Drive balance is the 6th layer on our pyramid, because properly balancing the working drive of your dog with appropriate activities, is a prerequisite to solving behavior problems such as housebreaking, anxiety, and disobedience, which all fall in subsequent layers on the pyramid.
But, this step cannot be done properly unless you understand and practice all the foundation rules, which fall below it. For instance, from layer 1 (Canine Behavior) you need to understand the potential natural desires of your particular breed of dog.
From layer 5 (Leadership) you will need to understand the proper rules of correctly leading all activities – even those which don’t relate to this subject.
Here are some signs that your dog may have a problem with drive balance, although symptoms can present in endless variations:
1. Dogs that chase their tails.
2. Obsessive licking of self, other dogs, people, or objects.
3. Pacing or seemingly in perpetual motion at all times.
4. Bad “mouthiness” when interacting with people.
5. Latching onto things in motion, such as our clothing when we move, sweeping brooms, etc.
6. Shredding/dissecting/destroying blankets, walls, or anything else they can.
7. Frequent digging in the yard, carpets, or other surfaces.
8. Chasing children, other pets, vehicles, other inappropriate targets.
Most pet dogs will have some form of drive balance issues, unless we make an effort to satisfy it. Satisfying this drive is a prerequisite to correcting all the behaviors associated with bad manners and habits within the home and on walks. Some bad behaviors may go away simply by paying attention to this step, but most will at the least be made easier.
The dog’s desire to work cannot be extinguished. I compare it to a lightly-filled water balloon. You can’t squeeze it and make it disappear. It will keep popping out from between your fingers. Every time you push that piece back into your hand, another piece will pop out somewhere else – it cannot be contained and needs an outlet. A dog’s drive is the same way – if you successfully correct the dog from chasing squirrels on walks, without an appropriate outlet, he will be more likely to channel that desire to something else inappropriate – like cats, small dogs, or even by shredding your box of tissues when he gets a chance. This restless spirit keeps popping out somewhere else.
Here are some examples of exercises that can be done to help relieve certain breeds’ restless spirits:
– Huskies can tag along on morning jogs or bike rides (using special tethering equipment). This helps satisfy their roaming instinct.
– Bulldogs, pit bulls, and other catch and hold type breeds, will enjoy a good game of tug o war or can be encouraged to use a spring pole. This helps satisfy their urge to catch and hold.
– Squeaky balls can be tossed for small terriers to simulate rodents running away
When satisfying the drive balance, it is important to do so like a physician that tells us to manage pain with medication… Ideally, take the pain medication before the pain becomes unbearable.
Therefore, just like we take a dog out to pee before there is an accident on the floor, we need to satisfy the drive balance, before our dog is chasing or chewing something inappropriate.
Here are a couple of things to try that work with most dogs:
Tug – Tug is a great game, if played correctly. As long as you stay in charge of the game, it is a great way to reinforce your own status and drain your dog’s restless spirit. If done the wrong way, with the dog initiating and in charge of the game, it can have an adverse effect on the way your dog relates to you (refer back to dog culture and pack structure).
Play this game by being the one who owns the tug and initially presents it to the dog. If you play by having the tug mimic a prey animal, by always having it struggle away from the dog it will really get the dog to latch on. For healthy dogs, I like to put enough pressure to lift the dogs front paws slightly off the ground for short periods. This will really help burn the dog out. Stay in control of the game by occasionally holding the tug close to you, still, and calmly repeating the word “out”. This will temporarily make the game not fun. When the dog releases the object reward the dog by making the tug active and fun again. While you stay in control of the game, it is important to also let your dog “win”. You can then, encourage your dog back towards you with the tug, by using the leash/long line. Eventually, your dog should come back automatically, because he’ll learn that the game is most fun, when you’re playing together. Continue with this pattern, but do not do too many “outs” for it can cause the dog to lose interest. Two or Three “outs” within 5-10 minutes is plenty. On the last “out” I like to give a treat as I put the tug away.
Fetch – Is a great game if you manage to stay in control. Be sure not to chase after the dog when he has the ball. Instead, encourage him to bring the ball back to you. For stubborn dogs, you can play fetch with two objects, that are the same. If he doesnt want to return the first, make the second more appealing by bouncing it or squeaking it. When he returns or drops the first, throw the second object. Repeat, by grabbing the dropped object. Another alternative to the stubborn dog, is to use a long line on the dog so you can encourage the dog to come back to you after he has retrieved the object. Always use caution not to get tangled in the long line!
Fetch/Tug – This is a combination of both games. Throw a tug object and when the dog returns play tug for a while. After you have the dog “out” the object, throw the tug again. For stubborn dogs, you can either use a long line on the dog, or even on the tug object to maintain control. I like to always end these games by giving a treat on the final “out”.
Another thing that you can do if you do not have the time to play these games, is to simply give your dog some sort of chew object, which will not be too easy to destroy and take some time to break apart. Nyla Bones and Bully Sticks are a couple examples of things that can last, if you are done playing and want to relax, but your dog still has a little more in him. If you follow the food rules outlined in “pack structure,” the dog is more likely to appreciate the chew object, since it will not always be there, and you will maintain good status in the dog’s eyes.
There is another important thing to consider about drive balance when it comes to working dogs or dogs being trained to do tasks that will be related to their working drives. When we are dealing with dogs, that will primarily be pets, we must always be sure to completely quench this drive as much as possible every day to prevent problems. But, with working dogs, we need to remember that it is called drive balance because we can over-do it in the other direction and potentially satisfy our working dog in the home with activities to the point, where the dog may be less motivated in the field, where we may need the dog to work for long periods of time. So, this can be a delicate balance, that must be paid attention to. An explosive detection dog, that is expected to search a large area at a moment’s notice, with a promise of a game of tug as a reward, may not work at optimal intensity, if he is coming from an environment where he is playing frisbee all day along with other games. Ideally, these dogs are kept obsessing over the chance to get their reward. If work is not available, the dogs are then given a similar outlet, just enough to prevent behavioral problems, related to being “unprovided for,” from arising.
Being aware of your dog’s “drive balance” is important for preventing behavioral problems as well as for reserving enough drive when needed for work.