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What Drives Your Dog?
Written by Caroline Haldeman

It is important to understand the drives fueling your dog's behavior. Drives are natural instincts that dogs are born with. They can be developed, meaning they can be made stronger, but conversely, are difficult if not impossible, to turn off. They are inborn attitudes. They either have the drive or they don't.

All dogs possess a combination of these drives. Many of these drives work in conjunction with another. Think of each drive on a scale of 0 -10, with 10 being the highest possible amount of a certain drive. Rate your own dog's drives as you read about each one. The higher the drive, the less stimulation it takes for the dog to go into the drive. The lower the drive, the more difficult it is to bring out the drive, if at all.

The following 15 drives are the most prevalent in dogs.

Prey Drive = Stalking, chasing and hunting are main characteristics of this drive. To chase after anything that moves quickly (like the swing of a tug-of-war rope or throwing of a ball) and trying to grasp it in their mouth. Stalking small animals and pursuing fleeing animals or flying bugs is behavior also associated with Prey Drive. Dogs high in Prey Drive also shake their heads vigorously from side to side once they have the 'Prey' item in their mouth to 'kill' it by thrashing. Dogs in this drive often become fixated on an object as if in a trance. (Locked-on-target is a common term.) This is a purely visual instinct. Dogs with this drive will also often re-grip the 'prey' item to get more into their mouth. The basic goal / instinct of this drive is to catch and 'kill'. This drive is often mistaken for Play Drive, which if you read the definition below, you will see that it has nothing in common with this drive!

Fight Drive = Dogs with this drive love physical combat. They enjoy the challenge of the fight. This drive is similar to the reasons some humans enjoy ego-fueled fighting sports that test power, endurance, strength, confidence and courage. The more battles the dog wins, the higher the drive becomes. Even if pain is inflicted, they continue to fight. Dogs with this drive are in it to win it! Police dogs must have this drive. The dog must be extremely confident and quite literally "full of himself".

Protection Drive = The natural instinct to want to protect and defend its pack members. An example of this drive would be when someone approaches you and your dog gets up and comes over and stands between you and the other person. Stories of dogs defending their owners from attacking animals, snakes and burglars without hesitation are other examples of this drive. This must be a confident dog.

Territorial Drive = Dogs with this drive defend their property and pack enthusiastically by barking and growling to try and 'scare away' any trespassers or anyone or anything perceived to be a threat. This drive is often seen while the dog is inside a vehicle, crate, kennel, house or backyard but goes away completely once the dog is removed from the location / enclosure they are defending.

Guard Drive = Often associated with 'Resource Guarding'. Dogs with this drive defend their food, toys and other objects by lowering the front of their body over the item when a person or another dog approaches. Dogs will often go after anyone or anything that approaches the item if they do not back away after the dog growls and shows their teeth. This drive can also involve a person or another dog as the 'item or object' being guarded.

Retrieve Drive = This is the desire in the dog to bring back items to their owner. The most common form of this drive is when dogs bring back the ball to their master over and over again. The higher the drive the more intense the dog is. Dogs with a very high retrieve drive will bring back anything their master throws and will play anytime, anywhere with anyone.

Pack Drive = The high desire to be with their pack members / family. Dogs with this drive are very social. They often follow their owners everywhere and seek out attention and affection frequently. Dogs with high Pack Drive often have separation anxiety issues. Dogs with this drive are quite easy to train since the dog will eagerly work for a pat and some praise. Their tail will wag upon simply hearing your voice!

Rank Drive = The dog's desire to be the alpha or pack leader. Dogs with high rank drive always try to dominate other dogs. They often are aggressive with almost all dogs in general. A dog with this drive will often challenge the handler. If corrected too harshly, they will bite their owner. These dogs are difficult to teach the down position to as it is a submissive position. Dogs with this drive are always referred to as "dominant". You will see dogs with this drive (males and females) at a very young age (and even long after being fixed) humping other dogs, people and even inanimate objects.

Herding Drive = This drive uses a dog's natural instinct and desire to keep everyone together and under their control and watchful eye. Nipping when someone is moving away is a common trait of this drive. A dog guiding a group of sheep into a pen is a good example of this drive. Dogs with this drive often get uncomfortable and even anxious when one family member leaves the room while the other family members stay in the room.

Subordinate Drive = Dogs with this drive are submissive. They are followers. They prefer to have someone else in charge. They do not challenge authority. The higher this drive, the more submissive the dog. Dogs with this drive are often mistaken as being abused due to cowering, frequently rolling over on their back exposing their belly, often have submissive urination issues and are big 'lickers'. Dogs with this drive are not comfortable making eye contact.

Play Drive = The desire to have physical contact with its owner or other dogs. Seen in puppies, many dogs out grow this drive as adults. The classic 'play bow' is a main display with this drive as well as bumping, mouthing, and pawing. Well socialized, confident and friendly dogs tend to retain this drive more often as adults.

Activity Drive = Dogs high in this drive are often destructive if they have no outlet and become easily bored. They need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to channel all the energy they have. These dogs love to work and stay busy. They are good at entertaining themselves. Traits related to this drive would be excessive whining or shaking from excitement when working. Dogs with high activity drive can be called the 'energizer-bunny'. Conversely, dogs with a low activity drive can be called 'lazy'.

Defense Drive = This drive puts the dog into a fight or flight mode due to fear. Fear is the main driving force of this drive as well as a lack of self-confidence. A classic sign is when the fur on the dog's shoulders will rise like a porcupine. The dog will get rigid in its posture, will growl and bare its teeth and will give rapid deep barks in succession. In extreme situations, the anal glands are often expelled just as the dog reaches the flight response. Dogs in this drive are highly stressed and are extremely uncomfortable. Many dogs can perceive this as a life or death situation. Given the opportunity, every dog in this drive will eventually flee or show avoidance behavior if the 'danger' or 'threat' doesn't dissipate. A dog that is cornered can easily bite in this drive. They will use their front K9 teeth in an attempt to get the 'threat' to back off. It is not a confident attack if the dog bites in this drive, its a quick bite and then they back off.

Hunting Drive = This drive involves the dog's nose. Air-scenting and tracking are the main traits of this drive. They rely on their powerful sense of smell to locate the object or 'prey' item. An example of this drive would be when you hide something from your dog. You then let them free to go find it and they search tirelessly for it even though they can not see or hear it. Their nose guides them to the object.

Food Drive = A dog with high food drive will eat pretty much anything you offer. They inhale their food when fed and almost take your fingers off when giving them a treat. Dogs with very low food drive are finicky and are not hardy eaters. They often must drop a treat on the ground and smell and investigate it first. Having a dog with high food drive is an excellent quality for training.

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