Dog Drives

Drive Blog

Dog Drives

I was in a class recently with my dog and a few other training teams (yes, I still take classes and seminars with my dogs, see: when the concept of ‘drive’ came up in discussion.  Lately there has been quite a bit of talk in training circles about drives and motivation, but I don’t think most owners understand these concepts or know how to best apply them with their own pooch.  Often times you may hear someone call their dog “drivey” or say their dog has a lot of “drive.” This can be really confusing, especially if you are hearing it from your trainer or breeder.  So what is drive?  Is it good to have a “drivey” dog or a high-drive dog?  What about food driven dogs, do you want a dog who is highly motivated by food?

To put it simply, drive is the motivation to do something.  Anything.

Some people break down drives into instinctive categories such as prey drive, food drive, fight drive, reproductive drive, pack or social drive, etc. Essentially, we use the term ‘drive’ to describe what really gets a dog excited to do something or work for us.  Many breed enthusiasts will use various versions of this terminology to describe a specific breed or line of dogs within a breed when describing dogs to potential owners.

For example, many herding dogs are said to be “high drive;” very active and potentially obsessive.   This would be required of a working Border Collie and can lead to an excellent working or competition dog. In instinctual terms they are often referring to prey drive, in this case, which has been mitigated over many generations to include stalking and moving prey (or sheep) without the follow-through to kill. In this case, a “high drive” dog is a good working dog, but potentially not the best dog for a low-energy family or home.

To look at another breed example, many sporting breeds have what would be considered a high-social drive. They are very interested in people and dogs and generally have a low-fight drive, which allows them to work in large groups at times.

Dogs have natural tendencies that lead them to act and react in specific ways. Often times, we have exaggerated these tendencies in specific breeds to allow them to perform jobs and tasks for us which has led to natural drives.  Many trainers look to own or work with specific breeds that are naturally driven to be motivated in specific ways. There is a reason Labradors excel at service work and Shepherds excel at protection work.

When it comes to pet training, however, we often discuss motivators with owners; as in what would your dog work for as a reward?  In many cases this would be food, which is why treat based training is such a great way to build a foundation in basic obedience.  However, food does not have to be your dog’s only motivator.  While food drive is inherently useful, many dogs who have a high prey drive, or in the case of pets we use play drive, can be trained using all sorts of toys and games if they are willing to work for it.  In reality, the best training utilizes a variety of motivators based on the dogs preference to work for different rewards; their drives.  (

What if your dog is not food motivated and only likes toys in low stimulation environments?

While many dogs have obvious natural drives, we can also build drive for a dog who seems less motivated.  Most of the time, the dog is actually motivated, just not by you or what you have to offer.  For example, while out walking your pup, he spies a squirrel and you have been unable to distract him from trying to chase the critter. You’ve tried bringing out a ball, treats, trying to lead him away, etc.  Your dog seems to still be totally unmotivated by you.

When we break down this sort of behavior, we see that the dog is highly motivated by the lure of chasing a squirrel. The dog has a high prey drive.  Now we just need to tap into that drive and use it to our advantage. Often, we will do this by starting with a pelt or furry item on a rope at home.  You can excite your dog by making the toy jump and dance and not letting your dog quite catch it for a few minutes before finally letting them win it for a moment.  The goal of this sort of game is to always end the game when your dog is still very excited to keep playing so that the next time you bring it out your dog is extra excited. Once you have learned to work with your dog by using their own drive your advantage, you can put the game on cue and work up to using it in the real world.  You could even go the extra step and associate your dog’s preferred behavior with something simpler to work with, such as treats so that you have multiple options when you need them.

Drives can be an important factor in dog training and it is a good idea to determine what best motivates your dog and how you can increase their motivation to work with you based on their inherent drives.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator