Dog Training: Recognizing Different Drives

Updated on December 6, 2016

Do you know what type of drive drives your dog?

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 complaint 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
  • Flight 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.

-Prey Drive
This drive is particularly relevant in the 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:

  • Pouncing on toys
  • Shaking toys with side to side head movements
  • Ripping apart toys
  • Appearing excited at the sight of objects, animals or people running
  • Barking in high pitched voice when excited
  • Pulling on the leash to chase
  • Staring prey with immobile, tense, body and ears up
  • Staring prey with one paw lifted off the ground
  • Scenting the air
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Digging
  • Stalking and chasing
  • Stealing food
  • Playing fetch
  • Carrying items in mouth
  • Wolfing down food

-Pack Drive

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 team work such as hounds hunting together of huskies pulling sleighs together. Signs of a dog motivated by pack drive are the following:

  • Reading body language
  • Playing with people
  • Playing with other dogs
  • Being social
  • Following owners
  • Seeking eye contact
  • Obeying
  • Enjoying to be groomed
  • Pleasing owners
  • Willingness to be near owner
  • Roaming away from home

-Fight Drive
These are instincts related to survival and tend to arise around when the dog reaches social maturity ataround 2 years of age.

  • Growling when his space is invaded
  • Guarding food
  • Blocking doorways
  • Playing tug of war and winning
  • Placing head on another dog's shoulder
  • Reluctance to get off beds or couches
  • Staring
  • Hackling of the shoulder area
  • Reluctance to be touched
  • Barking/growling at intruders
  • Fighting with dogs

-Flight Drive
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:

  • Fear of strangers
  • Lack of confidence
  • Cowering head
  • Full length body hackling from neck to tail
  • Submissive urination
  • Turning belly up when reprimanded
  • Fearful biting

For more on this read my hub on the fight or flight drive.

To Each Dog Their Own

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 re-directed 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 drive 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!

Questions & Answers


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      • mike89311 profile image

        michael jennings 4 years ago from knoxville, TN

        this very institeful, thanks!

      • jenosuth87 profile image

        jenosuth87 8 years ago from california

        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 profile image

        mattressguru 8 years ago from TO, ON, CA

        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

      • profile image

        gwennies pen 8 years ago

        Good dog info...I'd love to own a dog again some day. Enjoyed your hub!