just hide and seek). Dogs who
want to interact all day can be good candidates
for Best Friends’ Search and Service Dog program. On the other hand, I have met many dogs
who did not seem to want to participate in one
of these activities until they were encouraged,
taught, and/or reinforced.
I think the word “drive” is adding confusion to
many human lives. Thinking we can generalize
about what drives dogs is far too simple. Behavioral control in each dog is much more complex.
I have found “prey drive” defined as natural
behavior based in the survival instincts of wild
animals. For the most part, though, dogs have
not been wild animals for thousands of years
and dogs have been bred for hundreds of years
to create many different types, sizes and shapes
of dogs with many different traits.
Of course, many dog breeds were developed
to perform certain jobs, like herding or retrieving. But, I meet many dogs that get labeled as
a particular breed because of what they look
like, and sometimes these dogs don’t have the
expected breed traits or characteristics. There
are retriever-type dogs, for example, who don’t
“naturally” seem highly motivated to retrieve.
I think the concept of “drive” is over-used and
misunderstood – and can lead to people feeling
disappointed in their dog’s level of drive.
It’s not just genetics that influence who a dog is.
The social skills a dog develops and the training techniques used also affect a dog’s overall
personality, energy level, potential reached, and
ability to show his true self. Fearful dogs may
seem to have low energy: They may not play or
chase anything.
Again, each dog should be treated as an individual; your dog’s energy level, motivations
and preferences are unique to him/her. You can
influence your dog’s behavior by rewarding
the behavior you like. If your dog has extreme
behavior or behavior you do not like, manage
the dog so that she does not practice unwanted
behavior while giving her other options that are
more acceptable to you. (Please read “Managing a Dog with Behavior Challenges.”) If your
dog’s behavior changes suddenly, make an appointment with your vet for a checkup because
behavior changes can signal illness or injury.
Instead of focusing on how much (or how little)
drive your dog has, I recommend that you concentrate on building a great relationship with
your dog and directing your dog’s energy into
activities you can both enjoy. Try different toys,
use different play spaces and have fun together!


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