It is standard within the dog world to interchangeably use drive as a term for dogs that are energetic. However, drive isn’t about the energy level of the dog, it’s about the desire to respond to a reinforcer. There are plenty of medium to low energy dogs that are driven to “perform” for a certain motivator. 

The reason drive is commonly associated with hyperactivity is due to a myriad of high energy breeds possessing formidable desire to work for items of value. Breeds like:

  • Pointers
  • Border Collies
  • Malinois
  • Australian Kelpies
  • Huskies

All are high energy breeds but all have varying degrees of drive. Huskies for example have great energy and stamina, but it is often difficult to find what they’re motivated by. A Malinois, on the other hand, has a lot of drive for toys and play. Terms you often hear in regards to drive are food drive, ball drive, tug drive, and prey drive. Each of these are effective motivators, but not every dog comes with these variations of drive innately. 

Drive can also be built. Oftentimes, trainers in-facility will build food drive by removing “free meals”. This means that the dog no longer receives that resource without working for it. This creates a desire in the dog to be more attentive and operant in the presence of food, thus building drive for the food itself. It is very helpful in creating an easy, very responsive type of drive in your average household pet. 

Breeders tend to select for drive based on what they intend for the dog to do. People who breed dogs for hunting often select for very high prey drive, and so on. In short, drive isn’t a trait related to energy…they just sometimes happen to coincide. This is an important factor to consider when choosing a dog for your lifestyle. Maybe you don’t have an overly active lifestyle, but you still want a responsive and non-aloof dog. Purebred dog guides have become more sophisticated in adding these qualia and traits to their database. 

The canine community should, rescues included, should now be more diligent about utilizing the term “high drive”, because it isn’t all about the energy.

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