What is “drive”?
Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about different types of drive in dogs, such as fight drive, play drive or prey drive. For our purposes, we’ll lump these together under the description, “the dog’s desire to perform certain behavior.”
Drive is important because it’s what makes the dog go! We can channel a dog’s drive to play with a toy into prerequisites for playing with that toy, such as a sit or down. Dogs who perform with speed and enthusiasm on the agility course are often said to have a lot of drive.
Drive versus arousal
We handlers and trainers love drive, especially in a working dog. However, there is a difference between drive and arousal.
Arousal in dogs means “an excited mental state.” Arousal, while useful in many situations in which dogs are asked to perform, also can be dangerous. Dog bites take place when a dog is aroused. Besides sometimes leading to aggressive behavior towards humans, arousal can also lead to fights between dogs. Leashed dogs that bark at other dogs during walks are often demonstrating arousal as a result of frustration.
Watch the two videos below to see the difference between drive and arousal.
So, if drive requires the dog to be aroused, how do we ensure what we have is drive, and not simply arousal? Answer: We want controllable, focused arousal.
Controllable, focused arousal = drive
By “focused,” we mean “attentive to the handler.” After all, dogs can focus on many things — cats, birds, other dogs — without ever acknowledging the handler’s existence!
How to get drive
Let’s get started on few exercises to enhance your dog’s focus and drive.
First, we’ll teach our dogs to focus on us, even when something they want is at stake, using the Doggie Zen exercise. This exercise teaches our dogs to perform a required behavior (in this case, paying attention to us), before receiving a treat or other reward.
Second, we’ll show our dogs the benefits of allowing us to control their drive with the “Go Wild and Freeze” game. To play the game, grab some treats and a clicker and get your dog a bit riled — nothing crazy, your typical excited praise should be enough. Then, once the dog is excited, suddenly stop moving, avert your eyes and give your “quit” command (“That’s enough,” “Settle,” or “Take a break”). Click and treat as soon as your dog shows signs of settling. (If the treats rile your dog again, use lower-value rewards or replace them with soft praise and petting.) Then repeat, seeing how quickly you can get your dog riled and how fast he or she will respond to your “stop” request.
Third, we’ll add the “1-2-3 Game” to help lower-drive dogs get excited, and higher-drive dogs to contain themselves! Hold a treat just out of your dog’s reach and count slowly to three. If your dog attempts to jump or grab for the treat, remove your hand, then put it a little farther from his or her nose and start counting again from one. If your dog remains in place and doesn’t try to grab the treat, encourage him to “come get it” using “Go!” or another release cue after counting to three. “One… Two… Three… Go!” Some dogs will need the treat to be quite far from their noses at first.
In Part 2 next week, we’ll look at ways to increase your dog’s focus, as well as how to build your dog’s drive, and make your dog’s drive even more controllable.