Everybody who has a working dog or competes with his dog says how important it is for their dog to have “high drive”. This is why I wanted to look deeper into it. The Internet offers expressions like play drive, toy drive, prey drive, hunt drive, chase drive, food drive, and many more.
Modern scientists don’t use the expression drive, but behaviors, that are innate and related to physiological needs. They call them functional circles, and there are seven of them.
The ancestors of our dogs, the wolves, are mainly occupied with surviving: Building and maintaining their pack. They prevent damage by avoiding adverse conditions and by excreting harmful substances, and they fulfill their needs by seeking and using favorable terms and materials.
The most important activity, the avoidance of enemies overlaid all other functional circles. As in humans rest is most important, followed by nourishment. Then excretion, comfort, social interaction and reproduction needs will be fulfilled.
One definition I found in the World Wide Web is:
“ … an urgent basic need pressing for satisfaction, usually rooted in some physiological tension, deficiency, or imbalance (e.g. hunger and thirst) and impelling the organism to action… ”
Wait a minute. Where is the correlation to the so-called play drive and toy drive?
There are some hard-core handlers that don’t allow their dogs any kind of social interaction – neither with humans nor with other dogs – and others that don’t feed their dogs, a few days prior to a tournament. They hope, the more urgent the need, the better the dog will perform. And to make it clear: I don’t support these “techniques”.
By training our dogs we fulfill their needs of the functional circles social interaction and discovery. By rewarding them we fulfill their needs of the functional circle nourishment, even if we do not use food.
Why is this? The workflow of wolves nourishing themselves is: Track the scent of the prey, hunt the prey, bite the prey, kill the prey, and eat the prey. By throwing a ball or playing a tug game the dog shows all these behaviors – aside from eating the toy.
If we have a healthy relationship, an inherent bond with our dogs, they want to cooperate with and serve us willingly, not in a sense of “Master and Servant”, but in the sense of Teamwork. If we can identify the dog’s nature then we can pick a suitable task for them.
It is the perceived value of the reward – toy, food or affection – which governs the amount of energy the dog puts into an activity to satisfy his needs. If we can identify the source of a dogs need then we can find a suitable reward that is of value for that particular dog.
Knowing this I cannot agree with the initial statement “Too much obedience kills drive”.
Obedience is training, is social interaction followed by the reward, the fulfillment of nourishment.