by Elizabeth Kohl
DRIVE. What is it?
Drive is the I-wantsies. It is motivation. You will hear talk of Toy Drive, Play Drive, Fight Drive, Pack Drive. These terms are used to simply say that a dog who has them is motivated to play with toys, motivated to play, motivated when pressed to fight, motivated to want to be with his pack. Drive is what we want in our dogs if we want to do anything with them.
For over one hundred years, through selective breeding, drive has been bred into the German Shepherd. In general, the higher the drive, the easier it is to train a dog. A dog with motivation, is easy to train. With people who do not understand this, you will often hear the word, “hyper”. A dog with drive but with no direction, is going to create his own direction and to the human what appears to be meaningless activity is termed, “Hyper”. So how do you take this Drive and turn it into something that work for you?
To illustrate we have a short movie clip of Indy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqY1Ag6IbF0 It is a clip of Indy chasing a tennis ball through a flock of chickens. As the chickens scatter in every direction, Indy never once looks at them. Her focus is entirely on the ball.
This illustrates drive. Indy has been conditioned since a puppy to have drive for the toy. Though we think of a dog having drive to chase chickens, because she has no experience chasing chickens, she goes for the toy instead. Because I control the toy (even more effective with a tug as a tug never leaves my possession), I have control of the dog. The toys are mine. I do not leave them with the dogs. The dogs know that the toy is connected with me. I make it move, I make it come alive, I make the game. Because Indy has a good foundation, even with a flock of chickens, she is focused on me and on the game.
But what do we typically see? In dogs raised randomly, we see dogs who chase cats, squirrels, cars, children, even dogs who chase shadows and light beams. With puppies, they are biting our legs, our arms, our bathrobe, jumping at the laundry as we carry it up the stairs. Drive undirected can be a major pain. But with direction, it is the key to having a well trained dog.
You have all seen a dog go into drive chasing a squirrel. The owners call and call but the dog seems not to hear them. Typically once a mature dog enters drive, their brain tunes out all else. It is difficult without a lot of training to get them to respond. This can appear to be stubbornness, but it comes from a different source. In actuality, much of it comes from the eyes and through the eyes to the brain. When your pup looks at something with that hard stare, she is going into drive. At that point, she is absorbed, or fixated, and does not hear you. The easiest thing to do when raising a pup to prevent this condition is a) control the environment, and b) distract your pup once she starts fixating.
To control the environment, I do several things with my pups. The first is obvious, which is to choose their environment for them. That is, I do not let my pups run free unsupervised. This is where the advantage of a kennel run comes in. In the kennel run, the environment is controlled. Where I live there are lots of fun things for a dog to chase, but because their physical environment is controlled, they do not encounter those things, cats, squirrels, deer, turkeys, chickens, without my being present to channel that natural drive to something I can control.
This leads me to the second thing I do with my pups. I condition them to have drive for something which I control. This is either a ball or a tug, or both. In other words, by having them delight in the fun of a game with me and a toy, they soon go into drive at the sight of the toy. To make the toy exciting, make it move. Your puppy is motivated by movement. Understand this and make it work for you. I also make sure that they do not have the opportunity to play with the toy without me. Though they can have other toys and doggie bones to chew on, the best toy is mine and only comes out when we are going to play together. At the end of our game, away it goes to where only I can get it. The pup learns that he needs me in order to play. I control their environment such that they grow up thinking that I am the most fun thing ever. With this established, when I am out walking my dog and we encounter something that might otherwise put him into drive, such as a deer, I can quickly distract him and pull him back to me for a game with the toy. That drive then quickly channels back to something I can control reinforcing the brain waves I want in my dog and extinguishing those which are undesirable.
In dog training, there is something else which is helpful to know about drive. Obedience is drive’s opposing force. Picture a see saw with drive on one seat and obedience on the other. In the happy well trained dog, the two are in balance. But for our obedient, restful house dogs, we often want obedience to be dominant. As you train your pup in a non distracting environment, then when you are out in the great big world, where distractions come, you can quickly reduce the drive that kicks in, by doing some obedience exercises. Picture your young dog who knows to look at you for a treat. When you see another dog across the street, even before your pup sees him, offer her your word for “watch me”, it might be as simple as her name, and when she turns to look at you, praise and treat. Another trick is to take a few quick turns so that she has to run to keep up with you. Pretty soon, when she sees another dog, she will look at you, hoping for a treat. Right there when that happens, you have succeeded in breaking the chain and redirecting her to you. Praise and treat and reinforce with consistency.
Keep in mind that it is your pup’s decision to focus on you that you are rewarding. This is different than bribing the pup to ignore something by giving a treat. Whatever behavior you reward, you will of course get more of that behavior, so be careful to not try to distract the pup with food in such a way that you are rewarding an unwanted behavior. You are seeking to reinforce your pup’s good decision so the treat must come only after the choice to focus on you has been made by the pup.
Overall, when you understand drive and what it is that puts your dog into drive, you will be a long ways towards better appreciating your dog for who he is. Trainers for generations have made their dog’s drive work for them, creating a partnership of man and animal that is beautiful to behold.