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"Drives" Theory

There isn't a lot of formal writing on the subject of drives. Konrad Lorenz talked a little about them in "The Foundations of Ethology" (1981). Roger Abrantes discussing them in "The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior" (1997). Most of the in-depth discussion of drives comes from the different ring sports in the world and their books. "Schutzhund, Training in Drive" by Gottfried Dildei and Sheila Booth discusses different drives and their manipulability as does "Advanced Schutzhund" by Ivan Balabanov and Karen Duet.

The problem with the discussion of drives is that everybody has a different view as to what they are, how they can be manipulated and even how many there are.

Some people/trainers/ethologists look at drives as desires. These people say that a dog has hundreds of drives. Others look at drives as subconscious instincts brought to bear on the stimulus through a reaction to the stimulus. My view is that there are fewer drives than most people state. Also, I look at drives a little differently than most in that I look at the sensory threshold of the behavior/reaction, in determining whether its a drive or a conscious response to stimulus.

Generally, this is my view, take it for what it's worth. I'll give a few drives and my definition of what they are:

  • PACK DRIVE: The drive/instinct to obtain emotional contact with perceived pack members.
  • HUNT DRIVE - The drive/instinct to pursue objects to source that have gone out of sight/scent.
  • PREY DRIVE - Drive to chase, bite and kill prey.
  • DEFENSE/PROTECTION DRIVE - The drive/instinct to defend/protect/guard the percieved pack or other objects.
  • FIGHT DRIVE - Drive to take the physical conflict to the other party. (I don't consider fight drive a true drive because I don't believe it's a separate drive from all the others, i think it is a combination of defense and prey drives. Prey drive gives the dog confidence, the "take it to" part. Defense drive gives the strength of the attack, the desire to "drive away". By raising defense drive and prey drive through a series of exercises, you can raise the dog's desire to "take the fight" to the object.)

Again, some people separate hunt drive into tracking drive, windscenting drive, etc. I think those are just manipulable variables of existing drives.

In practical training, drives are important because the need to fulfill the drive can be manipulated into a reinforcer. For example if I have a police dog that is high in prey drive, I can reward some behavior with the chance to chase a wrap tied to a rope. So a high drive dog gives you more opportunities for reinforcement. In a high drive dog, this manipulation of the drives can create extremely reliable behavior, because the desire to accomodate the drive is so important in the dog.

I hope this helps, it's an amazingly interesting subject.

Doug Johnson
copyright 2001 Doug Johnson


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