Building Your Dog’s Drive in Preparation for Obedience

I mentioned “Drive” in one of my previous posts and before the frustration abounds about what “Drive” is and how to achieve it, I thought I would write an article about it!

“Drive” has nothing to do with cars, motorcycles or the like!  “Drive” is all about using your dog’s natural instincts to get them to do what you want, namely your dog’s Prey or Play Drive.

Almost all dogs have prey drive.  Prey drive, the drive that encourages them to chase, catch and kill their prey enables dogs to survive in the wild.  Prey drive is a basic instinct, although in some breeds the prey or chase drive has nearly been bred out.   For these dogs, it will be hard to train them in “Drive”, because the strongest drive comes from wanting to chase toys or other animals.  A lower level of “Drive” can come using food as a reinforcer, but the best way is to use a favorite toy and a game.

Some dogs will have to be taught to play with you!  Often people work on strict “obedience” and compliance to the laws of the home, but they don’t readily teach their dogs how to “PLAY”.

If your dog doesn’t eagerly play or retrieve with you, I recommend you start here.  Your dog’s success in learning how to play has everything to do with how willing you are to get silly and animated while playing with him.  For example, your dog will probably not be successful if you just expect to stand there and monotonously throw a ball, unless you are blessed with a high drive dog!

Get energetic and silly and actually PLAY with your dog!  You will both enjoy it and you will build a lasting bond if you learn to both work and play together.

Once you and your dog have learned to play together you can begin building your dog’s play/prey drive.  The first thing I recommend is adding excitement to your dog’s toy.  Use your dog’s favorite toy!  For some dogs that might be a ball, for others it is a jute or leather tug toy, and some may even like playing with a piece of garden hose.  Just about any toy can be utilized as long as it is big enough and safe for your dog.

This is YOUR toy and only to be used by you and initiated when you are training.  Do not leave this toy or a similar toy in your dog’s toy box, this diminishes its uniqueness!  This toy is ONLY used when you decide to play with and train your dog

As I recommended in the previous article “Teaching Your Dog to Retrieve Using His Play Drive”, you should put your dog’s toy on a string.  The string element allows you to whip and drag the toy.  You can put the toy on the ground and using a pole or just the string drag it along the ground just out of the grasp of your dog!

You can also grab the string and whip it quickly past his face over and over again playing keep away and trying to keep it out of his mouth.

This quick movement in addition to him not being able to readily catch the object builds his excitement, obsession and his “Drive” for the object.  It is true, we all want what we cannot have!  And, teasing him builds the anticipation, fun and enthusiasm when he finally catches the item.  Frustration builds drive!

Be careful to keep your body parts out of the line of fire while you are first teaching this and playing with your dog.  Some dogs inadvertently bite their owners when they see a hand, arm or leg move simply because they are trying to seize the ball or toy!  I put my dog on a leash so that I can better control him in the early stages, because I have been bitten more than once teaching this game.  I can keep one hand on the leash while the other hand drags and whips the toy.  You can also use a tie out or tie down to ensure your body parts are safer while you are playing!

Once your dog is going nuts for the toy eventually let him catch it and play with it for a moment or so.  Sometimes I hold onto it and apply some back pressure.  Once he has it, it is time to whip out toy number two (it should be the same toy) and again play this keep away game.  Your dog should almost immediately spit out toy one and go for toy number 2.  As he spits it out be sure and tell him what he is doing “Drop It” “Give” whatever you decide.

This game and the fact that he is eagerly dropping the toy helps you teach him to give up his toys and perhaps other items on demand.  “Give” should be almost as fun as “Take It” or “Fetch”.  And, giving up items is crucial in the lives of all dogs!

Continue to play this game daily!  Just take your dog out, tease him a bit, then let him grab and play with his toy before you start in again while asking for a “Drop It”.  This game builds drive.  The shear excitement should drive him nuts and leave him wanting more!

Don’t exhaust him or do this till it isn’t fun anymore!  You want to stop the game while he is still amped up and having a good time.

Always end on a good note and praise him for giving up his toys.

I always keep my dog’s toys in the same place and ask him “You want to go train?” prior to getting them and getting started.  The thrilled look on his face should tell you when it is time to begin using his “Drive” for more fun and obedience!

More on using “Drive” in obedience in another article, so keep your eyes out!

As always, get out there and have some fun together!


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  1. Frank Taylor says:

    You have some great ideas on dog toys. I have a squeaker ball for my dog and she loves for my roommate and to throw it so she can jump up and catch it.


    fiona Reply:

    I have two 8mth old mix breed pups. They have a rope toy that they love to retrieve. Before the game starts they have to sit. Delylah, a high energy dog, chases the rope EVERY time I throw it. Samson on the other hand, a low energy dog, gets tired/lazy so he lets her do the leg work. She chases after the rope, then he meets her half way back, she gives hime the rope and he brings it to me. Once they have used up some energy, I introduce the ‘wait’ command, then I throw the rope, and they have to wait till I give the ‘fetch’ command. That really increases the excitement! (for them). Great fun for all!!


  2. fiona says:

    I have two 8mtnh old mix breed pups. 1 high enery and the other not so high energy. They love retrieving a rope toy. After a few minutes of ‘play’, which gets rid of their inital excitement, I tell them to ‘wait’ before they ‘fetch’, this is NOT easy as it goes against their chase drive, but it’s fun and works in some obedience training too! Delylah, high energy pup, chases the toy EVERY time. Samson, low energy pup, gets tired/lazy, so he lets her chase after the toy, he then goes to meet her half way. He gets her to give him the toy and he drops it at my feet. They’ve worked out their own kind of relay game!!


  3. Richard says:

    I really love your tips on how to effectively train a dog. Putting a dog’s toy on a string is really a good idea. Keep up the good work! Thanks again.


  4. Kirsten says:

    Thanks for the great post! Drop It is such a great game and one I need to work on more… my foster dog, unfortunately, does not suffer from any lack of prey drive! I’ve outlined our adventures in the same area here:

    I fully agree that structured play, ideally with some impulse control training built in as Fiona writes, is key to training! I look forward to more great posts–


  5. Beth Moore says:

    I have a two-old [or she has me] German Shepherd with a high prey/play drive. Her favourite toy is a Kong which she carries with her almost constantly, even when we go for off-leash walks. Also high on her list of favourites are her two frisbees. I keep them in the sink because I have to rinse them off every time we come in from playing and I leave them there to dry. Our ritual frisbee time is in the evening just before the sun goes down and the heat of the day has abated somewhat. When she thinks it is time to go out to play she goes to the sink and looks at me as if she is saying “Now”. She is very intelligent so she keeps me busy devising new ways of playing with her to keep the interest fresh. By my email address you can tell I live by a lake, and since the frisbees float I have started throwing them in the water for her to go after, to which she exuberantly responds.

    Thank you for your posts and the fresh ideas. They come in handy with this girl.


    yuni Reply:

    Hi, That’s great. My sable collie picks up sock and urges me to take the other end. Then a little tug of war ensues and eventually he succeeds in getting me out of bed and out the door with him. Your German Shepherd is smart. And, I am so glad to say, so is mine. Thank you. Bless ya both.


  6. elizabeth mercer says:

    My dog Maxwell loves the toilet brush because when he was a puppy I used it as a toy when I was indisposed and also with my other dog. I know it sound rather funny but now he chews on it and someday I will have to replace it. My other dog loves the tennis ball and they both love cardboard boxes and empty paper towel rolls. Elizabeth Mercer


  7. Jacqulyn says:

    My 10 month old mixed breed puppy has always loved to chase and pop bubbles. It is a great outlet for her energy and a wonderful indoor activity to do when it is too unpleasant to be outside for very long.


  8. nomi says:

    My border collies have no trouble rounding up my cats or goat… now they are rounding up the chickens… Im not sure that that will have a healthy out come… for the chickens!


    ozmom Reply:

    Have faith, nomi! I once had a shepherd mix (my “once in a lifetime” dog) that helped me catch the chickens when they got out. I would point out the bird I wanted her to catch and tell her to “hold it”. She would run it down and stand with one front paw on the top of each wing, spread out on the ground. Then to quiet the bird, she would open her mouth and place it (like a tent) over the chicken’s neck with her nose and lower jaw in contact with the ground, not touching the bird’s neck. She would hold the chicken till I got there and could pick it up and put it back in the pen. We had such fun with it that I didn’t bother to keep the fence in the best of repair. I never deliberately taught her those moves, she just had a good grasp of English and good instincts to complement her intelligence.


  9. Cherryl Vandergert says:

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoy reading your dog training secrets.I have a 1 yr old Labrador who hasn’t started barking as yet. The only time she has barked is when my car returns home or when I take her to the vet and she sees other dogs. Usually when the door bell rings or they see dogs in the neighbourhood, my other two dogs – German shepherd and a Cain terrier go charging to the gate and start barking. But the Labrador-Tarzie, runs to the gate, stands on her hind legs doing nothing but wagging her tail.
    Any suggestions for her to start barking at strangers and the door bell?


  10. Annette Baker says:

    We had a 6 lb yorkie-maltese that killed at least 32 birds, chipmunks & mice. When he died, we rescued a 7 lb shih tze-pekinese. Her legs are only about 2 inches long/high, yet she caught and killed a squirrel, got the tail off another squirrel and has killed birds, chipmunks and mice. Most people think that a small “lap dog” would never be a hunter, but we’ve had two! Unfortunately, since we have a large fenced-in backyard and doggy doors, we’ve only seen one actual kill and that was a baby cardinal, which we felt bad about, but we couldn’t stop her in time. Once I saw her lying in grass staring at something. I thought it was her ball, but it was a mouse she’d killed. I think she was waiting hoping it would get up so she could chase and catch it again. Even toy breeds can be hunters, we’ve learned.



  11. Lee Mericle says:

    Hm – I don’t think my dog has a problem with a “prey drive”. So far in the last 5 months he’s left the following dead animals in the middle of the living room:
    3 mice
    2 rats
    1 chipmunk
    1 squirrel
    5 (yes FIVE) ground hogs (I think they were teenagers)


    debbie koop Reply:

    The Prey Drive can be quite humorous and full of laughs! Good one! Is your dog part cat?? :o)


  12. hill robinson says:

    one of your best thank you love playing frisbee with my dogs after to work on the drop it so we can play with more then one at a time keep them coming Hill


  13. Vic Bender says:

    I have had Labs most of my adult life–good working gun dogs in the field wonderful family dogs at home.I have always played with them and as you say they have responded accordingly.With no formal training people are amazed at how well disciplined & chilled out they are.The local Vet says that if all dogs were like my current Choclate “kids” then he would have a wonderful job! The two “leftovers ” I now have are relative senior citizens (like myself), but still expect a game or a hunt whenever they can con my wife or I into it.8 yr old Charlie is the best goalie I know and can save a ball kicked toward him from almost any angle.At night I leave him in the house (Stay!) kick/dribble his favorite toy out into the dark and hide it somewhere in the garden ,then go back and send him to look for it.—Very rarely does he not come back with it.Tess,is almost 12 yrs old but by keeping her active with play (I get her and Charlie to have a combined game of tog-o-war)she stays remarkably fit.We live in South Africa & they only have two “enemies”,Monkeys and Postmen,both dogs become Two year olds at the appearance of either of these.We love them to bits and can only agree —PLAY WITH YOUR BEST,MOST LOYAL FRIENDS-THEY WON’T BE AROUND FOREVER !


  14. Larry says:

    Thanks for this blog & topic. When my dog (a male yellow Lab mix, 6 and 1/2 years old) gets back from his morning constitutional in the back yard, and we get close to the stairs going up to the front porch, I say “go get your ball”. I keep it near the front door and he bounds up the stairs with obvious excitement. I like seeing him excited!

    Peace, Larry Oresky


  15. Jill Cyr says:

    Having a frightful time with my 10 month Maltese. We were having alot of fun with fetch and drop, shake and tug of war until he became war like over picking up things he’s not allowed. For example, a pill bottle that fell on the floor or some equally dangerous “play toy”. He dug his feet into the ground and stared at me with a look so evil I nearly fell back. He was ready to snap and has done this three times now. My last experience ended up with a positive experience. I stood up as tall as I could and lowered my voice to almost a praise tone and said “drop it”. which he did. Then I rolled him on his side and made him stay there for several moments. The next day. I was more forceful with him all day. I took him out of his grate, gave no affection, took him for a 30 minute no fooling around walk, feed him and denied affection until later in the day (that really hurt). I was careful to let him know I has pack leader by leaving the house first and making him walk behind me. This experience has soured me for some time and I am fearful of looking at him and he is so darn sweet to look at. He is not neutered yet but I will schedule him now since this experience. I never had a bad time with my large, powerful breds…just this little Maltese/yorkie pup.


    Barbara Reply:

    My large dog tried that with me once too, but I found my response didn’t need to be as hmmmm, harsh as yours did. I took authority, threw a towel over his nose and took the item from him. since I believe part of training when they have done an undesireable behavior is to remove privileges. The privilege I removed was the toy. he didn’t get it back for about a week.

    He’s never growled or scowled at me again.

    Just a thought.


    Jill Cyr Reply:

    I was annoyed at Barbara’s reply that my treatment of my dog was “Hmmmm,Harsh”. She obviously did not understand the danger this sweet dog was into. He is well taken care of by the whole family and neighborhood because he is so cute but it is my responsibily to keep himm out of harm’s way. I think your response was”Hmmm harsh” and I will say I never throw anything at my animals and never will, towels included.


  16. John Workman says:

    a nice way of getting lazy dogs to work but my problem is that my dog chases everything that moves really dangerous on stretts cars vusses u name he will chase it and i cannot find a way how to stop him doing that, he has nearly been run over once or twice bye the way he is a little german hunting terrier and i am really worried of him being run over please how can i train him to just chase things apart from cars and joggers and busses seems to me that i have the same problem as mrs jill cyr
    please help


  17. Shailendra says:

    That’s good idea of teaching our best friend the skill of prey drive.But some care must be taken while teaching him prey drive. I mean that he should only be teached to fetch the toys which we give him. If he learned the habit of fetching anything which is moving than it is a danger for him. Because he might gulp any hazardous thinqs like lizards or any poisonous insects. So that’s the precaution to be taken. Because precaution is always better than cure.


  18. Melinda says:

    I am concerned that I end up running around fetching toys. Our 13 mth Staffy/Whippet mix tries to humour us for about maximum 3 turns or throws of anything then drops the toy and goes and lies on her blanket whilst I are still jumping around and getting excitable. She makes it perfectly clear that it’s simply not as interesting as looking out the window. I always feel deflated.

    Any ideas? BTW, she is a rescue and has already had a litter so the vet said.


    Minette Reply:

    keep playing and end while she is still excited so she is more excited the next time.

    Not all dogs will play but most can be taught to!


  19. Melinda says:

    Thanks Minette, will try it.


  20. Barbara says:

    I’m ashamed to admit I don’t play with my two dogs enough. This blog and the responses have been inspiring and I’ll start TODAY to being a better parent. Keep up the good work. I always learn something from your blogs and responses.


    Minette Reply:

    Your welcome!

    I have a new one coming out soon about “teasing” but its more about playing and teaching your dog to play and use his drive, keep your eyes out for it!


  21. Leonard says:

    Your way of telling еverything in this paragraph is inn fact good,
    every one can simply understand it, Thanks a lot.


  22. joanna says:

    Hello I have a 2 year old female GSD. I am currently training in Obedience (CDX). I am having difficulty with her retrieve on the flat. How can I get her to move quicker? Also her heeling is lagging while in a trial. I seem to loose her in the ring, she looses her focus especially if she hears something. She is very low drive in the ring but when we are outside playing with other dogs she runs like the wind. Maybe she isnt having fun? How do I do. If anyone could help me out that would be great.
    Joanna and Jade


    Minette Reply:

    Go back and make it more fun! It sounds like she doesn’t think trial is fun… so build her drive with this game and then take the game to a class or somewhere where you can simulate a trial


  23. Karen says:

    I have a dog with a high prey drive for living creatures like mice and but he has no interest in toys. I have brought home many different types, including squeaky toys, that he will show interest in for a short period of time , but it never lasts. I was able to teach him a forced fetch in an obedience class but it took a lot longer than all the other dogs and you can tell he doesn’t really enjoy it…he just does it to get a treat. He is extremely food motivated but I would rather be able to train using drive. Any suggestions?


  24. Debi Greenmun says:

    Far as the prey drive my dog loves to chase cats. She liked ours but sorry for any stanger cat. If off leash and she spies one she will not listen and so far all cats have made it to safety, if on leash I can say leave it and she will but still tries to focus on the cat. The same thing happens when we go camping and she sees a squirrel. She has waited at the bottom of a tree for 20 minutes plus before. That is not something we allow her to do, but we were curious how long she would stay there. Probably longer if we had let her. There does not seem to be a toy she likes well enough and stuffed cats are out of the question! She loves treats… Maybe I could put a treat in a net bag and tie it to a toy with a string so I could pull it back. What do you think? Where do I look for a reply- here?


    Minette Reply:

    There are toys that you can hide treats in… however I think just teasing and playing with a flirt pole is as effective.


  25. Stacie Bradley says:

    My dog loves to play with her toys but when I say drop ot or give it She will hold on so tight and start shaking me around and wont let go. I’ve done the treat thing to get her to release but I want to be able to toss her a toy amd for her to bring it back and drop it without being jerked around or accidently nipped in the hand or jumped on while she tosses the toy around in my face playing and teasing me with it. Also when we go out in public she is a little timid with some people and kids and will have a low growl or bark and she will wildly bark at guests and pace around even though she knows basic obedience amd if someome is outside and she sees them she is like a squirl wanting to get outside just to bark widely and her hair will stand up. But when I have her in a store and ahe is focused on just me and my commands she is awesome. But I fear when people ask if ahe is nice because she is only 8 months old and so big I just dont know. She hasnt but anyone yet and I pray she never will. She is protective of me and I want that but only when it’s the appropriate time to be protective. Please help me. I have spent so much money that I dont have with only one small income my husband brings home while I wait amd fight for disability.


    Minette Reply:

    Use two of the same toys


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