Thursday, July 14, 2011Denise Fenzi Seminar: Drives and Why They Matter
Saturday and Sunday of the Denise Fenzi seminar was about “Drives and Motivation in Obedience.” I was pretty excited about the topic because the concept of “drive” has always perplexed me just a little. You often hear people say that a dog is “high drive,” but so much of the time it seems like they're just talking about energy level, or worse, a dog who is out of control.
While it's true that a high drive dog is typically pretty energetic, drive is so much more than that. Drives are more like instinct, and are linked to survival. If a dog doesn't have the drive to hunt, stalk, chase, kill, or eat... well, he's not likely to survive! Therefore, Denise told us that when a dog satisfies a drive, he's also satisfying a basic need.
Drives are also innate. It is either in the dog or it's not, largely because we humans have impacted drives by selectively breeding dogs to perform various jobs for us. Herding, hunting, live-stock guarding- all these tasks use different drives. While a terrier has been bred to seek and destroy, a retriever has been bred to seek and return. Each dog, therefore, has it's own unique mixture of drives, high in some areas and low in others. While we can't create drive in an individual dog, Denise did say that we can strengthen what already exists by using it.
Maisy's prey drive- at least the chasing aspect of it- is well-developed.
So what are the different drives? Denise identified four main drives that are useful in dog training:
Hunt drive is the act of finding something, typically with scent. A dog needs hunt drive in order to search for and get close to his food source (a bunny, chipmunk, whatever). Denise said that there are relatively few opportunities to use hunt drive in training. That said, when the opportunity arises, it can make boring exercises quite exciting! It is particularly useful for building obsession for an object- Denise showed us how to make a dog love his dumbbell by playing hide-and-seek games with it. Hunt drive can also be useful for teaching scent articles, as well as exercises that are not handler focused or require the dog to work at a distance from his handler. The downside to hunt drive is that it creates a lot of energy, and with that can come hectic thinking that can be difficult to channel into the task at hand.
Prey drive is a complementary drive. Once a dog has gotten close to his quarry, he switches into prey drive, and uses his sense of sight to find and catch it. We can harness prey drive in both tugging and retrieving games, both of which make great training rewards for known behaviors because they help increase speed, intensity, endurance and enthusiasm for the task at hand. Harnessing prey drive in training also lets us give distance rewards (by throwing a toy), can relieve stress, and is a great relationship builder.
We spent lots and lots of time discussing the application of prey drive to training, specifically with tugging. So much, in fact, that I'll have to devote a separate blog post to the proper way to play tug. I didn't really think there was that much to it, but considering the fact that before the seminar, Maisy wouldn't tug, and now she's waking me up in the middle of the night asking to play, well... clearly it's more complicated than I thought!
Food drive is... not that interesting. I mean, yes, a dog needs to eat, and I consider myself a consummate cookie pusher, but as Denise said: even a five year old can feed a dog. Food drive is great for teaching behaviors, because it allows you to get many repetitions in a short amount of time. It's also great for puppies who don't have much hunt or prey drive yet, for promoting calm, thinking behaviors, and for use in behavior modification.
The downside to the use of food in training is that trainers are often too generous with it. While this sounded like heresy to me, Denise shared that being liberal with the cookies actually devalues their power. She compared it to M&Ms: if you get one every 3 seconds, you'll probably get bored of them pretty quickly. If, on the other hand, you only get one every 3 minutes, they'll remain interesting much longer, and you'll be willing to work for them harder.
Finally, pack drive. This drive is all about relationship, which Denise described in her handout as a “fluid, dynamic process which is continually being reinforced or undermined.” You need to be fully present when training with your dog in order to harness this relationship to its fullest.
I have tons and tons to say about this in future posts (this woman is amazing at interacting with and engaging dogs), but for now I'll simply leave you with a few of Denise's suggestions to develop and maintain a strong relationship with your dog. Always support his needs and recognize his limitations. Protect him from scary people, places, and things, not only during training or at trials, but in everyday life. Make sure that you're meeting all his needs- physical, mental, and emotional. And ensure he gets plenty of attention from you. In return, you'll receive natural focus and obedience.
So, why is it important to understand drives?
While work like herding or hunting is directly tied to a drive, performance sports are not. There is very little in obedience that intrisincally motivates a dog- heeling does not satisfy any dog's needs, for example- but we can use drives indirectly to engage and reward a dog for his performance. Denise said that handlers who develop their dog's drives to a high level will have reliable and intense competitors because the dog, when well-trained, will perform with the same enthusiasm that he plays- and that's a gorgeous picture!
The take away message is that you should figure out the drives that your dog naturally engages in, and then find a way to use them during training. Part of the reason we spent so much time learning to tug well with our dogs is because it is a very easy way to tap into prey drive. Doing this will not only help build value for obedience exercises, but also build value for the handler. Since using drives satisfies basic needs, we can make it very fulfilling for our dogs to interact with us! Considering that we can't take toys or food into the ring, but we can take ourselves... well, it should be obvious that this is a huge benefit for competition!
As for Maisy, well, she's huge into chasing things (prey drive), although she's not so interested in the catching and killing part of the prey sequence. That's okay- I can still use the portions of that particular drive that she's interested in, work on building up the rest (it's there, just not well developed), and get some amazingly flashy performances as a result. Our heeling has already improved by leaps and bounds, far more than when we used food alone, and Maisy has tons of food drive!
I'd like to build on Maisy's hunt drive. She likes to sniff and search for things, but we haven't done much with this. Still, creating a bit of obsession for her dumbbell would be awesome, so I see some hide-and-seek games in our future.
And as for pack drive, well, I like to think we have a good relationship. Denise did say during our working spot on Monday that she was impressed by the way Maisy hung in there with me-she didn't wander off or give up- even when she wasn't sure what I expected from her. I just need to work on making sure Maisy knows how pleased I am with her. I can't take that relationship for granted, but rather, continually nurture it.
But more on that later. For now, I'd love to hear from you. Which drives does your dog naturally engage in? Which would you like to build up? How do you think it might affect your training? I can't wait to find out what you think!
Posted by Crystal Thompson at 9:05 PM