Drives are basic instincts that control behavior in canines. By understanding and utilizing them, understanding and training progress rapidly in the breed.
Most of American written books primarily deal with the pack or social drive ignoring the others that often get the dog in serious trouble. For the purposes of this column we will deal with just the three basic drives and how they relate to the Rottweiler. These basic drives can be split into smaller segments but for our purpose here we will keep them basic.
The canine species have three fundamental instinctual behaviors or drives that control their actions.
DRIVES OR INSTINCTS:
Prey drive: This is where predatory behavior comes from. It includes chasing, stalking, and even biting. I have seen dogs react negatively to a handicapped person and the stimulus for the dog was the awkward movement they were seeing. Instinctually if the prey drive is high enough and the dog not trained well enough, there can be a reaction. Predators are attracted to sick, wounded and dying prey.
Pack or social drive: This is what is often discussed in American dog training books. It ranges from being the dog’s best friend to being alpha over the animal. While this is a very important drive, it is just one of three that influence behavior.
Defense fight/flight: When people see aggressive dogs, defense fight comes to mind. Actually it is more complicated than that. Defense as you can see is split between fight and flight – sounds like we are talking about humans doesn’t it? The canine fight/flight complex is on a much more basic level. In nature, a dog that had only defense fight wouldn’t last long enough to procreate. The flight mechanism is there to insure this.
Unfortunately we meddle with the gene pool and often produce dogs that are a liability in this day.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as bad temperament. Unacceptable but certainly not bad.
Schutzhund trainers are taught to recognize drives in their dogs and those that they are working with. Some years ago the Volhards came out with a canine personality profile. It is available online. The original “test” broke down the drives utilizing questions. The questions were given numerical values and can actually tell how balanced or unbalanced the tested dog’s drives are.
The ideal working Rottweiler should be even in its drives. Using the Volhard early test I would like to see the dogs score six or higher.
Problems with temperament come from an imbalance of the canine’s drives.
For example a dog with a very high prey drive can be a danger to any moving object including children. With proper training it can be channeled effectively to work for you rather than against you.
When we get into the high scores for defensive fight, there can be some real issues to deal with. It can encompass territory, food, etc. Prey and fight instinctual behavior is where biting comes from. I often consult with problem dogs and if a bite were involved, I like to evaluate it. In the prey bite, it will exhibit a full bite, i.e. you can count the back teeth in the wound. In nature this bite is what holds and restrains prey.
Defensive bites are often shallower with mostly involvement with the canines. You can observe ripping and shredding often in the wound. By “reading” the wound, it can be determined what drive the dog was acting out of. It becomes important when evaluating situations where the truth might be bent a little.
I had an interesting Rottweiler bitch that the Volhard test explained perfectly. She was at the top for prey instinct and almost nil in the pack department. She had no defense flight but topped the charts in defense fight. It could be said that she had low bite inhibition but the Volhard test explained her perfectly. The two drives she was the highest in are the same drives that promote biting. The pack drive usually inhibits bites if it is high enough. I did put a CD on her and just for fun I named her Rosemary’s Baby. Till the day she died she remained handler aggressive.
Utilizing these drives in training can bring very quick progress. A dog with a lot of flight presents many problems. There are avoidance issues that test your patience. With this type of dog, training repetitively and not changing routine works the best. Start throwing in challenges and sheer misery may result.
I love training high prey Rottweilers. The reward after all is in the “prey” for them. For instance, I teach the recall utilizing prey drive. In the old days I relied on training the recall using pack. I am the most wonderful person to come to yada yada. Problems develop when fronts have to be fixed. Now you are not that most wonderful person. Two steps forward and one back. However utilizing prey you bypass the correction issues. I use either food or a toy. I evaluate what works best. Often food is too much so I lower the reward for the exercise by using something of less value to the dog. If you have to correct the front, they get instant rewards after the correction using the prey method. Back in the day teaching utility go outs we used to use a pulley and cord to get the dog out. Now most trainers use prey by putting food or an object at the other end of the ring.
High defense dogs can be problematic to say the least. If the defense fight is much higher than the pack and prey it doesn’t give you much to work with. With this type of dog rewarding in prey doesn’t do much good. I had a Mirko dog back in the 80’s and this particular dog was high defense, low prey and right in the middle with pack. I acquired him at a year and he was never properly socialized. He had no name and very little understanding of words. With this type of handicap I went through the dog’s defense drive to train. It wasn’t easy and certainly not as rewarding as training with my preferred methods at the time. He titled in AKC obedience, herded sheep and was finally retired after snapping off a canine in Schutzhund work.
Years ago I taught a special-ed class for really bad dogs. The handlers were grateful to have it as other trainers turned them away. They were uncomfortable in conventional classes due to their dog’s outburst of negative behavior. Each dog was evaluated in relationship to it’s drives. After the dogs had their basics down, serious training began.
I discovered that for aggressive prey or defense behavior the answer was putting the dog into pack with the handler. Yelling and screaming no was the most ineffective response for the handlers.
When the dog reacted negatively to a stimulus, I had the handler tell the dog heel and do a quarter turn in place. Not only did this switch the dog from either prey or defense fight, it gave it a behavior that was positive to replace the negative. Once these dogs were neutralized and their handlers had the proper tools, they returned to conventional classes and went on to earn titles.
With dogs with really high drives I recommend my students be pro-active, which is what we should always be with this wonderful breed.
©2015 Frank Nelson