Every handler of a working dog recognizes drive. It is a focused intensity, a desire to work, that makes dogs overcome all obstacles in pursuit of the goal. Drive is what gives a Malinois trained in police work the bravery to tackle a man three times his size. It is what makes a hunting dog run all day in pursuit of a quarry, and it is what gives a rescue dog the determination to pull a human to safety through crashing waves. Puppies in training are assessed according to their drive, along with many other features, for the work they are being trained in. Puppies without much drive are typically placed in family homes, because without high drive, a working dog cannot be depended on to enjoy doing his job. It is essential that a working dog be self-motivated. He may be motivated in training by a toy or treat, but these are only markers of the behavior the handler is looking for. The drive to do the activity is the dog’s own. High drive dogs take down bad guys, save people, manage livestock, assist the disabled, and find bombs, among many, many other important jobs.
High drive dogs can also become frustrated and deeply bored in a home environment, making a job for themselves by destroying your furniture or garden, “guarding” against everyone they meet, or hunting the neighborhood cats. High drive dogs will have an outlet, whether you give them one or not. High drive dogs contained too long can destroy metal crates or turn their frustration on themselves. Working dogs often live with their handlers as loving pets, and your high drive dog can be a pleasant pet as well–provided you give him a job.
If you are having problem behaviors, you may already know or suspect that your dog has high drive, but sometimes dogs without drive experience separation anxiety or hyperactivity that can look like drive. To test your dog’s drive, take an activity that you know your dog likes to do, like play fetch or tug. Do the activity with your dog for as long as the dog wants. If you are exhausted before your dog stops wanting to play, you very likely have a high-drive dog.
Dogs prone to high drive are generally working and hunting breeds. Drive characterizes some breeds, like Belgian Malinois and Jack Russell terriers, more than others. Of working breeds, some individuals will show high drive while others won’t. Don’t assume because you have a non-working or mixed breed that your dog won’t display drive. Any dog can have a high drive.
Once you have identified your dog as having high drive, you can start thinking about jobs for him to do. If your dog is bred for a particular job, activities related to that job are a good place to start.
Scent hounds can be trained in nosework. Even if you don’t have time to actively work your hound dog every day, once you have taught her nosework, you can lay a path for her to follow to a reward and let her work it out on her own. Hounds trained in scent work can even be called upon when there is a missing person, making your high-drive dog a potential hero.
Retrievers love to retrieve, of course. If you are exhausted and a little bored by the non-stop games of fetch, try teaching your dog dock-diving or replace the ubiquitous tennis ball with a frisbee for longer runs and more fantastic catches.
Terriers and other prey-motivated dogs can complete in lure racing, which allows them to run like mad after a supposed prey item. Dogs that love to dig can compete in earthdog competitions, where their natural tenacity to dig after prey is competitive and rewarded, providing a valuable outlet other than your yard.
Dogs bred for hunting like pointers, spaniels, and retrievers can complete in field trials, where their innate ability to track, point, flush, and retrieve are built and given an outlet. It is not necessary to actually hunt to participate in such trials, but if your dog is a real whiz, you could even allow a trusted hunter to work over your dog, letting her live out her breed’s purpose.
Dogs that excel in military and police work, like Malinois, German shepherds, and Rottweilers, can be trained in protection and sleeve work. If you would rather not do bitework with your dog, these dogs and others bred for herding, like collies and cattle dogs, can recapture their roots in herding trials.
Many high-drive dogs of all breeds enjoy participating in agility, as this provides an outlet for many of their natural desires in one activity. Dogs well-trained in agility can go through a course with minimum engagement from their handler, and you can easily set up a makeshift agility course in your backyard. Going through an agility course requires more thought and physical activity than a flat-ground game of fetch and will exhaust your dog’s mental and physical energy quicker.
Be creative in giving your high drive dog outlets around the house as well. Have your dog collect all the loose laundry on the floor or throw her toys all over the house and have her gather them up. Play nosework games by putting treats around the house and letting your dog find them and exercise your dog’s brain by teaching her all kinds of fun and silly tricks. Tap into the potential in your high-drive dog, and you may be overjoyed to have a working companion, instead of a destructive pet.