HIGH DRIVE DOGS.
I have spoken about this subject in other topics like Which breed and How dogs learn but I believe it is important enough to have it's own topic. Please read the whole topic for a better understanding.
What exactly is a high drive dog ?
A high drive dog is a dog that is driven by it's genes to carry out specific behaviours or traits. The genes that a dog inherits is, as the owner, out of your control, it's genes are the result of thousands of years of selective breeding for that particular breed and it's distant ancestors. Obviously the expression of any dogs genes will be influenced by their immediate parentage,environment and that dogs own early learning.
Don’t forget that most breeds as we know them today have only been around a few hundred years and in many cases much less but their ancestors, though they might have looked different, are still their ancestors; even back then they were going through selective breeding processes to select the best hunter, guarder, flock rounder upper, swimmer etc etc.
Do high drive dogs make good pets for new or inexperienced owners ?
In my opinion No. As I have said before I personally think high drive dogs make good working dogs but do not make good pets for the new or inexperienced owner.
If you were a good dog person with behavioural and breed knowledge then you could give a high drive dog a good home as a pet for you will be aware what drives your dog, what makes it happy and know how to give that particular dog what it needs.
If you do take on a high drive dog without having any real knowledge and not doing any research (read this site) you may well end up with behaviour problems arising out of boredom and frustration (not the dogs fault).
In the Which breed is best section I talk about the dogs that I would not recommend for the new or inexperienced owner; really they could all be considered high drive dogs in one way or another. The traits or behaviours these dogs have or are allowed to develop are genetically driven. Some obvious examples of high drive dog behaviour in action would be the Border collie to herding, the Staffordshire bull terrier to loving people, the Beagle to wanting to follow a scent and the Rottwieler to guarding.
For a closer look at high drive in dogs lets take a look at the breed most people quote when talking about it, the Border collie:-
The Border collie (not in it's present appearance) has over thousands of years been selectively breed to work, to round up sheep and other uses. Thousands of years ago the dogs were not called and would not have looked like today’s Border collie but none the less it's ancestors would have been bred to do the same jobs; this was selective breeding in action.
If you decide to take a collie on as a pet then there are specific things that a collie would need to become and stay a well adjusted dog. Top of the list would be mental stimulation; if the dog is not to work then much mental stimulation in the form of interactive play, agility type exercise, stimulating walks and good owner interaction would be required. Also good (non-scary) socialisation from a young age and basic training is required. A high level of exercise would be needed, exercise that includes you the owner interacting with the dog while out and about, letting the dog exercise it's genetic talents not just walking with your head down letting the dog get on with it.
All the above could be said for any dog as they all need exercise, mental stimulation and interaction with their owners but with some higher drive dogs even more so and it needs to be tailored to that breed or really that individual dogs requirements.
Collies (like other herding breeds) also have a genetic predisposition to nervousness, this doesn’t mean they will be or become a nervous dog but that the genetic possibility is there and is more likely to show itself if inexperience on the side of the owner and environment/learning allow it to.
Having said the above in the right hands a collie is an intelligent, loyal and trustworthy dog. I personally know plenty of good collies as pets. Sadly though some do not get what is required and a nervous, nippy dog is often the outcome.
I would like to add here that I once watched a sheep dog trial in the lake district, Border collies and their shepherds brought 7 sheep over half a mile through many well spaced out gates using only voice and whistle commands, a joy to see.
High drive or enthusiasm ?
A dog can become overly enthusiastic about a certain behaviour and this might not be caused by a high drive.
When a dog successfully carries out a behaviour it likes, it feels good (hormonal high) for them, as it does for us; the behaviour is self rewarding to the dog and it will carry on and increase doing it for that reason. Now the first time it started doing the behaviour could have been driven by it's genes but it could also have been driven by the owner unwittingly starting and reinforcing it.
Behaviours driven by genetics are very hard and sometimes not able to be rectified (they might be made better) whereas behaviour driven by owner reinforcement, which is really learnt behaviour, has a better prognosis (depending how early it started and how long it has been going on).
So, enthusiastic learnt behaviour could be seen as a high drive when I personally think it is often different and being driven by a reward either from the owner or from inside the dog itself (hormonal).
Working dogs will carry out behaviour that comes naturally to it and you can reinforce or reward this behaviour so it does it more. For instance, all dogs harbour the prey drive within them to much varied degrees.
For a search dog we would take the first part of the prey drive, the search, and work with and reinforce this and nothing else. On the other end of the scale a Jack Russell that lives on a farm and is used for pest control and rewarded for it by being encouraged to and allowed to do it regularly uses all of the prey drive sequence. The prey drive is covered more in the canine prey drive section.
So in conclusion I think high drive in dogs can be a real problem for the new or inexperienced owner. If as a perspective new or inexperienced owner you steer away from such dogs (see the which breed section) then all should be easier. If you are taking a dog on as a pet then as a new owner steer away from a pup that comes from working parents or a working line/environment. If you do happen to be an experienced, knowledgeable dog person then all should be well.