Thursday, July 14, 2011

Denise Fenzi Seminar: Drives and Why They Matter

 Saturday and Sunday of the Denise Fenzi seminar was about “Drives and Motivation in Obedience.” I was pretty excited about the topic because the concept of “drive” has always perplexed me just a little. You often hear people say that a dog is “high drive,” but so much of the time it seems like they're just talking about energy level, or worse, a dog who is out of control.

While it's true that a high drive dog is typically pretty energetic, drive is so much more than that. Drives are more like instinct, and are linked to survival. If a dog doesn't have the drive to hunt, stalk, chase, kill, or eat... well, he's not likely to survive! Therefore, Denise told us that when a dog satisfies a drive, he's also satisfying a basic need.

Drives are also innate. It is either in the dog or it's not, largely because we humans have impacted drives by selectively breeding dogs to perform various jobs for us. Herding, hunting, live-stock guarding- all these tasks use different drives. While a terrier has been bred to seek and destroy, a retriever has been bred to seek and return. Each dog, therefore, has it's own unique mixture of drives, high in some areas and low in others. While we can't create drive in an individual dog, Denise did say that we can strengthen what already exists by using it.

Maisy's prey drive- at least the chasing aspect of it- is well-developed.

So what are the different drives? Denise identified four main drives that are useful in dog training:

Hunt drive is the act of finding something, typically with scent. A dog needs hunt drive in order to search for and get close to his food source (a bunny, chipmunk, whatever). Denise said that there are relatively few opportunities to use hunt drive in training. That said, when the opportunity arises, it can make boring exercises quite exciting! It is particularly useful for building obsession for an object- Denise showed us how to make a dog love his dumbbell by playing hide-and-seek games with it. Hunt drive can also be useful for teaching scent articles, as well as exercises that are not handler focused or require the dog to work at a distance from his handler. The downside to hunt drive is that it creates a lot of energy, and with that can come hectic thinking that can be difficult to channel into the task at hand. 

Prey drive is a complementary drive. Once a dog has gotten close to his quarry, he switches into prey drive, and uses his sense of sight to find and catch it. We can harness prey drive in both tugging and retrieving games, both of which make great training rewards for known behaviors because they help increase speed, intensity, endurance and enthusiasm for the task at hand. Harnessing prey drive in training also lets us give distance rewards (by throwing a toy), can relieve stress, and is a great relationship builder.

We spent lots and lots of time discussing the application of prey drive to training, specifically with tugging. So much, in fact, that I'll have to devote a separate blog post to the proper way to play tug. I didn't really think there was that much to it, but considering the fact that before the seminar, Maisy wouldn't tug, and now she's waking me up in the middle of the night asking to play, well... clearly it's more complicated than I thought!

Food drive is... not that interesting. I mean, yes, a dog needs to eat, and I consider myself a consummate cookie pusher, but as Denise said: even a five year old can feed a dog. Food drive is great for teaching behaviors, because it allows you to get many repetitions in a short amount of time. It's also great for puppies who don't have much hunt or prey drive yet, for promoting calm, thinking behaviors, and for use in behavior modification.

The downside to the use of food in training is that trainers are often too generous with it. While this sounded like heresy to me, Denise shared that being liberal with the cookies actually devalues their power. She compared it to M&Ms: if you get one every 3 seconds, you'll probably get bored of them pretty quickly. If, on the other hand, you only get one every 3 minutes, they'll remain interesting much longer, and you'll be willing to work for them harder.

Finally, pack drive. This drive is all about relationship, which Denise described in her handout as a “fluid, dynamic process which is continually being reinforced or undermined.” You need to be fully present when training with your dog in order to harness this relationship to its fullest.

I have tons and tons to say about this in future posts (this woman is amazing at interacting with and engaging dogs), but for now I'll simply leave you with a few of Denise's suggestions to develop and maintain a strong relationship with your dog. Always support his needs and recognize his limitations. Protect him from scary people, places, and things, not only during training or at trials, but in everyday life. Make sure that you're meeting all his needs- physical, mental, and emotional. And ensure he gets plenty of attention from you. In return, you'll receive natural focus and obedience.

So, why is it important to understand drives?

While work like herding or hunting is directly tied to a drive, performance sports are not. There is very little in obedience that intrisincally motivates a dog- heeling does not satisfy any dog's needs, for example- but we can use drives indirectly to engage and reward a dog for his performance. Denise said that handlers who develop their dog's drives to a high level will have reliable and intense competitors because the dog, when well-trained, will perform with the same enthusiasm that he plays- and that's a gorgeous picture!

The take away message is that you should figure out the drives that your dog naturally engages in, and then find a way to use them during training. Part of the reason we spent so much time learning to tug well with our dogs is because it is a very easy way to tap into prey drive. Doing this will not only help build value for obedience exercises, but also build value for the handler. Since using drives satisfies basic needs, we can make it very fulfilling for our dogs to interact with us! Considering that we can't take toys or food into the ring, but we can take ourselves... well, it should be obvious that this is a huge benefit for competition!

As for Maisy, well, she's huge into chasing things (prey drive), although she's not so interested in the catching and killing part of the prey sequence. That's okay- I can still use the portions of that particular drive that she's interested in, work on building up the rest (it's there, just not well developed), and get some amazingly flashy performances as a result. Our heeling has already improved by leaps and bounds, far more than when we used food alone, and Maisy has tons of food drive!

I'd like to build on Maisy's hunt drive. She likes to sniff and search for things, but we haven't done much with this. Still, creating a bit of obsession for her dumbbell would be awesome, so I see some hide-and-seek games in our future.

And as for pack drive, well, I like to think we have a good relationship. Denise did say during our working spot on Monday that she was impressed by the way Maisy hung in there with me-she didn't wander off or give up- even when she wasn't sure what I expected from her. I just need to work on making sure Maisy knows how pleased I am with her. I can't take that relationship for granted, but rather, continually nurture it.

But more on that later. For now, I'd love to hear from you. Which drives does your dog naturally engage in? Which would you like to build up? How do you think it might affect your training? I can't wait to find out what you think!


Raegan said...

Gatsby: Prey drive, and more specifically play drive. I've been playing a lot more physically with him, we play a lot of bitey hand and I get this sense that he knows we're mock fighting and he gets really ritualized and stylized about it. He's excited and growly and into it, but also really gentle with his pointy bits.

Marsh: Thank the Dog God for natural retrievers. This was actually a huge point that drove me into Tollers in the first place. The down side is that Marsh does not tug, whereas Gatsby got a toy in his mouth the first twenty minutes I had him and didn't let go. I'm on the fence on teaching Marsh to tug or not. I'm not sure if it would always play second fiddle to the retrieve, or if it would extend the game and make it more clearly about the two of us playing together.

By far I struggle the most with pack drive. I'm very interested in what Denise had to say about that. Relationships are /hard/ for me. The technical and mechanical skills of training come much more natural to me than the relationship. It always feels a little woo-woo to me, even though I intellectually know it's valuable and necessary. I love my dogs, and I think they enjoy my presence, but I don't think they see a lot of value in /working/ for /me/.

I hope she comes back to the Midwest sometime soon! I really want to see her in person.

Cathy said...

This has given me some food for thought. I recently started nosework with Abby at Jane's class. Abby loves it, and has great hunt drive. Jane and I got talking about dumb bells, and my dogs all hate them, but Jane mentioned playing hide-and-seek with the dumb bell -- which she picked up from this seminar, and it's making sense.

Thanks for doing this write up.

Joanna said...

Re: "being liberal with the cookies actually devalues their power"

I've read about individual dogs who became much more interested in their food when they had to work for every piece rather than having it set down in a bowl. Dragon has a thing about bowls and doesn't really want to eat from them, and his interest in his current food seems to be increasing as he works for it every day. (Though he's only been on it a couple of weeks -- maybe in a few months he'll be tired of it.)

Dragon's hunt drive is pretty good, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for nosework. His prey drive is number one. He loves balls and chasing small animals especially, and secondary to that is playing tug and chasing thrown toys. I've got him bringing his toys back to me 90% of the time now, so that I can utilize both chasing and tugging as rewards. We also wrestle as a reward.

His pack drive is fairly low -- he's very independent and able to play on his own. Although I've built up his enthusiasm for training, he still occassionally wanders off to do his own thing, especially if he's confused about what I want from him.

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

RAEGAN- I have a lot more to post about relationship in training, and I think you'll find it interesting. I feel like I have a good relationship with Maisy, and Denise really gave me some great tips on capitalizing on that in training. I've already seen more enthusiasm in her dumbbell training as a result.

Incidentally, she'll be in the Chicago area next summer. You should go.

CATHY- You're welcome! :)

JOANNA- I think that's a perfect example of how being liberal with cookies can devalue them- and there's NOTHING more liberal than giving food away for free. Personally, I feed Maisy through toys so she has to work for her food, but how much better would it be if I could insert myself into that and make her work WITH ME instead of the toy?

I gotta say, I think this seminar probably changed my life. Is that too dramatic to say?

Ninso said...

Funny, I have always played "find-it" with the dumbbell! My dogs all love their dumbbell. But then, they love any object that they can play retrieving games with.

megs said...

My Roxy has a high prey drive -- she likes to chase and catch things, but she won't play tug with me. And we've been involved in agility and Roxy does really enjoy it, but sometimes I think she's lacking some drive when it comes to powering through the things she's already comfortable with. So, I'm really eager to see your future posts on how to harness a dog's drive specifically in training, and I'm eager to see your post on the proper way to tug, as well, to see if it can't help Roxy and I!

Ci Da said...

I noticed something in my agility class last night: Cohen's heeling was MARVELOUS. When I took her from one end of the room to the start line she was animated, focused, and had perfect positioning.

The message I took home from that was how much excitement and anticipation (and inversely self control) feed into good behaviours.

I need to make a mental note to start to decrease the frequency of food rewards. I'm probably too liberal with them.

Sophie said...

The biggest drives for my dogs:

Lola - definitely prey drive! Toys (particularly balls, tugs and her flirt pole) that she can chase and attack are her first love. We worked very hard on making her into a retrieve-freak when she was a puppy, and I honestly believe sometimes she'd rather play with a ball than actually eat. If I'm understanding right, pack drive is also very important to her. If I'm upset, or stressed at all (a good example--we're working on her reactivity intensely right now, and yesterday I tensed while holding her when I saw a spaniel, and she immediately growled at it), she responds instantly to it. If she's in a stay, it's hugely rewarding for her to JUST be released from it and be permitted to run to join me again.

Jess: lives to eat. She'll play tug when it suits her, but that's less now she's getting older. She doesn't care about a lot of other toys, and doesn't give two hoots about whether I'm happy with her or not, or whether she's allowed near me or not. She would quite probably walk off with another person forever if they promised her food.

This seminar sounds fantastic, by the way! Not sure how I feel about 'devaluing' food--but then Lola has only eaten from a bowl fifteen or so times at the most, her whole life, so she's pretty stoked even for kibble in low to medium distracting environments. I do know that upping the value and frequency of food has been tremendous in reducing her reactive episodes lately.

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

NINSO- Don't you love learning you've been doing something right??

MEGS- I posted a link to my friend Dawn's blog post over on facebook. She wrote about how she got her reluctant player to tug at the seminar.

SOPHIE- This stuff about devaluing rewards is only in the context of obedience/sport training. ABSOLUTELY you need a high rate of reinforcement for behavior modification work. I'm glad it's working, by the way. I've been meaning to comment, but I do the vast majority of my blog reading on my phone, and it's so hard to comment on that.

megs said...

Thanks! I'm going to check it out now!

Joanna said...

I gotta say, I think this seminar probably changed my life. Is that too dramatic to say?

I can believe it! Looking forward to your notes even more now! :D

andrea said...

Sampson is pack full of hunt drive which I don't channel very well at all - he will happily spend 45 minutes looking for his lost kong (well longer if it took longer to find) OBESSED is a good word to associate with him

Sally is pretty drivey overall - play drive is very high and she will switch from food to toy to food to a session of relationship building with great delight

Brody is ALL about the cookie - as I've mentioned before ...though thata's couched in a willingness to relate to me that makes him a pleasure to work ...

the only reason I play with any of my dogs is to relationship build - interesting to hear that called pack drive...