What I’m about to publish is not a conclusion I’ve drawn.  There’s no need for rebuttal, argument, or mudslinging.  There’s also no need for praise or accolades.  It is merely a Question I’ve been formulating for some time.  It started before I began to learn about Natural Dog Training, and it actually has it’s roots in the earliest days of working with my dogs.  It’s something I should have done much earlier, but hadn’t yet the insight to, ‘ take the road less traveled.’

For the large part of dog training history, “Drive(s)” have been a central tenet.  Which “Drive” controls or manages a particular behavior?  How can I build more ” Drive” in my dog?  How can I diminish a certain “drive” in my dog?  Look at the long list of “Drives” that certain “”experts” have identified, qualified, indemnified, and quantified.  Ball drive, Play Drive, Prey drive, Hunt drive, food drive, sex drive, pack drive, fight drive, tracking drive, ad infinitum.  Some insist that all of these drives are involved to varying degrees when training a dog.  Others postulate that only a single Drive actually exists, and it is labeled Prey Drive.  At the moment, I’m not pressing either opinion as most accurate, although I’ve trained in both theories, and the middle ground between them.  Maybe all  of this talk of “Drives” is meant for the human on the “educated” end of the leash…Something that helps us identify what’s happening in our dogs head.  Maybe it’s a handy way to project blame for our failure as trainers onto a dog with a “lack of whatever drive the dog should possess.”  Is it possible that our dogs don’t self-govern by the use of irresistible urges, or inborn, “Drives” at all??  Is there something less quantifiable at work?

I do know this:  Your dog doesn’t care which theory, or theories, that you subscribe too.  The dog cares only that he works off energy, feels safe, and has balanced emotion.   Your emotional state affects what your dog feels all of the time, like a ephemeral mirror of emotion.   And frankly, he can’t even tell you that this is what he needs in words.  Your dog has the wonderful ability to just “Be”.  It seems to me that if we, as humans, learn this skill equally, we’d all be better off, a little less tightly wound-up…

I’ve written several times on the subject of “building drive”, or “Training in Drive”, so this supposition that I’m postulating has been a personal struggle.  But something that I’ve learned has beckoned to me from behind a dark curtain…Dogs “organize” themselves in a group and accomplish what they need in the mindset of which individual “wants” something the most.  They rest will fall in line to support that “need”.  The individual  “alpha principle” within a group of dogs changes and flows with that energy.  There is no single alpha dog, but rather, a different member with the most energy at a given moment becomes the leader.  It’s an emotional response to whatever is of current interest.  Batteries have positive and negative charges that need to work together to produce a release of energy.  That’s what we may be mistakenly describing as “Drive.” 

Doesn’t “Drive” describes something that is answered to without hesitation or forethought?  When a dog has pent-up “energy”, and is looking for the opposite polarity to release that energy, he’s ” thinking” about the end result.  Not reacting mindlessly to external stimulus.  Too further the analogy, I will be attempting to discover a way to define this mental exercise going on within the dogs mind…Rather than a “Drive”, which confines the dogs abilities to mere evolutionary instinct and reaction, I’m theorizing something else.  In short and simple terms,  Your dog has an “intelligence”, uses it, and is not a helpless pawn to a “Drive.”  It knows what it wants, needs, and requires, and builds it’s “energy” to acquire it.  Often, thru the completion of the circuit emotionally, we help release the supplied energy.

The most difficult part of this “theory” is suspending our lofty, human approach to working with a dog.  That’s why this post is probably  going to draw the ire of so many.  Because humans are superior in intellect, we relegate our dog to the position of the lesser.  This causes us to believe the dog needs to respond to our wants, and ignore the dogs.  Maybe the best way to train is too become our dogs “completed circuit.”  When we work together, and take the lead, the dog will support the strongest “want” in the group willingly and naturally.  Again, this is “our” responsibility as trainers and handlers.  The dog will follow and reflect us without hesitation.

  I know this sounds very Unscientific to many.   But remember, Science Insists, It dismisses the unquantifiable, It denies the existence of the anything that can’t be charted or graphed. 


  1. I sort of agree and disagree here, Robert. Like you I don’t believe that dogs are prisoners of their drives. They can act on them or not, they can sublimate their emotional needs and suspend the need to act on their desires, etc, etc, etc.

    What they can’t do — in my opinion — is engage in a mental thought process relative to any of this. Do they make choices? Yes! Are those decisions arrived at through a linear, analytical process? I don’t think so. I think dogs feel things out rather than think them through.

    I also think there’s only one basic drive, which is the drive to connect. Every living organism — from ova and sperm cells, to plants, to someone reading this on the internet — has to form connections of one kind or another in order to keep on being a living organism.

    Anyway, that’s how I see it.

    • Robert says:

      You just wrote something so profound that I’m floored! “I also think there’s only one basic drive, which is the drive to connect. Every living organism — from ova and sperm cells, to plants, to someone reading this on the internet — has to form connections of one kind or another in order to keep on being a living organism.”

      It’s almost too simple, and this IS the point I was searching for…I agree that dogs don’t “think” in the way we do, my supposition is that dogs are Not simple automatons answering to instinct or drive alone…This will be on my thoughts for sometime! Thank You!