It's been my intention to write about a dog's various kind of drive for some time now, and it's still on my to-do list. In short, dogs' motivations and accordingly, their energy, can be broken down into various drives: prey drive, defense drive, avoidance, pack drive. Each of these drives relates to a primal need the dog has. In simplified terms, drives are the instincts a dog needs to survive in the world. When we talk about training are dogs, we are tapping into and channeling those drives to produce desired behaviors.
In regard to prey drive in particular, there are so many experts out there that can speak to that drive better than myself:
But what I very much want to speak to is pack drive.
When I first started training dogs, I very quickly came to realize that I preferred the dogs that were naturally calm, the ones who I had to build excitement and engagement in. Over the years, I've come to realize that while I can work dogs in prey drive, it is something that is often physically uncomfortable to me. Upon more reflection, this seems to be a sensory processing overload rather than just a simple dislike.
For a long time, I've had friends with whippets ask me why I categorically am uninterested in bringing one home. They have fantastic off-switches in the house. They have great prey drive that can be channeled into dog sports. They are consumate athletes. And it took me a long time to realize exactly what I struggled with in regard to whippets - it's their expression of prey drive. I've talked to a number of whippet breeders and owners who generally say that they don't want their dog to recall after a race, they want to have to retrieve their dog from the lure, essentially drag them off of it. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's consistent and enthusiastic. But it also sets my teeth on edge. I'm happy to slip and retrieve whippets, but that's just not what I want in a dog. And I'll say it again for good measure, whippets are amazing dogs. They just aren't right for me.
When I was apprenticing, I remember a trainer's meeting where one of my mentors gave me her Doberman to work. She gave me a bumper and told me to engage and tug with him and keep him in prey drive. I was so ridiculously tired after that session. It was the first time I'd really worked a dog in prey drive and it was really hard for me. Over time I learned how, became proficient at it even, but I always come out of it completely exhausted. I have to mentally work myself up to working a dog in prey drive and sometimes I'm just flat not up to it. In general, those are the dogs I'll refer to someone else who enjoys working dogs in (that type of) drive.
Most dog sports typically train dogs in prey drive. Bite sports, agility, flyball, all typically trained for in prey drive. Drive through an obstacle and adversity to get to a tug/game/toy/play. And it's been a stiff learning curve when breaking into dog sports. I spent an entire year building Anubi's tug drive when I started flyball and agility. I absolutely understand how tug (prey) drive helps build speed, after all, a dog is accelerating into a tug rather than slowing down to take food.
Two years later, Anubi can work for a tug in either flyball or agility. He understands click/tug instead of click/treat. But after two or three repetitions, it still feels like a chore for him to this day. Some of that could be that I don't enjoy tugging, but some of it is that he really does like work for work's sake. Yes, I reward with food in both flyball and agility, but more often than not, Anubi would prefer to line himself back up for another run or another chance at the agility course. The work is rewarding in and of itself.
I was recently working with a new agility instructor in a new arena. Amalu has very little experience generalizing at the moment so she was a bit distracted and prone to sniffing (very atypical of her). I was instructed to treat her after every obstacle, a logical choice, and without the moment of sequencing, Amalu checked out. It was a completely different response than usual, where I can reward with food periodically and still keep her attention. However, in a new space keeping her moving was more of a reward and motivating in that context..
This is what I mean by working in pack drive. My Azawakh love to work with me. They are looking to do things as a team, not because I have food or a toy. The action and the engagement of being with their human is reward enough. And this is something that I find soothing when I'm training; it's a trait that is critical to my happiness within my own personal dogs. It certainly means I need to be more creative, but it has helped me understand what truly is motivating for my dogs. It why rally and obedience, relatively dependent on some pack drive, are often sports that relax me and while I love agility and flyball, I am generally under more stress while participating in them.