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High Drive and Impulse Control

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There is a relationship between high drive dogs and issues with impulse control,  because higher drive dogs care A LOT about getting what they want.  From my point of view this is a good problem to have, but sometimes a handler is overfaced; their dog is more determined, driven and straight out faster than they are.  It takes time to learn to manage a dog with a combination of drive and impulse control issues.

These videos show a young Portuguese Water Dog learning self control.  This dog is both high in drive and full of confidence; he wants what he wants, and he wants it now.

If you have a high drive dog that frustrates you; grabs at the toys and throws himself around rather than working with you, watch these videos carefully.  Note that I don’t respond to his negative behaviors with more energy; getting angry or frustrated with a dog like this is absolutely counterproductive because energy feeds his impulsivity.  The trick to training a driven dog is to convince them that the route to drive satisfaction is through cooperation, not determination.

Video One:

In this video he is working for food.  I make no effort to “calm him down” or to prevent him from bouncing and showing energy.  He NEEDS to do this; it’s an outlet for his drive and energy.  My reward schedule is low and the work is difficult – I am demanding.  The reward schedule is low because I know he is capable of excellence if he concentrates – using food to substitute for expectation teaches the handler to rely on food rather than interaction and expectation.  Instead of food, I use fun heeling (circles to the right) to allow him to interact with me.  Then I ask him to exert self control by slowing my pace and working to the left.  When he succeeds, his reward is to exhibit energy by going back onto a right circle (as opposed to a cookie).

Over time, training this way will help him learn to love work for the opportunity to interact with his handler in a positive manner.

Video two:

Here I’ve switched from food to developing control over a toy.  I start by allowing him to have the toy and we interact nicely together.  It’s important that he not see me as a bully – I make sure he knows that I like him and that I want to play with him.  Because he is bringing a lot of energy, I match his energy when he is cooperating.  When I do insert control and ask for the toy, there is an absolute change in my demeanor.  Not only do I stop moving, I stop all of my positive interactions as well.  When he is cooperative and I return the toy, note that he gets everything back; my entire attitude goes back to being happy and playful.  By pairing my personality with the toy, I’m building in the ability to control him verbally even when there is no toy present. I’m teaching him to care about me – a toy is good, but a toy with me is even better!

This dog is a good example of a high drive dog with a wonderful attitude about work, but his lack on impulse control gets in the way of his ability to move forward in dog sports or to work cooperatively with his handler.  Spending a few weeks or months on developing excellent self control will pay huge dividends over the long run.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

9 responses »

  1. Thanks. I needed to see this.

  2. Now I need to translate this into not chasing children 🙂

  3. Great stuff Denise! This one caught my eye. What awesome drive and exuberance the Portie has for work. SO much to work with there!

    Regarding food as reward, IMHO I think food can be a wonderful reward when used creatively. Too often people get stuck in cookie dispenser mode. Food can become an EVENT limited only by the handler’s imagination. It can be thoughtfuly placed in various interesting locations. Then the dog can be released with great exuberance with the handler, to run and get the food. The dispensing of the food with great fun and fanfare then becomes another *event*. It can be combined with almost any toy. The dog can be released into all kinds of fun MOVEMENT with the handler as the food is dispenced as well. Love how you used the circles!!!

    Granted, it’s not as high value to most high drive dogs, but in a situation ( for whatever reason ) the dog or handler can’t engage in tug I think it’s a wonderful option.

    I fully intend to re-visit tugging down the road with J- man. Too valuable a tool to not have. In the meantime though, until some other skills are in place, we will party hardy with food and his beloved ball! You make an excellent point about hanging in there with the dog!! It is so important to meet them where they are, isn’t it. Trick is knowing when to push on.

    Was hoping to see glimpses of the J-man in the video, but alas there was no blood and you had all you’re clothing on at the end! ;-)) I wonder if others out there have ideas on using food in a really creative way? Could be interesting. I’ll bet you have a few great ideas! A future blog topic for those of us temporarily or permanantly tug challenged???


  4. Wonderful video of the Portie learning self control. Susan Garret actually uses a similar game with food for very young puppies…and yes a wonderful Portie.
    This is actually a thought about using food as an event sparked by Betty. i’ve used food and movement (and the opportunity to ‘work’) as rewards to build a tugging response. at first, just mouthing a toy brought food/fanfare. Then holding until a release cue…but in order to not create the ‘drop the toy for the treat’, i made holding/tugging the gateway for a few jumps, or retrieve, or signals, or heeling or whatever (very short though and fast!) and then fabulous treats…sometimes on a target so the movement was to the treats, sometimes ‘hidden’ as a ‘go find,’ sometimes at heel to build value there…trying to make the food a part of the interactive game. And, I worked/played with that dog very sparingly. So just the opportunity to interact was valuable….perhaps a necessary antidote too much Utility?
    a long slow process still in process…but varying the value of the food and how you use it for the food driven dog may help build value of the game of ‘tug’….I’m interested in others thoughts about using food creatively as well..
    .though of course a dog like the Portie doesn’t need all of that! What a nice dog!

    • Just a quick comment; I prefer NOT to combine food with tug because I think it often devalues the game of tug as a primary reinforcer (what the dog does with the tug should be self motivating, not a trained response to get something else). But…there are lots of ways to get a dog trained and a person should use what works for them, as long as it respects the dog.

  5. I have watched this more than a few times. Except for the fact that the PWD seems to be jumping up not only with excitement, but also with joy, this could be my young Lab. He HAS gotten better, but when using a toy, he will often jump and grab in a demanding way. He is very pushy – I have tried the “ignore” approach and it has gotten better . . . except for tugging. Whereas you go “quiet” when the PWD does not release the bumper on command, and he does then back away, my Lab will just keep tugging and tugging, and if he does let go for an instance, it is just to get a better grip on the toy. I have used treats extensively to reinforce the “drop it”, and once he knows they are available he is very compliant. Others have suggested suing more aversive actions to “control” his jumping, which I would really rather not do.

  6. Kasia Mikurda

    Honestly, I wished I had a high drive dog. I work with many and while, yes, they can be a pain, a low-drive dog is a bigger pain. I’m one of these people who tried “everything” to motivate a low-drive dog (a sheltie! no kidding!) and are still looking for the “oomph”. I can’t wait until you meet Spyker in Ohio and prove me wrong! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Building Focus and Impulse Control

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