I am sure that if you hang out with “dog people” – especially folks that are interested in dog sports you have heard the term “drive” and its derivatives such as: “high-drive”, “low-drive” etc. used ad nauseam.  But what is “drive”, really?  The answer(s), of course, depends on whom you ask.

Drive has been described as a “good work ethic” as in a dog having lots of drive to chase a Frisbee, or too much drive as in the case of a dog chasing neighborhood cats and potentially harming or killing them.

The other interesting factor when it comes to defining “drive” is that it changes depending on the advances in the study of behavior of dogs.

In the 20th century drives – notice the plural, where seen as needs the dog had that need to be satiated. If these drives where not satiated this would potentially “spill-over”.  So here drives are very much linked to natural needs.

Another definition of drive is that of drive as “motivation”.  In essence what is “behind” a given behavior. But wait!  Motivation is clearly not that simple to pinpoint. In other words, there are potentially many reasons that elicit behavior and these are constantly changing.

Here is another interesting definition of “drive” that I came across reading a book about relationship in the context of our relationship with our dogs.  Drive is defined as “focus” as in a dog focusing intently on the ball that will be thrown. So, in this usage, drive has more to do with what the dog is attending to at a given moment.  What I like about this usage is that first it is easy for folks to spot this – as in the example of the dog focused completely on the ball in hopes of it being throw, and that it is fluid.  So in essence drive is a (dog’s) state of mind.

One other important “wrinkle” in this phenomenon is that since there are so many definitions for what “drive” entails, it is really not that helpful in understanding what the dog is doing AND what we want to do about it!

The take home message then as I see it, should be that it is always best to just be factual and describe what we can observe.  For example: The dog is chasing the cat and corralling the cat in the corner.

Second question:  What would I rather the dog do?

Third question:  How can I teach the dog to do that instead of chasing the cat and scaring the living daylights out of the poor cat.

If we choose to continue to use the words “drive” “motivation” and “instinct” we must then define what we mean by them so at least those partaking in the conversation all agree on how the term is being employed.