I have a new puppy; his name is Dice. He is a “high drive” puppy. What does that mean; “high drive”? Let’s talk about it!
My definition of drive is “persists in the face of adversity.” And this puppy? He persists and persists and persists because…he’s high drive.
But. Persists at what?
It depends on the breed! What is the dog bred to persist at?
As a working line Belgian, my puppy is bred to persist at biting/fighting/engaging with a person in an activity such as working in protection or drug detection for the military. And since those types of activities require a good deal of physical stamina, “drive” in my breed is often associated with high energy, along with high levels of handler focus and trainability. Plus biting! Lots and lots of biting before they find suitable outlets for that need, such as playing fetch or strong games of tug with their handler. And when the going gets tough? It’s really hot or cold or the bad guy is fighting back or they’re exhausted? They stick it out. They are high drive – they persist under adversity.
I train my puppy very publicly; a Facebook live almost every day, and people are watching and learning! They see the biting, the energy, the persistence, the intelligence and the desire to interact. It’s a package, and a very desirable one in my breed.
Yet, I’ve heard people say they don’t want a high drive puppy because they don’t want all of that biting and movement!
Ah. So what your’re really saying is that you don’t want a high drive dog bred for working sports that involve biting or protection. but what about a high drive Terrier? Or Border Collie? Or Sporting dog?
They might look absolutely different! Remember, my working definition of high drive is “persists in the face of adversity”. It does not require energy or biting or intelligence or focus – it requires what is requires for that specific breed of working dog.
A high drive Border Collie will stay out in miserable weather and persist in their job of working sheep. Odds are good that they need a decent amount of energy to do this task, along with a lot of handler focus balanced with high levels of awareness of change in the environment (the sheep moved!) and a good brain for learning and problem solving. But biting? Not so much. Which doesn’t mean they won’t be normal, mouthy puppies. They probably will be. But hanging on for dear life while the handler tries to pry their jaws open? Probably not.
How about a Terrier? How might a terrier persist in the face of adversity? By digging at a hole for hours, even when their feet and nails are bloody. The need for handler focus is much lower but energy? Yeah, you’ll probably see that.
So my first point is that expressions of “drive” are specific to the breed – high drive must be discussed in relation to the work the dog is required to do. I find it helpful when a person with a working bred Belgian or German Shepherd tells me the dog is high drive for their breed. That means something to me.
But there’s more.
High drive is also used to describe very specific things that dogs do that are associated with high drive “types”. High BALL drive. High TUG drive. High FOOD drive.
I’m going to stick with those, because most of us know what they mean – even though they are relative and need to be considered within the specific context in which they are used. Heck, all adjectives are relative; I still use them! But it pays to ask a few clarifying questions if you’re talking to another person about something like drive to clarify if you’re on the same page.
Example: “My dog has high ball drive.”
My question: What does that look like?
Response; “My dog will play ball until his feet are bloody.”
or…”My dog will play ball anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances and cannot be distracted from that task.”
That is high drive for a BALL. But that same dog might have close to no interest in food.
My suggestion is that when discussing drive, you consider the breed in question (what are they bred to do?), the specific form of drive being considered (ball? Food?), and then ask clarifying questions so you know if you’re talking about the same things. Within specific dog cultures there may be a lot of agreement over terms, but across dog cultures I have discovered it can vary quite a bit. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; I love to hear someone describe their dog as high or low drive because if nothing else it tells me how they perceive their dog, but if I stop there I’m not likely to know if we’re on the same page, so follow that up with a few more questions. High drive for what? Can you give me an example?
Drive is not about biting. Unless you’re my puppy Dice. Then it’s ALL ABOUT BITING.
If you’d like to watch his training progress, go ahead and follow me on my wall on FB (Denise Fenzi) and watch his regular, live training sessions. I’lll put some here as well when I have a few moments. You’ll get a whole lot of free training that way.
On another note, if you’re trying to socially distance and still get some exercise by walking your dog, and if your dog is showing reactivity on leash, come join my webinar this Thursday night. It builds upon my basic “loose leash walking via the circle method” technique and is specific to dogs that show overarousal and reactivity when on leash. The basic method is available for purchase as a prerequisite and can be watched right away. The follow up reactivity webinar will run at 6pm on Thursday, April 9th. If you can’t watch at that time you can still see the recording in your webinar library for one year from the date of purchase.