What does it mean when people talk about the “drive” of their dog.

It is a term commonly used among working or performance dog handlers and trainers.

Working and performance dogs are selectively bred and trained to have a high drive.


This “drive” is in simple terms, a desire to do a task.


Therefore most working or performance dogs are bred and trained to have a very high desire to perform.

The desire to work is sometimes so high that these dogs will continue to work through all but the most severe injuries.

All the sporting and working aspects that a dog is trained to do starts with the original or inherent desires of a dog to stalk, play or hunt, i.e. stalking, playing or hunting drives.

Training these dogs means to enhance these desires. We use the dogs natural hunting, play and stalking instincts in a manner to channel these instincts into the behaviours required in the jobs or sports they do so that the outcome is of benefit to us, the human.

Wild dogs rest between hunting activities in order to recoup physically as well as mentally. But signs of mental fatigue in dogs are just as varied as they are in humans.

Many times these signs are ignored until the dog either shuts down (no longer responds to commands as he should) or suffers a physical injury.


Why does this happen?


Handlers and trainers lose perspective on their dogs’ need to rest. The signs are not always so obvious that rest is required and is easy to miss.

High drive owners of high drive dogs often need help and advice on how to recognize mental fatigue in their dogs. This is important as these dogs will carry on working regardless of their own physical or mental state. Mental and physical fatigue very quickly leads to injuries.


There’s a joke about drive in distance sled dogs. When a sled dog realizes his leg has fallen off, he just says, “No worries! I’ll just pick it up on my way back.” This attitude isn’t found solely in Alaskan Huskies.


Herding dogs, hunting dogs, police/protection and many detection dogs will continue to finish their goals of getting the “prey” regardless of serious injuries to muscles, sinews, tendons or ligaments and joints. Worse, is that minor injuries go undetected. The dogs continue to work, causing greater injuries down the line.


Handlers, trainers, veterinary and healthcare practitioners cannot rely on obvious pain signals from these dogs to tell them that something is wrong.

A three-legged canine athlete usually means something very serious, such as significant pain or an unstable leg. Working dogs have an enormously high pain threshold which means he’ll ignore the little things that might stop a pet dog in his tracks. This high pain threshold is what turns a small injury into something more devastating.


Trainers and handlers can avoid many unnecessary injuries by developing a critical eye when looking at their dog’s performance on a regular basis.

Educating trainers and handlers about the importance of regular maintenance, manual therapies and balance in fitness and training for canine athletes (especially with weekend warriors) is beneficial to the owner, the veterinary practitioner, and most of all, the dog.


~ Excerpt from an article by Kimberly Henneman, DVM, DACVSMR (EQ, K9), FAAVA, DABT, CVA, CVC

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