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Energy, Drive, Recharge rate and Impulse Control

We often talk about drive in dogs and how it effects training and life with that dog. We also talk about energy levels and again how that effects more so life with the dog than training. I think that a breakdown of definitions and my perspective on how these things effect our lives with our dogs could help some new owners make better informed decisions.

To understand the effect on behavior that any given trait a dog may exhibit, we must first label and define that trait. The following are my definitions and they may or may not overlap with other reference material.

Energy level: The bulk supply of energy a dog has to offer. Consider this a gas tank. The bigger the tank, the longer the dog can travel before recharging. I am going to go against popular opinion here and say that a high energy dog does not equal a dog that requires a lot of exercise. Energy level definitely plays a role in determining what it takes to satisfy a dog, but it is far from the only determining factor.

Drive: The desire a dog has to do something. Internal motivation. Drive is complicated in protection so I will leave that to another thread. For the purpose of this topic, I will consider prey drive, food drive and social drive the most common methods of motivation we use for training our dogs. The more a dog wants to chase things, the more prey drive it has. The more it wants food, the more food drive it has. The more rewarding praise is to a dog, the more social drive it has. Determining how to best motivate a dog is important in training. The higher the value a dog places on a reward, the greater the chances that a behavior will be repeated.

Recharge rate: The amount of rest necessary for a dog to recover and be ready to work or train again. Some dogs recharge very quickly, and some take a long time. A quick recharge rate means that you can train more frequently throughout the day. It may also mean that you need to provide multiple exercise sessions throughout the day to keep a dog satisfied.

Impulse control: The ability of the dog to resist the urge to do something. This is broad ranging and effects many parts of life with a dog. It comes easier to some dogs than others. Lower drive dogs have an easier time controlling their urges, while higher drive dogs may struggle with the ability. The dogs that are good at moving, jumping, chasing, biting, have a harder time dealing with restrictions and staying still.



The difficult part of the equation is how all these things fit together to make up the personality of the dog. A high energy dog with low drive, low recharge rate and good impulse control is an easy dog to live with but will be much harder to train to do complex tasks with a handler. They can go swim all day at the lake and keep up on the hiking trails, but the motivation isn’t there to do things that don’t come easy to the dog. A low energy dog with low drive, low recharge rate and good impulse control is what most people want in a pet. It’s happy to hang out on the sofa and get ear scratches while you watch Netflix after work.

High food drive enables the use of training treats as rewards. This is handy for training positions using lures and markers. It also increases the likelihood of counter surfing, trash diving, begging and potentially resource guarding.

High social drive enables the use of social pressure to reward or punish behaviors. A pat on the chest for a good recall to heel. A timeout in a crate after poor house manners. Fetch to hand is a good indicator of high social drive in puppies.

Where things become more challenging, and rewarding, are when a dog has high prey drive. This usually comes with naturally low impulse control in relation to drive. This results in a dog that really wants to chase and bite. If it moves, it’s game on! This enables us to have a very high value reward for OB and house manners type behaviors. It also enables the act of biting a decoy to be very self-rewarding. Prey drive is a big component in flirt pole, fetch, 2 ball, and most dog sports. It also greatly increases the chances of some bad behaviors being very self-rewarding, such as chasing animals, cars, bikes, kids, everything that moves. This desire to chase can cause frustration when the dog is restrained. The higher the drive or desire to chase, the higher the level of frustration. This can result in many unwanted behaviors such as barking, lunging, nipping, redirected biting, even a dog attacking a family member or another pet in proximity to the frustrated dog.



What it all comes down to is how you want to live with the dog.

A high energy dog with lots of drive, a quick recharge rate and low impulse control can be a lot of fun for an experienced trainer with time on their hands. They can get in a lot of reps in a day and they don’t have to worry about getting boring while refining behaviors. They can learn complex behaviors because the drive to get to the reward outweighs the work. This dog is taught impulse control through obedience and it is managed until it has the maturity and control necessary to warrant freedom to make good choices. This same dog will figure out ways to entertain itself if it gets bored. Very often these dogs end up in shelters or rehomed because of bad behaviors.

There is a myriad of combinations of drive, energy, recharge rate and impulse control. There are also wildly different opinions on what constitutes high, medium and low. Perspective is the most important part of any objective conversation. The best education for new owners is experience. This can happen by spending time observing dogs and owners at a local club, by attending training classes before you have a dog, by working with a trainer as they see clients, or by diving in headfirst and getting a dog. I highly recommend getting as much hands-on experience as possible with as many dogs as possible before committing to 12+ years of ownership and responsibility.



Please feel free to offer information that can be added. I will come back and edit this as we see fit to help others along the way. This is just a starting point and I welcome others to add perspective and information to this document.
 

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I'd like to hear your thoughts on how biddability plays into all this. The actual definition is not exactly the way I think of it (a desire/willingness to please)

Definition, Biddable: meekly ready to accept and follow instructions.
"a biddable, sweet-natured child"
 

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I'd like to hear your thoughts on how biddability plays into all this. The actual definition is not exactly the way I think of it (a desire/willingness to please)

Definition, Biddable: meekly ready to accept and follow instructions.
"a biddable, sweet-natured child"
remove “meek” and i think that’s accurate.
 
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I think another thing to consider is how training affects these traits. Food drive for instance can be affected by how much, how often, and what it is your dog is feed.
 

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This is very interesting, David!

A high energy dog with lots of drive, a quick recharge rate and low impulse control can be a lot of fun for an experienced trainer with time on their hands. They can get in a lot of reps in a day and they don’t have to worry about getting boring while refining behaviors. They can learn complex behaviors because the drive to get to the reward outweighs the work. This dog is taught impulse control through obedience and it is managed until it has the maturity and control necessary to warrant freedom to make good choices. This same dog will figure out ways to entertain itself if it gets bored. Very often these dogs end up in shelters or rehomed because of bad behaviors.
This is my dog. He needs management. LOVES to chase anything-if it moves he’s on it, LOVES the flirt pole, LOVES to bite. Low impulse control. Incredible focus. Quick recharge rate. I can play with him hard for an hour even in the Florida heat. I have to make stop playing so he doesn’t get heat stroke. He’ll come back inside and collapse. However, he’s ready to go for another round seconds later. He craves engagement me. I took him to a pool party last weekend (with people who isolated due to Covid) and he didn’t sit still for six hours. He loved when people threw his toy in the pool. He‘d circle the pool until his toy came to the edge and he could fish it out. He’s not a dog that sits in the corner. He probably laid down for a 1/2 hour total. He wanted to be where the action was. He will work for food, play, or affection. Although he prefers play.

Impulse control is what I struggle with. He’s got low thresholds and leaks in drive. He’s got a solid place command so I use that for a lot of things. As he’s gotten older, he’s gotten better. He got a solid retrieve now. He would always chase the ball but then drop it and run to the flirt pole...lol. Now he loves two ball and loves to tug as a reward so I work obedience into that. Obedience needs to be reinforced constantly because he knows how to take advantage. He’s like a bull in a China shop. I think Sabis mom referred to it as violently affectionate. Thank God he‘s handler sensitive and biddable or I’d be in a world of hurt. lol
 

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This is a great post, thanks, David! Very interesting and good to know especially if I consider getting another GSD (after Willow).

But this stuck out:
A high energy dog with low drive, low recharge rate and good impulse control is an easy dog to live with but will be much harder to train to do complex tasks with a handler. They can go swim all day at the lake and keep up on the hiking trails, but the motivation isn’t there to do things that don’t come easy to the dog.
This sounds EXACTLY like Willow. She's so easy, in many respects, but man, try to teach her something complex and she gets almost discouraged and shuts down. Not interested. Even with what I would consider high food drive.

Anyway, thanks for the well-thought-out, informative post!
 

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High energy, high drive, high prey drive, med threshold, extreme ball (toy drive) extreme food drive when the ball is not around, med social drive, high impulse is how I describe Ozzy.
Now with out boundaries, environmental exposure with lots of training since a pup, developing a strong bond strong engagement the above would not be the same if he was raised by a newbie.
All that David said in the beginning can be different with each dog, why??? Inexperienced owners, genetics etc.
I’ve seen new handlers excel with their dog and others just can’t bring out the potential in a dog therefore the dog is labeled low drive, low food drive etc.
I will always say it’s never the dog’s fault it’s the handlers/owners or genetics.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I'd like to hear your thoughts on how biddability plays into all this. The actual definition is not exactly the way I think of it (a desire/willingness to please)

Definition, Biddable: meekly ready to accept and follow instructions.
"a biddable, sweet-natured child"
It's hard to really know. How much is genetic biddability, how much is being a better trainer than I was yesterday or having a dog that suits me better than the last. I know that Valor is easy, fun, and is totally committed to life with me.

I know that when it clicks, it's easy. Once I get that connection with a dog, everything becomes fun, which is why I work on relationship from day one. I tend to believe that some dogs are more prone to this trust and commitment to their handler. I also know that I have struggled to connect with some dogs that clicked with another trainer immediately.

My initial reason I wanted a dog from Carmen was to see what genetic obedience looked like. At 9 months, Valor should be in the middle of middle finger mode, but he isn't. I believe it is genetic, but how do you know?
 

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It's hard to really know. How much is genetic biddability, how much is being a better trainer than I was yesterday or having a dog that suits me better than the last. I know that Valor is easy, fun, and is totally committed to life with me.

I know that when it clicks, it's easy. Once I get that connection with a dog, everything becomes fun, which is why I work on relationship from day one. I tend to believe that some dogs are more prone to this trust and commitment to their handler. I also know that I have struggled to connect with some dogs that clicked with another trainer immediately.

My initial reason I wanted a dog from Carmen was to see what genetic obedience looked like. At 9 months, Valor should be in the middle of middle finger mode, but he isn't. I believe it is genetic, but how do you know?
Exactly, how do you know if with a different handler he would be giving the finger or be just how he is with you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Exactly, how do you know if with a different handler he would be giving the finger or be just how he is with you.
Different experienced handler. I've snatched him up a few times. He shoulder checked me in the head and knocked me on my face in the snow. He's not a novice type dog, and he would pose definite challenges in an inexperienced home.

But I get the intent of your post and I agree.
 
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Different experienced handler. I've snatched him up a few times. He shoulder checked me in the head and knocked me on my face in the snow. He's not a novice type dog, and he would pose definite challenges in an inexperienced home.

But I get the intent of your post and I agree.
Same with my boy. He would be a total ass with a novice. Heck he can be an ass with me hence his medium threshold.
 

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So figuring out our 13 week old by these terms. Definitely food driven, high social drive, low prey drive. Recharge rate, she runs hard, plays hard and sleeps hard. Wait was one of the first commands she learned, although she'll hold it, she's usually whining, crying to go. One big difference from the other two she'll go off by herself to sleep in a different room than us. If we crate her for bed, no problems, if we crate her and don't go to bed you would think we're killing her by her shrieks. That doesn't make sense to me.
 
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we need a @car2ner video... her dogs crack me up. the male is always intensely focused on something (leaves, ball, etc) while the female runs circles. every time i think... that’s energy! that’s drive! lol
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
we need a @car2ner video... her dogs crack me up. the male is always intensely focused on something (leaves, ball, etc) while the female runs circles. every time i think... that’s energy! that’s drive! lol
The back up videos! It's plain as day if you watch them both :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The big take away is that dogs are very different, and if you have a picture in your head of what a GSD is, it's wrong in a lot of cases. The spectrum of personalities is broad.

Go meet dogs!
 

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David, can you talk about impulse control and oppositional reflex. I have used that reflex several times to shore up impulse control and I think it is a very useful and easy method if done properly.

I may be all wet but it worked beautifully on my boy for foolproofing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
David, can you talk about impulse control and oppositional reflex. I have used that reflex several times to shore up impulse control and I think it is a very useful and easy method if done properly.

I may be all wet but it worked beautifully on my boy for foolproofing.
I don't like the term opposition reflex, as it is not a reflex and is often used to describe a wide array of behaviors.

Can you describe the methods you used?
 
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You folks crack me up, but yeah, both of my dogs are the same and so very different. I'd also like to know more about "opposition reflex". Details are needed. Especially when we communicate in text.

I got to thinking about the "recharge rate". In the winter it is much shorter than in the summer. Just when I get comfy playing games my dogs come poking their nose under my elbow. "ready for more already?". In the summer with higher humidity it takes much longer for my dogs to be ready for more.
 
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