Working with high drive... - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-05-2010, 09:32 PM Thread Starter
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Working with high drive...

I hear people mention how often competitors want very high drive dogs. The dogs are easy to get to do the numbers of repetitions for learning. They are always are willing to go and do also.

When is this a problem? I have heard cautions not to get the dog "too high" in obedience or protection.

But, then again, I have heard that with good nerve strength very high drive is not a problem. The terms of clear mindedness and clarity come into these conversations, and we aren't talking Zen. Problems with drive "leakage" and vocalizing also come up in this topic.

What is going on when people say a dog is overloaded? How do you approach working with a dog that tends to amp up easily in obedience? Does maturity affect a dog's ability to "handle" its drive?
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-05-2010, 09:43 PM
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A lot of times when someone says the dog is "overloaded" it is a synonym for being out of control. This can be more of an insult on the handler/trainer than it is the dog itself.

Now, having a really high driven dog in protection may lead to OB problems later if the dog is to perform obedience and control with the helper out on the field. A dog not in "proper, clear drive" can turn back on the handler during agitation work, or coming up the leash in OB. Ex. when dog is being encouraged, being pet, dog can turn and nip the handler out of frustration.

Too high in OB can dwindle away your drive in protection. The dog can "second guess" itself if TOO MUCH obedience is put on the dog before bitework is very clear to him. Ex. dog is commanded to blind search, dog flinches and refers to the handler for a second "reassuring" command.

Having said all that, we had a dog that would pass out on the bite due to being overdriven. It made him run really hot. So overloaded can mean many different things. Not just the things I have listed. This is usually on an individual dog basis.

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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-05-2010, 10:57 PM
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What an interesting topic! I'm going to sort of just throw out some of my thoughts on this...

A dog that is too high doesn't think. It's not making decisions about what it's doing...it's just doing. Some of this can look really impressive. Consider the dog that flies on the long bite with no concern for it's well being, into the helper, with no consideration for targeting. Looks pretty awesome when the dog doesn't even slow down and helper gets stretched out and spins around...but that's not really a dog that thinks about what it's doing.

Training should try to achieve balance. So a lower drive dog needs building and excitement and a little bit of cheerleading to keep them going. There are dogs with high drive, high thresholds, and steady nerves. I always think of these dogs as sleepers...they have a very quiet intensity to them that is neat to see.

A higher drive excitable dog needs a lot of calming down. I have a dog like this, and you can see the vocalization in the waiting periods in protection. He knows it's time. He knows he wants to go and the anticipation KILLS him and show itself with whining. We knew based on previous dogs we've trained that this was going to be a problem. SO knowing that, we didn't start ANY protection training until about 6 months (Looking back, I think I would have waited longer). We encouraged him to ignore protection when other dogs were on the field and within a month of starting bite work, we started introducing the concept of obedience in protection. He didn't need much if any prey work with a rag. We never did it with him as a puppy, no flirt pole-nothing, and our helper didn't use much in starting him. His prey drive was crazy naturally and he needed balance. So we gave that to him. Consequently I have a dog that can wait by the fence for his turn while another dog is working without screaming his head off, he can walk on the field like a normal dog, and activate when I ask and contain himself when I ask...although it could have been a very different story.

I think corrections can also have a place in creating an overloaded dog. I think you see this more commonly with improper use of electric. A drivey dog made nervous through too many bad corrections can also be in a lot of stress when it takes the field and it will show in hectic non-thinking behavior.

In obedience, you see dogs that cannot contain themselves and vocalize through all their exercises and are generally sloppy. They're VERY excited but they're forging badly, massacre the dumbbell, slow to sit in positions not from lack of drive but rather because they don't want to be still, etc. I think it's a question there of expectations on the part of the handler. If you allow bad habits to develop then they can be very hard to break. Now some dogs are just this way, but like in the case of protection you have to recognize your problems and work to balance from the beginning even if it's against conventional wisdom. Maybe your dog is so jacked for OB, because they're nuts about the ball. I wouldn't bring out the ball. I would train with food. Hot dogs get them too worked up? How about kibble. You've got to bring it down a notch to get them in the right frame of mind for what they need to do, but if they form bad habits (vocalizing/being out of position) it can take a long time to retrain and change the behavior.

Does maturity affect a dog's ability to handle it's drive? I think this is an interesting question and in my admittedly limited experience and as I go through trial and error with all my dogs, I would say Yes. An older dog can take more pressure, which means that a naturally high drive excitable dog can be taught more readily to understand what is expected and using a more immediately balanced method of motivation and correction can achieve results without working with a dog that's already gone in the brain. Consider the normal "puppy" exercises. Flirt poles, Balls on Strings, lots of excitement...all designed to bring up a puppy's drive for the work. And no one corrects a puppy. But. If you have a dog that is CRAZY driven already and then you go in a whip around a flirt pole and frustrate the dog...by the time you get to a year old the dog is already crazy, and then you're having to back track and think how to make the dog NOT so excited. That dog at one year without drive building exercises comes into learning with an ability to handle corrections and no crazy brain to overcome. The same dog at a year with building exercises and an overloaded mind may be doing more actual exercises at the field, but they're bordering on out of control because the minute they come out of the car their brain is already gone.

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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-05-2010, 11:11 PM
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I hear people mention how often competitors want very high drive dogs. The dogs are easy to get to do the numbers of repetitions for learning. They are always are willing to go and do also.

When is this a problem? I have heard cautions not to get the dog "too high" in obedience or protection.

But, then again, I have heard that with good nerve strength very high drive is not a problem. The terms of clear mindedness and clarity come into these conversations, and we aren't talking Zen. Problems with drive "leakage" and vocalizing also come up in this topic.

What is going on when people say a dog is overloaded? How do you approach working with a dog that tends to amp up easily in obedience? Does maturity affect a dog's ability to "handle" its drive?
I am looking forward to reading the responses to this topic. It really hits home for me. I have been reading, learning, and living this for almost a year now. I can share with you what I have learned so far.

Bison has high prey drive with low thresholds. In other words, it is REALLY easy to get him into drive. (Even just giving him a "look") Most of this is my fault because I didn't know how to train him, but I have read that part could be genetic as well. He is 4 years old and hasn't out grown it. He is improving since we started training for SchH.

As for Training approaches, here are some things that I have had success with...
1. Focus on capping behaviors at home- Zero reward for anything while leaking drive. Example: I don't open the door for potty if he is whining, barking or jumping around.
2. Desensitize training toys- I noticed that just the second he saw his training tug, he would be overloaded. I bought an identical tug that I let him carry around the house. Now the tug isn't TOO rewarding.
3. Allow him to hold the tug to channel his energy- and have the reward be the interaction. This was really the turning point to several months of frustration. I'm am already able to start phasing this out.
4. Finally, and most important, we enrolled in an indoor obedience class with lots of distractions and off leash work. The "class" is really an opportunity for advanced OB practice. Doing this week after week after week has helped him focus so much better and keep his drive in check.

We still have a long way to go, and I am sure because I didn't give him a good foundation that some of it will never be corrected, but I am happy with improvement and he is still a super fantastic dog. (Not bias at all. )

Amy
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 12:32 AM
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I am looking forward to reading the responses to this topic. It really hits home for me. I have been reading, learning, and living this for almost a year now. I can share with you what I have learned so far.

Bison has high prey drive with low thresholds. In other words, it is REALLY easy to get him into drive. (Even just giving him a "look") Most of this is my fault because I didn't know how to train him, but I have read that part could be genetic as well. He is 4 years old and hasn't out grown it. He is improving since we started training for SchH.

As for Training approaches, here are some things that I have had success with...
1. Focus on capping behaviors at home- Zero reward for anything while leaking drive. Example: I don't open the door for potty if he is whining, barking or jumping around.
2. Desensitize training toys- I noticed that just the second he saw his training tug, he would be overloaded. I bought an identical tug that I let him carry around the house. Now the tug isn't TOO rewarding.
3. Allow him to hold the tug to channel his energy- and have the reward be the interaction. This was really the turning point to several months of frustration. I'm am already able to start phasing this out.
4. Finally, and most important, we enrolled in an indoor obedience class with lots of distractions and off leash work. The "class" is really an opportunity for advanced OB practice. Doing this week after week after week has helped him focus so much better and keep his drive in check.

We still have a long way to go, and I am sure because I didn't give him a good foundation that some of it will never be corrected, but I am happy with improvement and he is still a super fantastic dog. (Not bias at all. )
Sounds like good plans to me!

Jerry Lee vom Mandalyn-GSD-CGC, CD, PSA PDC
Nassors The Saints Silence-Dobe-CGC, PSA I HIT, IPO IA
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 07:56 AM
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tho I don't do schutzhund, my perception of "overload" is a dog that is out of control , in it's own "zone" or "mindset".

I definately think maturity and a good handler has alot to do with how those drives are handled.

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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 01:04 PM Thread Starter
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If a person had a dog who tended to load up in obedience, what is the approach to the toy? I "talked" with a good trainer not long ago and she stuck with food for obed in her dogs who brought "enough" drive with that, so as not to overload the situation.

My first girl loaded in obedience. I could feel her revving in the heeling, then the forging and the pushing me for reward. She would nip at me and those sits would get hydraulic. She was my first dog to train and it didn't always go well, but was certainly fun. I often wondered what I could have done to improve that stuff. Sometimes, I thought her nerve strength was not enough to contain all that. It did make her obedience fun to watch, but also on the flippin' edge at times. It could have been my handling, for sure. Correcting her wasn't too effective... hard to correction and loaded more. Going slowly and quietly in the obedience... more building.



As an aside,I sometimes hear people talk about drive as being a detriment to a dog as a house companion or pet. Miss Drivey Butt in obed was a quiet house dog who also did great where ever she went visiting. I didn't see her enthusiasm in other places. Conditioned response... it is real.
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 01:15 PM
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As an aside,I sometimes hear people talk about drive as being a detriment to a dog as a house companion or pet. Miss Drivey Butt in obed was a quiet house dog who also did great where ever she went visiting. I didn't see her enthusiasm in other places. Conditioned response... it is real.
Bison is a great house dog. He has a off switch. He just has a really easy "on" switch. Right now, he is sleeping on the floor next to me, but all it would take to get him up and ready to play ball would be for me to shift my chair.

But, I really think what determines if they would make a good house companion or not is the owner. If you don't want a dog that is going to follow you everywhere, have a ball in his mouth all the time, "talk" about everything, chase just about anything that moves... then you would probably disagree with me. I find those things adorable.

Amy
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 02:17 PM
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My definition of "overload" is a dog who is so highly excited in a drive state (and it can be any drive, not just prey) that it overwhelms the ability to think. Sort of like the drive short circuits the thinker, the way trying to run 1000 volts of current through a wire rated for 500 would do.

Each dog has his optimum state of drive, and his highest state of drive, and rarely are the two the same. At least with high drive dogs. A dog may be able to achieve warp factor 10 in drive, but can only steer and corner and break, much less read road signs, at warp factor 8. So ideally he should be worked in his optimum range, maybe just a tad lower, not loaded to 9-10 where he can no longer really function.

Fundamentally much of this is genetics. At least in terms of genetic predisposition within the dog for what is the highest drive level he can achieve and what is the highest drive level his nerves can contain and control, but in my experience the bigger part is environment. Mainly training and handling. People frequently will load their dogs in to a drive state well above what is ideal and over time condition the dog to load himself to that level without their influence, and that can lead to long term problems.

This is becoming more common with the current trend of toy based motivational training where a lot of emphasis is being put on utilizing primarily, and sometimes solely, prey drive in obedience. A certain amount of this is great in training, but it has to be kept moderate and balanced. Taken to the extreme it can cause all sorts of problems. Lots of spinning around and frustrating the dog with the toy in order to create energy and enthusiasm for the work can easily backfire if the dog is loaded too much, and with many dogs it's a very fine line and many handlers can't tell the difference between loading their dogs to an appropriate level and overloading them. Once sent into a frenzied state of drive, even when the dog is working under control he is often barely under control and leaking drive through displacement behaviors such as barking, whining, bouncing, nipping, etc.. as he goes through his exercises. Then if physical corrections are employed to regain control and precision or try to eliminate the drive leaking behaviors and force the dog to better cap his drive, these often have the opposite effect by stimulating even more drive in the dog. This can create a vicious cycle that's very difficult to escape.

Enough of this sort of work with the handler putting the dog into a state of overdrive, and it no longer requires any influence from the handler for it to occur. The dog will come to associate that mental state with the environment itself, and merely stepping onto the field to work will trigger drive in the dog without the handler having to do anything rev the dog up. The dog now revs himself because of the mental pathways created through previous associations and practice of that behavior. This association is a good thing if the dog has been worked in a balanced state and is thus conditioned to load to the optimum level, but a bad thing if the dog has been conditioned to fly into overdrive at the very thought of going to work. The same occurs often in protection as well, with helpers loading the dog too much (or in the wrong drive entirely) and creating overload and control problems that over time become habitual for the dog. Can happen in tracking too, and any other training phase for that matter.


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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 07-06-2010, 02:40 PM Thread Starter
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I have quit working mine with the toy in obedience currently. The Catahoula dog springs into prey stratosphere. I guess when I get him working on a large field and for longer periods, he might benefit from more drive building with a toy. Will have to see if more than food is needed.

The pup, Hogan, has had very little toy work associated with his obedience. There are days I think he looks a bit "poopie" with just food drive motivation but I have still stuck with that mostly. I am just thinking that later on he can umph it up pretty easily with toy motivation if needed... hope that is so.

I don't like using nice, unsuspecting trainers as examples because I don't want it to be seen as criticism of people's good efforts. I just don't have any footage of my old girl forging, barking or nipping me.

To me this dog exhibits nice drive that is pretty balanced in the obed.


This dog comes close to depicting what I am thinking of about working more on the edge. Nice work and not as much of the overdrive behaviors my girl was capable of, but similar.

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