Training Your Dog in Drive
Once you and your dog have learned to play together and you have built your dogs play, prey and chase drive you can begin teaching your dog to work in “Drive”.
People ask me “Why is drive training important? Why would you want to work your dog in drive rather than just rely on regular dog training methods?”
The answer to this is simple. Drive training is more FUN for your dog. And, hopefully if you are doing it right, drive training should be more fun for you too!
However, training and working your dog in drive is much more work than traditional “yank and pull” dog training, I think it is even more complicated than most clicker training. It takes excitement and animation when you play, and it also takes superior timing. Your praise and the release of the toy need to come in a timely fashion in order for your dog to understand what you want and to learn what your expectations are for his training.
It is more difficult for him to pay attention and have patience because you are playing his favorite game, with his favorite toy. I liken it to taking a child to the zoo and expecting him to do math. Although this would be a great reinforcer and would likely work well in the long run (he would learn to love math because of the reward he gets for doing it), it would be difficult for him to focus and be patient at first.
It would seem impossible to add structure and fun without frustration to this scenario. However, with time, patience and learning that success brings the reward; the foundation to complex and reliable focus is built.
The key to this kind of dog training is “the game”. Your dog must know with 100% reliability that when he does what you want him to (whatever that may be) you will get down and play with him. This knowledge that as long as he performs correctly he will be satisfied keeps him willing to attempt perfect obedience over and over again.
This type of training gives you ideal, dazzling dog obedience and again it should be FUN for your dog! Although it is a lot of work, it is certainly worth it especially if you ever have aspirations of competing in any sport with your dog!
The first step is teaching your dog how to play with you and build his drive. If you haven’t read my previous article “Building Drive” I recommend you start there and practice, practice, practice.
The next is to bring some focus to your dog’s drive. At first we build a wide array of what seems like wild and crazy play. This is exactly what we want to accomplish. The crazier your dog is for the toy (within reason and never aggressively) the longer your dog will be willing to obey you in between work and play sessions.
For example a dog that could take or leave his toy will not be willing to carry out a 20 minute flawless obedience routine for one game of ball at the end. A dog that lives and dies for his toy and the game you play together would be willing to go 20 minutes or more, as long as you play his favorite game in the end.
Now, this is a step by step process and it take A LONG TIME to get a dog anywhere near a 20 minute routine, but that is your long term goal!
First things first, we must now harness that drive we have created!
Keeping that in mind, we are now going to add some basic obedience to his game.
- Grab his toy and fling it passed his face again like you have been doing while building his drive.
- Once he is super excited and amped up to play with you; snap the ball or toy into your palm and ask him to sit.
- The exact moment your dog sits mark the behavior by saying “YES” or “GOOD” or use the clicker and then throw his ball or swing it by him and let him play. You must mark the behavior the moment it happens and as quickly as possible toss his ball for him.
- He must now learn that in order to play his favorite game with you he must comply with some obedience. This compliance with obedience paired with his favorite game makes obedience and listening to you FUN!
- When he is habitually listening and quickly sitting when you issue the command it is time to move on to the next step.
The next step is to switch the focus from the ball to YOU. By this time your dog should be glued to his ball; his eyes, his body, his everything should orient to the ball the moment you take it out. Now it is time to get that kind of focus on your face and eyes.
There are two ways to get good focus on you:
- Hold the ball away from your body, in your palm and keep it completely still.
- Your dog will probably focus on it, jump, bark and do just about anything to get you to throw or activate his ball for him.
- Stand completely still and keep your eyes focused on his face.
- Eventually he should give up on all other behaviors and he should stare straight at your face as if frustrated that you won’t throw his ball.
- The MOMENT he stares up at you mark that behavior with your marker “YES” or “GOOD” or your clicker and throw his ball for him.
- Continue quietly and patiently playing this game.
- He will quickly learn to stare up at you and give you eye contact.
- Hold the ball up to your eyes
- Although this seems easier, your dog’s focus will likely still be on the ball.
- You may reward and play with him when he looks at you, but he will probably have trouble giving you focus without the ball.
- Try to wait until your dog’s eyes make contact with your eyes, instead of just rewarding him for looking at the ball or at your face.
Some dogs require this step in order to be successful. But the point of this type of training is to change your dog’s focus and make sure it is on you, specifically on your face!
Practice, practice, practice and when your dog understands you may then begin to extend the time between eye contact and when you throw the ball or play with your dog!
Keep up this training until your dog can stare at your face non-stop for several seconds if not a minute or more! Once you have accomplished this, we can move on to advanced training in drive.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.