Drives: Your Dog’s Personality

[An excerpt from Dog Tricks Step by Step by Mary Ann Zeigenfuse, published by Howell Book House, ISBN:0876055935, ©1997 by Mary Ann Rombold Zeigenfuse]

If you have more than one dog or have known more than one dog, you already appreciate that each dog is very different in personality. One dog likes to cuddle more than the other; one likes to play ball and the other doesn’t, one will guard the house well and the other one will run when approached by a stranger. What makes each dog different?

Every dog, yours included, was born with a partially pre-determined personality. Your dog’s experiences since birth have helped mold that personality. These experiences include how the mother raised the litter, and at what age each dog left the litter. These make a big difference. What experiences a pup has had during the critical periods of development have all influenced how your dog looks at the world and chooses to react to it. You can take a test and actually determine how a dog will react to the surrounding environment. This will tell you what your dog’s Drives are, and will give you insight into what personality characteristics you will see.

Your dog’s way of reacting to the world is instinctive. These instinctive behaviors can be broken into three categories or Drives: Prey Drive, Pack Drive, and Defense Drive. These Drives are referred to as natural talents because our dogs came pre-programmed with them. It is the concentration of each Drive that makes up each dog’s personality.

You can test your dog and see how high the Drives are in each category. You can then determine how your dog looks at the world. It will help you to understand how your dog learns, and to know which exercises or tricks he will find easier to accomplish and which may take a little longer to learn. This applies to formal Obedience as well as to household training. It can help you to recognize which tricks might be easier to teach based solely on your dog’s Drives and your dog’s Personality Profile.

The Personality Test (a test developed by Wendy Volhard)
Let’s see how your dog’s personality is arranged. Each category in this test has a set of questions. While taking the test for your dog you will need to answer each question honestly. Answer according to what your dog would do if presented with the situation described in each question. If your dog would almost always react this way, score 10 points; for sometimes, score 5 points; or if you believe your dog would hardly ever do what the question says, score 0 points. Points are neither bad nor good. The total score will simply give you the proportions of the three Drives that your dog possesses. Notice that Defense Drive is divided into two categories, so they each get a set of questions.


Canine Personality Test

Always: 10  Sometimes: Hardly ever: 0

Personality / Behavior Questions

Prey Drive. Does your dog:

  1. Sniff the ground or air a lot?______
  2. Get excited by moving object, such as bikes or squirrels?______
  3. Stalk cats, other dogs or things in the grass?______
  4. When excited, bark in a high pitched voice?______
  5. Pounce on his toys?______
  6. Shake and kill its toys?______
  7. Steal food or garbage? ______
  8. Like to carry things?______
  9. Wolf down his food?______
  10. Like to dig and bury things?______
Total for Prey Drive Section:______

Pack Drive. Does your dog:

  1. Get along with other dogs?______
  2. Get along with people?______
  3. Bark when left alone?______
  4. Solicit petting, or like to snuggle with you?______
  5. Like to be groomed?______
  6. Seek eye contact with you?______
  7. Follow you around like a shadow?______
  8. Play a lot with other dogs?______
  9. Jump up to greet people? ______
  10. Show reproductive behaviors, such as courting or mounting other dogs?______
Total of Pack Drive Answers:______

Defense/Fight. Does your dog:

  1. Stand its ground or investigate strange objects or sounds?______
  2. Like to play tug of war games to win?______
  3. Bark or growl in a deep tone?______
  4. Guard its territory? ______
  5. Guard its food or toys?______
  6. Dislike being petted?______
  7. Guard its owner(s)?______
  8. Dislike being groomed or bathed?______
  9. Like to fight other dogs?______
  10. When your dog was young, was he picked on by other dogs?______
Total of Defense/Fight Responses:______

Defense/Flight. Does your dog:

  1. Run away from new situations?______
  2. Hide behind you when he feels he can’t cope?______
  3. Act fearful in unfamiliar situations?______
  4. Tremble or whine when unsure?______
  5. Crawl or turn upside down when reprimanded?______
  6. Reluctant to come close to you when called?______
  7. Have difficulty standing still when groomed?______
  8. Cringe when someone strange bends over him?______
  9. Urinate during greeting behavior?______
  10. Tend to bite when cornered?______
Total of Defense/Flight Responses:______

As you can see by the questions themselves, each category tells a little about your dog’s psychological make up. Pack Drive shows your dog’s willingness to be part of a pack or group which includes you. Prey Drive shows the instincts that helped dogs get food when they lived in the wild. Defense/Fight shows just that, the behaviors of defending with courage your dog’s territory or space. Defense/Flight shows dogs' has concern for their well being and that they would preferably leave during stressful situations if they could, just as you might wish the floor could open up and swallow you at times.

With few exceptions, dogs will have some of each Drive. They need all the Drives to survive in Nature. And even though we now provide their food, they still need Prey Drive to play and retrieve. We secure their safety, but they need Defense/Fight to be able to cope with pressures from hard work, like learning new things. And they need Pack Drive just to live in harmony with us. The need for Defense/Flight is not really evident in a domestic situation, but if a dog has a lot of Defense/Flight it is important to know it, because how we act towards a dog with a lot of Flight Drive will make or break that dog. A dog with high Flight Drive can be easily stressed and might live in constant turmoil if not provided with a consistent and stable environment.

The level of each Drive is what helps you to see into your dog’s personality. Any number above 50 is considered high. Obviously the closer to 100 the higher the Drive. A dog can be high in all the Drives: Prey, Pack and Defense (either Fight or Flight), or a dog can be high in only one, or in none. Lower then 30 is considered low in any Drive.

Being low in a Drive is not necessarily bad. Being high is not necessarily good. The numbers are simply teaching you about your dog. True, some Drives are more desirable for certain tasks. High Fight Drive is needed for a task requiring lots of confidence to work alone, like a guard dog or a guide dog. High Pack Drive would be desirable for a family pet or a therapy dog. High Prey Drive is needed for a good herding dog.

But as already mentioned, high is over 50 and too much of a good thing may not be so desirable either. A high Prey Drive dog may not be able to concentrate on the job at hand if the leaves in the trees are rustling. Learn your dog so you can be prepared for any situation that you are putting your dog into. Know what to expect from your dog so you won’t be surprised or disappointed when your dog acts a certain way. Learn to anticipate how your dog will react by knowing your dog’s Personality Profile.


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