Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
What Are the Types of Drives in Dogs?
As you may already know, your dog reacts out of instinct many times. Indeed, part of dog training is based on teaching a dog to control instincts. For instance, many hunting dogs have an inherited strong prey drive that makes them quite excited at the view of small animals. This can be seen when the dog is walked and a squirrel runs by. The dog, therefore, may forget all about its owner and being on the leash, in order to listen to his prey drive which causes him to pull with all its strength.
After a few steps, however, he may feel the collar tighten and the owner complain and may therefore recompose himself. Or in worse cases, he may still attempt to pull, bark and stare at the object triggering his drive.
The instinct of responding to diverse drives has been known for some time, however, Wendy Volhard, in particular, dedicated extensive research on these drives. Basically, it was found that dogs in nature, respond to four distinct drives:
- Prey Drive
- Pack Drive
- Fight Drive
- Flight Drive
Each dog, therefore, has its own personality and has different drives. Because each dog may have a different drive than another they require different training methods. Some dogs may need very mild corrections while other dogs may require more assertive ones. It all depends on the dog. This explains why what works for one dog may not work on another dog.
This drive is particularly relevant in hunting breeds. Indeed, humans have worked hard in bringing out this trait. However, most dogs have some prey drive in them because it brings them back to the primordial days when they were hunting to survive. Today, however, dogs do not need to chase that squirrel to survive as most likely a can of food awaits him at home. Dogs affected by strong prey drive usually exhibit the following behaviors:
Appearing excited at the sight of objects, animals or people running
Scenting the air
Barking in high pitched voice when excited
Shaking toys with side to side head movements
Carrying items in mouth
Sniffing the ground
Stalking and chasing
Staring prey with immobile, tense, body and ears up
Pouncing on toys
Staring prey with one paw lifted off the ground
Pulling on the leash to chase
Ripping apart toys
Wolfing down food
Dogs have an inherited tendency to live in packs, or, as Pat Miller prefers to call them, "social groups." Indeed, in the wild canines form groups where they reunite, live, hunt and reproduce. Pack drive is often very strong in dog breeds utilized for group teamwork such as hounds hunting together or huskies pulling sleighs together. Signs of a dog motivated by pack drive are the following:
Enjoying Being Groomed
Reading Body Language
Roaming Away From Home
Seeking Eye Contact
Playing With Other Dogs
Willingness to Be Near Owner
Playing With People
These are instincts related to survival and tend to arise around when the dog reaches social maturity at around two years of age.
Barking/Growling at Intruders
Placing Head on Another Dog's Shoulder
Playing Tug of War and Winning
Fighting With Dogs
Reluctance to Be Touched
Growling When His Space Is Invaded
Reluctance to Get Off Beds or Couches
Hackling of the Shoulder Area
Dogs use their flight drive instinct when they are insecure. This is seen more in younger dogs especially when they are going through their ''fear'' periods. Following are some indicators of flight drive:
Lack of Confidence
Fear of Strangers
Turning Belly up When Reprimanded
Full-Length Body Hackling From Neck to Tail
Dogs Have Both Instincts and Personalities
While each dog generally has its own personality just as people, some dog breeds have developed stronger instincts than others because humans have bred dogs looking for specific instincts. Here are a few examples:
Herding dog breeds such as Australian Shepherds and Border Collies have developed strong prey drives.
Guard dogs such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers have developed a strong fight instinct in order to be protectors.
While often such drives cannot be totally removed because they are inherited, they can be redirected towards positive outlets. For instance, dogs with strong prey drive may be allowed to release their natural tendency by playing a good game of fetch. Dogs with strong prey drives require diligent work and patience in allowing these dogs to focus and ignore distractions. Dogs with strong pack drives are generally easy to train.
The best dogs overall are the dogs that have a good balance of drives. These dogs have the potential to turn out to be great pets. If your dog was born this way, count your blessings!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
michael jennings from knoxville, TN on November 21, 2013:
this very institeful, thanks!
jenosuth87 from california on August 23, 2009:
I really did like your hub it is true, dogs really do pay much attention to body language. I try to train my pets without words. It is easier sometimes when puppies are young to use hand signals to train rather than using words when they are hyper. I have a shiba inu puppy and I have trained a few pomeranians, I deal mostly with medium and small breeds though.
mattressguru from TO, ON, CA on August 22, 2009:
Great information! I have a golden retriever myself and when she REALLY wants to meet and play with other dogs. When she sees another dog, she just sits down and i can't budge her lol
gwennies pen on August 21, 2009:
Good dog info...I'd love to own a dog again some day. Enjoyed your hub!