So You Think You Want a High Drive Dog??

Thanks Wikepedia for the Photo

Thanks Wikepedia for the Photo

The newest, latest and greatest rage in the dog world is having a “high drive dog”.

After all we see these super dogs on cops, Alpha Dogs (Von Liche Kennels on Nat Geo Wild), or Police Dog Academy.

They are everywhere!

And, these dogs are seriously impressive!  They take most people's breath away with their extreme obedience, fastness and willingness to bite and defend.

Everyone wants one of these super stars but they don’t realize what it takes to live with a dog like this!

Leerburg has a great video on You Tube “So You Think You Want a High Drive Puppy”   Where they show a super “drivey” Malinois puppy in an exercise pen and tormenting a Jack Russell.

Although it shows some great instances of what it is like to have a high drive puppy, it doesn’t even begin to show the “dark side” of it.

After watching that video you may think… “well, he’ll grow out of that”… the truth is that is not always the case.

I Know All About It

I know all about it, I have 3 of these dogs!  I have 2 Belgian Malinois and one Dutch Shepherds and all of them are from very high drive working dogs.

That is okay, because I am used to that kind of dog, I have been training and working with them for almost 20 years.  I knew what I was getting into.

AND, I train daily and exercise them rigorously!  Just read A Day in the Life of My Crazy Dogs   this is just a portion of what my dogs learn.

This kind of stimulation keeps them happy and under control.  But how many people have this kind of time?  Most people aren’t doggy professionals and don’t want to deal with biting dogs.



Biting is a big part of having a high drive dog.

What you don’t see in the puppy video is how these puppies interact with a human in their environment.

Go to you tube and search Malinois puppies biting and you’ll see what I mean all it shows is two legs with a litter of growling, biting, barking puppies attached.  They are biting and riding and shaking his legs and shoes.

It looks like the man has been fed to a pack of wild dogs, till you realize they are only 8 weeks old.

Cute huh?

Not really!

Imagine bringing one of these adorable babies home… now you walk past him while he is playing (he isn’t in one of those exercise pens) and he flies across the room and latches onto your thigh.  Not as cute anymore!  Most of these puppies can be picked up and flipped over and they still won’t release their grip on your flesh.

Now imagine having this kind of dog with children…

Most people don’t want a dog like this, or they think they do until they spend a day with a puppy or dog of this aptitude.

So a puppy doesn’t seem so bad, right?  You can handle that...

What about when that puppy becomes an adult?

By then the behavior has changed, right?

Not necessarily.

These dogs are high drive even in adulthood.  This is what makes them good at their jobs, but it also makes life a little risky.

I am ALWAYS careful when even my adult dogs are in drive that I don't move fast or get bitten.

They must back up and lay down when I throw their ball so they don't inadvertently launch into me and bite me... since I have to move (prey... movement excites them) to throw their toy.

A Month or So Ago I Got Bit Pretty Bad…

It’s true, a month or so ago I go bit pretty badly, but it was no one’s fault.

My Thumb After The Bite

My Thumb After The Bite

My puppy is very high drive, I know that, I like that and I train for sport.  I was teaching him to swim for his toy, but when he got out of the pool he didn’t want to spit out one toy for the other…  This can be pretty normal.  A good high drive worker clamps onto a toy or possession.

So I dangled another toy high over my head, hoping he would spit his out and seek mine.  And HE DID; the problem is that he jumped over 6 feet over my head and latched onto the toy AND MY FINGER and it happened so fast I didn’t even see it coming.

He didn’t even realize he had my finger, and even when I squeaked he didn’t want to spit it out; plus it was way back in the back of his mouth and deep into his grip.  I had to wiggle it out and he had bitten it to the bone.

He didn’t mean to.  He wasn’t “gunning for my finger” or biting me in retaliation.  He didn’t even know he had gotten my finger.

Because his prey drive is so high his desire for the toy was over the top and he did whatever he needed to get what he wanted.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

I sculpt my dogs’ drive and I use it to my advantage, eventually.

But my dogs have the power of a Bugatti Veyron (yes I am a car girl) and most dogs have the power of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV or somewhere closer to here (yes you may have to google that).

And, I have scars from each of them, when I have not been fast enough to get out of their way (although Pharaoh has gotten me the best).

So when I talk about sculpting your dog’s drive, we are in different ball parks.  For more on building drive click here

And, I would never recommend a dog like mine to anyone but a professional.

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  1. James Boyle says:

    Hi Minette, great article. Do you think biting varies per breed or is it something all dogs inherently have in their make up? or does it vary as to how they are treated by their owners?



    Minette Reply:

    Anything with teeth bites.

    Some dogs are bred to have a higher prey drive so they are more apt to bite, no matter how they are treated. Prey and movement provides excitement and that outlet is biting. If you watch the videos it wouldn’t matter what human wandered into those puppies, they would get bitten.

    Of course nurture enters the equation, but I believe nature always outweighs it.

    Basset hound low prey drive much less likely to bite, etc unless you get the puppy from parents that are biters.


  2. James Boyle says:

    Thanks for your reply Minette, I do agree however I think early intervention plays a huge part in it, if an owner can train a dog early not to bite, it can really stem it, however, of course, there is always that danger with certain breeds but it certainly can be kept under control


  3. Rosemary Wood says:

    I can’t get my Puggle to stop jumping up on people. She is very hyper and runs like a greyhound. She was also digging huge holes in my yard so we built her a kennel with a concrete floor, at first she tried and I might say almost succeeded in digging through the concrete. My husband put another layer of concrete on top and she now, not for lack of trying, is unable to dig through it.
    Thank you in advance for your help, Rose


  4. Nina says:

    Hi Minette –

    Great article This is sooooo true! I recently was able to help and observe a litter of working GSD pups from birth to 8 wks… and at the same time foster a working line GSD from 8 wks to 6 months old. Wowee! Crazy little bitey dogs. Definitely not for a majority of homes, but fun to work with as a trainer. 🙂

    I wish more people would heed your advice. Working dogs for working homes! (or at least super sport homes!)



  5. Jean says:

    I have an Australian Shepherd that is high drive. She loves to play fetch and can get super amped up about it. She has nipped my nephew on more than one occasion when he moved too quickly (in her opinion) while playing fetch with her.

    I agree that high drive dogs aren’t for everyone. You really have to be on your toes with them.

    Thanks for the great blogs!!


  6. Pat May says:

    I have collies and my high drive dogs don’t bite. It may be to do with the breed cahracteristics but I wouldn’t describe it as being a big part of having a high drive dog. Yes, collies can get snappy if you wind them up in a particular way but in agility you don’t want a dog that goes over the top and you certainly don’t want a dog that bites. You have to train self control.


    Minette Reply:

    Honestly although collies are herding dogs, I don’t see them as “high drive”


    Pat May Reply:

    These are agility dogs and they need to be high drive.


    Minette Reply:

    I do agility as well, and I like a high drive dog 🙂 most people just can’t live with the dogs I choose to live with 🙂

  7. Mary says:

    I have all high drive dogs and prefer high drive. I also get them as puppies and the first think they learn is to be gentle with teeth. Even tho they are well socialized, love people, small children and other dogs, I know full well that there is always the need to be careful and watchful.

    But, any dog, cat, hamster,rat, human or what ever, that has one tooth can bite/inflict damage.

    High drive or not, all dogs need to be worked with and taught how to use their mouths appropriately around others, human or animal.

    And, yes, I have been bitten by one of my previous dogs but only when breaking up a fight. Hand in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The worse bite I’ve ever gotten was from a human child.


    Minette Reply:

    If you have and like high drive dogs you know they are seriously different.

    I have them and like them too, but they are nothing like pet dogs that most people have. Their seriousness and fastness makes them more like the race car


  8. Carolyn says:

    I rescued my dog from an animal shelter when he was about two. He is a McNabb Border collie, and loved to play. When the playtime turned into biting way too hard I refused to “wrestle” with him again and taught him to fetch a ball.

    I have a young grandchild and aggressive play cannot be allowed.


    Rebecca Reply:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write about our wonderful “high drive dogs”, I so hope people will read it and realize that you have to have a “proper” place to have these wonderful canines. Actually I do not like calling them “dogs” to me they are Canines, or K9 Companions, they have so little in common with a “Pet” and people need to raise this fact and make others be aware of this or there are going to be alot of wonderful babies put in shelters because they have no idea how to handle this type of canine, cuz things can get out of control, fast.
    I have had Australian Cattle dogs for many years, I believe these are the bitiest canines ever created by humans and I have the scares to prove me they are the most loyal, devoted to one person, protective, obediant, and they get so attached to their one person that when that person is not around they go into a type of anxiety attack, most of the time it is no problem,, but then there are times when there is no way they can go with. How do I make it easier on them and myself? it breaks my heart to see how they act when I leave..I look forward to your reply…Sincerely, Rebecca


    Minette Reply:

    you have to teach them independence by crating while you are home, leaving them outside to play on their own and letting them know they won’t die without you.

    I also like teaching my herding dogs to herd and use their instincts.


  9. Natalie says:

    Hi Minette!

    Thanks for the refreshing realism in your articles. (Loooved the one with the bed fluff all over the room). We have an Australian Shepard (10), an Australian Cattle dog (4), a Rat Terrier (8), and now a Blue Tick Hound (1).

    (…drive..and open throttle). In time, some of the drive with 2 of my dogs has settled down, but it was on their time, not mine.

    I appreciate what you wrote about making your dog back up and lay down before you’ll let him fetch, something I’m now going to insist, because the Blue Tick wants the ball so much (yayyy!)that he ‘forgets’ about our groundwork (oh nooo!). The scariest thing with him is..don’t ever wake him, or he will come unglued. He was abandoned at 10 days, carried around by teens for 2 weeks before I got him (at 4 weeks) and the time he should have been nursing in a litter was not going to be in his cards. Our other dogs have helped tremendously in socializing him, but I’m stumped on whether this dog can ever be wakened even accidentally without going into full attack mode. I don’t push him, in fact he sleeps in my room now and I let him wake on his own. Am hopeful. Keeping a spray bottle of water nearby stops him, if needed.

    Our Heeler is a Perfect Princess. And then with a thought, my sweet muffin is a dangerous threat to livestock, other female dogs, or to herself (cars and lawnmowers), with no “off” switch. I’m still working on this, and she is getting better.

    I’ve just accepted that..I will train them and enjoy them forever, and have no expectations of them off leash, have gates, fencing, and cross fencing, a good kennel who can supervise like me if I have to go away, and they won’t be dogs to turn loose together (some aren’t safely reliable) or mix with livestock, cats or children.

    Thanks for reinforcing those truths!!!!


    Minette Reply:

    Teach them eye contact and focus and you will enjoy them more 🙂


  10. gloria welp says:

    I have an 18 mo. old Havenese and he likes to bite and nip, Is he a high drive dog? What can I do to stop this behavior? He is a cute little dog and loves to play but will bite when I try to take his tug to throw for him to fetch.


    Minette Reply:

    My guess is no on the high drive, my guess is he needs more obedience and rules. These guys like to dominate their environment.


  11. hannah says:

    Wow! What an eye opener for me! Well done, Minette, for the work you do with this breed.

    I thought you could’ve stopped the continued biting activity in that video so as not to encourage it further, but, if you did, I wouldnt have had the opportunity to see it in action! If it was the breed alone, this hi-energy will definitely need to be addressed. For an undiscerning public, getting close may turn ugly if they’re not aware of their own body movements and the dog’s response!!

    I own a 3 yr old ShihTzu-cross (dont’ know what the other part is), and more and more, I’m learning every turn of his body, head, look, etc, he’s sending a message to me! Keeps me awake figuring him out! And don’t even talk about what I’m projecting onto him either! Woo! Got a lot of work to do on myself first!!

    Good article, video!! Keep up the good work!!


  12. Dee says:

    I have raised dobies, chows, rotties, and pits. Pits have the worst reputation, but they are a wonderful breed. I had 6 teenagers in the home along with 3 pitties and one english bull. All were wonderful. NO biting or snapping from the start. Taz was being kept for me as I was moving and the home she was staying in had a huge fenced in yard. I NEVER used a fence…I set boundaries and my dog respected them. Well, that neighbor’s little dog dug a hole to get into my friend’s back yard, and Taz killed it. Animal control was called before me. They shot her on the spot. That was 10 years ago. Now, I decided I was ready for another pit. I just keep comparing her to Taz. Not fair on my part. She LOVES my grand children. As soon as one comes over, she lays down until greeted and welcomes them with tail wagging and sloppy kisses. I am lucky I guess to have a sweet tempered dog. We walk and she wants to meet and greet everyone and their pets. Training her,,,ughhhhhhhhhhh,,,sheer madness!!!


  13. Sandra Dickinson says:

    i have a high drive animal i have just rescued she is supoosed to be a danger but i have found that with a low energy play time and lots of excersice is the key she is learning when shes too close to my hands she has never been aloud to put her mouth on anything .ive had her since June 7 th and she is already responding to my rules i have another small breed she tries to love hes the one taking his time to warm up to her he has given her shit on more than one occasion things are going well the biggest thing to remember is that a high energy dog needs exercise and low key play.


  14. Priscilla says:

    Please help me. I have a 4 month old German shepard and he refuses to sleep in his brand new wooden kennel. He sleeps on a blanket outside the back door. Now I have heard that it is bad for them to sleep on the cold cement even if it is on a blanet. How can I get him to sleep in his litte house.

    Please help me I have sleepless nights


    Minette Reply:

    Let him sleep indoors, he is a baby alone in the world. Read this


  15. carla brown says:

    Although I have entertained (lightly) adopting a Belgian Malois, I am glad I didn’t. To live with a liability is not something I want to do. Best to leave with the experienced trainers / breeders!!!


  16. Recently adopted a 6 mo. old male Rat terrier, I think that is what he is, from the pound. He is very high energy but the thing that bothers me most is that he barks all the time when he is in the yard, worse when he is alone. We have a new neighbor with two children and a dog who like to go in their own backyard but my dog barks like a maniac when they are out. He barks when there is nothing to bark about and I can’t get him to stop. He barks when we are outside with him. Therefore,this also does not help with his potty training as I can’t leave him out as long as I would like because of the barking. He will go all day and not have an accident and then just squat and pee. He is crate trained and sleeps in his crate at night. He also has had some chewing incidents but I know this is just the puppy and things being out or down and were available so he chewed them up. The first 2-3 days he did none of these, although he did bark when outside, and now is seeming to have more accidents. Can you offer some suggestions??


    Minette Reply:

    Read this

    and he needs a lot more exercise to help with chewing and you can search for potty training articles on here as well


  17. krystie says:

    I absolutely agree, a good trainer can eliminate biting behavior. However, with the breeds mentioned in this article, why would you want to? Certain breeds are MEANT to bite. An extremely prey driven pup will choose a bite over food. With these types of dogs, they literally will go crazy without an outlet. I think the article is trying to dissuade people from obtaining pups like these. Especially as a newbie or if the purchaser has no intention of persuing bitework/pp/canine work.


    Minette Reply:

    I have 3 of these high drive dogs, hence the reason I wrote the article and only a very experienced owner should have one… most people shouldn’t own a dog that bites


  18. Kelly says:

    Minette, truer words have not been spoken. These guys are a LIFESTYLE NOT A PET,,! I raised GSD for years ad recently (well 1.5yr ago )working at shelter found my Nico! The friends I work with there kept telling me about this GS that had been brought in on my days off (2) … he was constantly barking and raising mortal hell .. lol to say the lest and was a release from owner due to pinning the lady’s niece to the living room wall. I started working with him abd we clicked.. well I fell hard. He had the looks of GS but the streamline athleticism and the DRIVE quick reflects and as i soon found out the “i will eat u and please DO run because i love fast food ” switch for protection of their “person” that the Dutchie and the Mal… sooooo honestly earn rights to.. he was a surprise and much to my horror two months later the savor when while trying to see to a ran over animal in my middle of nowhere residents ,three older teens thought they would sneak up behind me and do good lord only knows what. Nico gave tge one stupid enough to come up on me (bad stormy nite around 11pm, in waste high sage grass closest neighbors 2mile. I couldn’t hear him BUT Nico did a speed over my shoulder (I was sqwated on ground seeing to critter he was a a sit to my right and in front of me facing to watch my back , just a position he chose now I know because he knew they were there . He had alerred but one was with me the other two had hightaiked up the woods beside my drive way 1/2 mile to come up behind my house I could see their flash lights after Nico brought it all to my attention ( boy did I fill dumb). Anyhow he sailed over my head and freaked me avd tge critter completely out and tge next thing I hear was what sounded like a cow singing jingbells behind a fan… lol I turn and retrieved my dog (no simple task and the guy kept saying he though I was his girl friend abd it was all a joke .. he took off . Nico was no small deed holding him back ..after I could not see them and hot my stomach back wh r e it belonged. I went to pick up my towel and things and my hand bumped into a small keepsake Louisville slugger bat that was still warm.. ….. my horses don’t care for baseball.. can’t find mitts to fit right….. ….
    Nico is my hero and the blessing that keeps giveing.. (I keep reminding myself of this daiky.. when I fell like takeu b g a nap and he has found was to entertain himself in the 10 min.. TEN MINUTES I am late to start out little chores and exercise … so yes I to cringed at the movie avd dread the poring in of these amazing guys abd gals that some person just had to have ….. but then the cute wears off lije 4 hours after they get them home abd they have chewed new car up on ride there , ate the sofa while the does were washing up their bowels ad putting out their kibble. …… yes they are deff. A lifestyle .. abd not fir the faint of heart or weak nerves. .. but I LOVE THEM..
    I DNA Nico to see if I was right and for once in my life when I had to few witness I was RIGHT…. ha ha
    Take care out there.. Merry Christmas, have a safe and happy new year 2… from me and Nico here in Tennessee!


  19. Cheri Howe says:

    Poss.. The Mal at the shelter has taken my heart..four and a half, called a Mal mix..I have had huskys, wolfdogs, BullMastiff, but this seems entirely different, my only worry if for our cat…have you had one live with a cat?


    Minette Reply:

    All dogs are different and not all dogs get along with cats. I would make sure it has been temperament tested and cleared for living with cats.


  20. Don says:

    We own two Malinois as pets, the Male is very high drive. He has not ever even nipped let alone bit me. He will however, look directly at me and snap the air and head for the door as his way of saying lets go do something and if he had his way he would always be doing something. When inside he is very alert and at the drop of the hat is on his feet hoping your going to do something with him. He will go to bed around 9pm but will get up about every 30 minutes to check on us and then go back and lay down. He’s up at 6 am every day looking to get his day started.

    The female is totally different. She can completely shut it down while inside or in the car, but if you pull the ball out she will out run the male almost every time to fetch it. The female upon first greeting me gets excited and will deliver a nip to my arm I have learned to just give her a ball upon greeting and ask her to give it back after her excitement has diminished.

    They both are great dogs, the breed is very,very loyal and enjoy being trained.



  21. Diane says:

    I have a 10 week old male Labrador, who keeps biting my 8 year old female. Have you any ideas as what I can do to help with this situation. The only time he leaves her alone is when he’s tired. She does not really retaliate as she is a very friendly natured girl.


    Minette Reply:

    Put him on a leash and teach him manners


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