Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Phoenix gets his driver's license

I'm still getting my brain around this notion of "drive" when working a dog. No, it's not a new concept. I understand (or at least think I do) the concept of food drive, play/prey drive, social/pack drive, etc. I understand some dogs are naturally higher in some drives than others and that some dogs who appear to have zero drives can have those drives built to useful levels through consistent training.

I understand that a high energy dog is not necessarily a high drive dog. Some people smile proudly as their insane dog ricochets off the walls, saying, "Oh, he's SUCH a high drive dog." No he's not. He's just crazy. I understand that a dog who is truly working "in drive" has a clear, focused mind. He is in the zone, so to speak. He's happy about doing his job and he's in clear communication with his owner, not simply indulging his own whims and desires.

I've had vague notions of how to apply these drives to my advantage when it came to training. Using food was a no-brainer with all my guys. Their food drive was definitely intact (and frequently my fingers weren't.)

But across the years, I've been told time and again to" reward" my dog when he was quiet, calm, submissive and — if I'd thought about it — totally and completely out of drive. Reward while the dog was sitting at heel. Reward the dog while he was sitting in front. Reward after the dog had completed the exercise. Reward the dog for every possible sedentary position I could find.

No one ever told me to reward in motion. Or if they did, it was just that - reward in motion, not necessarily in drive. Frequently, I rewarded my dog while he was simply going through the motions. This does not speak well for ring carryover.

In fact, many of my early training classes actively discouraged any shows of enthusiasm on the dog's part. Weren't we training our dogs to be obedient? Obedient dogs were calm and passive. They didn't leap about and anticipate exercises and spin in circles. They performed the required exercises and what happened before or after was of little concern.

At first, it didn't matter. My first sheltie was a bit of a nutter who spent a good deal of time leaping about. He nearly drove me to distraction. He was my first UD but I felt like a failure. Why couldn't I get this creature to heel quietly at my side? He leaped, he spun, he barked, he bubbled over with delight when we trained. He wanted to work. He couldn't wait for what we were going to do next.

While I won't claim this was "drive" in its truest form, Jess did love doing obedience with me and he was focused on his job. He had a ridiculously long string of Qs in Utility, which is a hard class to pass if you're not paying attention to what you're doing. I took it for granted. All dogs worked like this, right?

Connor arrived and was the sparkling combination of zeal and precision with very little effort on my part. He, too, loved to train and show. I thought I was a pretty damn smart trainer to get an OTCh.

Jamie followed. He wasn't quite as easy as the shelties but he was a wonderfully amenable dog who liked to make me happy so he did whatever I wanted. OTCh. #2 arrived but I was starting to wonder if there was some piece to this puzzle I was missing.

Phoenix crashed into my life and nothing has been the same. I easily spent the first two years rewarding him for every calm, quiet, passive state I could catch him in - which were few and far between, both during training and in daily life. Hindsight being what it is, I realize I spent a lot of time squashing him down out of drive because I thought that's what I needed to do in order to "train" my dog.

After the seminar this weekend, my eyes have seen the light, so to speak. I'm not talking about making Phoenix over-the-top crazy in the name of training. I AM talking about not starting any obedience work with a dog who is distracted or simply passive or otherwise un-engaged. I am talking about recognizing the difference between passive attention and drive. I've heeled with a dog who was paying perfectly good attention . . . from about a foot behind me. Great attention. Lousy drive.

Before the seminar I'd started doing some "choose to work" exercises when we trained, letting Phoenix engage me and tell me he was ready to work - then we could practice without confrontation and correction that comes from trying to "work" a dog who is not in drive.

The hardest part of this is re-training ME to deliver rewards while he's still in drive, not after he's settled into complacency at the end of a skill set or exercise. And asking for more effort, which theoretically builds even more drive because the dog becomes frustrated and wonders "Where's my $#@! cookie!" and works harder.

Look out.


  1. "I understand that a high energy dog is not necessarily a high drive dog. Some people smile proudly as their insane dog ricochets off the walls, saying, "Oh, he's SUCH a high drive dog." No he's not. He's just crazy."

    I LOVE THIS!!!! Great post!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Great points! I think a lot of people who look down on flyball as totally out of control dogs are people who don't understand the difference between drive and crazy. A drivey flyball dog may be barking, loud, and super excited, but will buckle down and focus on the box the second their handler says "ready". A crazy dog will just keep going nuts. We LOVE to have our dogs in high drive, as long as they are performing correctly, because drive equals speed and enthusiasm. Part of what we do to encourage this is rewarding our dogs on the fly- tossing out a tug while the dog runs full speed back to it, rather than asking for any other behavior before rewarding. Additionally, I think people in flyball reward with a much more enthusiastic game of tug than in other sports, which keeps the dog amped up and in high drive, ready to run the next heat.

    Of course, it takes a while some times to train a high energy dog to be in drive, rather than just high energy. I like to think, though, that we work really hard to reward dogs in drive.

  3. Great post!

    Can you give any examples of "choose to work" exercises?

    Sounds like a great seminar :)

  4. As a border collie breeder, I avoid the "drive" word at all costs because people just don't know what drive means. And if someone asks about how much drive a litter has, then I don't sell to them because they're generally not really understanding about what "drive" is, but instead thinking that "crazy equals drive". Seen too many border collies allowed to be stupid-crazy in the name of "drive".

    IMO only obedience dogs need to have 'drive' since it isn't nearly as self-rewarding like agility or flyball or even herding and it is all done under control, kinda like dressage in horses.

  5. I totally agree that you can create drive in a dog, I've told my breeder that on more than one occasion (she feels that the super active puppy in a litter is the best agility/obedience dog and most of the time I disagree). Thank you for stating that.

    So my trainer told me to start doing "choose to heel" with my 9mo puppy. She can engage on the counter clockwise circle but struggles a little when I am going clockwise. Of course it probably doesn't help that my male is doing stays in plain sight and she feels the need to "visit" him to make sure he is doing the exercise correctly (silly thing). Amy asked if there were other "choose to" exercises, can you elaborate?

    Thanks, I'm going to start to reward more in motion (I do but not enough, that is evident) but only when my dogs are connected and "in drive". I sure hope I can recognize that when it is presented to me! :-)

  6. I used to think that high energy equaled high drive as well. Legend has showed me otherwise.

  7. I swear, i read about your struggles with phoenix and its like we have the smae dog...loki doesnt like working around other dogs either, tho he likes many dogs, not all, he is always nervous working around them... I was laughing at how he crawled out of line up in ypur other post. Sigh. He's brilliant.