There is a lot of discussion in the dog training world about “pet dogs vs. sport dogs” and the different requirements of training methodology to meet the needs and goals of these dogs in their respective “group”. In conjunction with this conversation, we often hear terms thrown around about training a dog “in drive” vs. “out of drive”.
Let us start off by saying, as a business named “The Art of Dogs”, we are (ironically) heavily reliant on science for the basis of all of our work with our client’s dogs as well as our own. So, we will begin by defining what the term “drive” actually refers to in the world of behavior.
• Drive (n) : an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need
That means that any time you are using food to manipulate your dog’s behavior, you are utilizing and bringing out their drive.
Most commonly though, people refer to dogs with large a amount of energy and motivation as “high drive dogs”. These can be anything from your typical Border Collie to field-bred Labrador to working line Shepherd to game-bred bully breed, just to name a few examples.
We love high energy, highly motivated and “high drive dogs”! Dogs that fall into this category are our most popular clientele! However, we also love your independent and “unmotivated” pet Poodle, Bulldog and unknown shelter mix because we understand that the well-rounded approach to dog training all stems from the same foundational understanding of clear and consistent communication that involves utilizing motivational methods and fair, calm handling. And the approach that is used for any given dog is determined by the dog’s reaction to his or her environment.
Simply put, dog training involves, at a very basic level: being skilled at utilizing proper timing, consistency and motivation while progressing the duration and distraction level of a given behavior.
At The Art of Dogs, we do both sport and pet dog training, and we will bring out the juice in dogs to make them “in drive” as well as make sure we can have a clear and fair understanding of when it’s time to be more calm and “turned off from drive”.
“But I don’t want or need my dog to have fancy moves, I just want a well-mannered pet!”
Well, think about what that entails. Probably a whole lot of “don’t do this” and “you can’t have that”. A whole lot of “No!”’s and “Stop it already!”. We got into dog sports because we noticed this very thing. And it wasn’t fun—for anyone— to be locked into a metaphorical (or literal) box of a world because there weren’t enough outlets for the dog to release the mental and physical energy and frustrations that have been bred into most dogs for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
So what happens when you get a dog that’s been genetically programmed to be simulated and frustrated by a variety of triggers in our modern world? Those are the dogs most likely to become leash reactive, have separation anxiety, become destructive, unable to settle, and so on, as a result of too much pent up frustration that has no fair release to apply this “drive”.
One great correlation between combining pet dog training and sport dog training is to have the ability to interrupt a dog that is in a high state of excitement or arousal. Think about the mindset that your pet dog is in while he or she is at the end of the leash barking like a mad dog at something, and then compare that to a sport dog that is channeling his or her pent up frustrations into a focused behavior in anticipation of earning a toy reward. You will see similar intense focus with those crazy eyes in both of these examples. But one of these examples is a result of us offering release for the frustrated dog, and one is likely a result of a frustrated that does not have anywhere else to channel this energy.
One really big side effect that we are seeing as a result of people not understanding the needs of high energy dogs with a strong desire to run, chase, and bite, etc. is a massive boost in breeds such as Belgian Malinois cropping up in shelters all over the country. Malinois are a breed we own and work a lot with and you will see them on our social media pages every now and then, but they are a largely misunderstood breed. They are indeed beautiful and intelligent, which leads many well-intending people towards getting one of these dogs. But they also have incredibly high demands that the vast majority of every day dog owners cannot meet. Their extremely high levels of energy, prey drive, and often lower thresholds for bite inhibition and less social and environmental stability than many other breeds leads these dogs to be a recipe for disaster in the wrong hands, when not appropriately channeled.
Understanding the difference of wanting a well-rounded pet/companion dog versus opting for a high drive sport or working breed is critical ground work to have in place before adding any dog to your life, to ensure the best possible chances for life-long partnership and fulfillment for both human and dog.
Perhaps you’re still reading this and are stuck on what I meant right from the beginning by “sport dogs”. I am referring to the wonderful world of dog-handler activities such as agility, competitive obedience, frisbee, protection sports, and so much more.
If you are interested in learning more about dog sports and/or want to look deeper into this discussion, be sure to continue following our social media pages! We have about a dozen different blogs that are started as well, and we will touch a lot more on this topic and many others soon.
And if you are interested in getting hands on experience with high drive dogs, the west coast based Belgian Malinois rescue Woof Project is flooded with dogs right now, and is always looking for volunteers in the form of foster homes, transportation, and many other ways to help. Visit www.woofproject.org for more information.
Post by Anneliese