Drives and Motivation

It’s been quite awhile and so I have stopped in to update a bit between events.

Here’s a tad about our most recent workshop:

Building Drive and Motivation with Denise Fenzi – Dec 2014

Great workshop w-great examples via dogs in attendance teaching their handlers how to actually play. Thought you knew how to play with your dog, Au contraire!! Some great advice was offered in regard to holding of toys and what toy is most suited to the dog.

More importantly, this seminar was broken into discussion of behavioral components of play, and how to build desire to play based on the individual animal. There was an in depth conversation on what drive really is, learning about motivators, and actually learning how to engage with the dog (the dog you have).

Seriously knowing where the dog is on the prey hunt sequence helped in adaption of play and toy selection. Not as simple as it sounds though. Learning the technique of play was cumbersome for some owners. After viewing 12 or more dogs/handler teams in action I would say it is a fine art with a some human technical components that needed to be developed in order to empower many dogs. No two dogs were alike in their handling or preferences.  The dogs were brilliant of course, and a testament to their adaptability up against human shortcomings.

We incorporated what we learned the first half of the day to the second, in order to play games that would build some self control and putting in play drive unique to the dog. Really beneficial workshop covering some of the finer details for interaction with your own dog. No right or wrongs, just addressing the dog for who what he/she is, to engage them better on their terms.

What’s your dogs motivator??

Hibikitree 2014-12-24 at 12.45.40 PM





Happy holidays and happy 2015!




Some pointers/take aways that seem obvious that we humans often tend to overlook, disregard, or plain confuse, with their own desire of what should be.


Drive vs. motivation

 Drive varies and is inherited.  Dogs are born with a base drive and at the very lowest level it is linked to survival.   Key drives include: food, prey, hunt, pack.   (Changes in evolution through breeding will vary where the drive sits on the continuum of behavior and neurology.)

Motivators are something a dog finds desirable and will work at to earn.  “It (motivators) is/are almost always linked to an underlying drive”.

“Drive comes in packages” which links together certain behaviors that will often overlap good or bad , based on the breed and genetic components.  Often labeled “good” if behavior pattern is what you desire ,”bad” if it was something  you were not prepared for or feel a need to modify and don’t know how.  Certain drives do not match activity we humans engage in.  Therefore, you need to balance drive and motivation for the working dog.

Also, neurologically drive can be a mix of obsessive compulsive due to too much inbreeding.  A few examples can be running/pacing until a dog drops, ingesting of food with no thought causing self harm, circling, flank biting, nipping, excessive herding.

(There are a number of behaviors linked to drive which moves beyond the norm and should NOT be considered a beneficial drive.  High drive and hectic/frantic behavior are not one in the same.  If a dog can not self calm, that type of drive is not normal nor a benefit to optimal survival when looking at a balanced scale for dogs if needed to live and thrive on their own as wild ancestors do.   These package add ons remain partly because there isn’t evolutional pressure/natural selection to tip scale back in the other direction.)

With that being said, in understanding a particular dogs drive, one should be able to adapt the appropriate motivators in building play.

However, in building the play equation, certain types of play are “not a motivator unless the dog wants to”.  Fenzi notes, not all activities will be motivating for your dog!

Basically saying so does not make it so, and no matter how many times you attempt to engage in a particular type of play, the dog may simply never take to it.  If he/she does so half heartedly the dog may simply be doing you a favor.   This is not the type of play that you need or want yet need to bolster in forming relationships or training particularly for working in busy environments.

All of the above sounds simple enough, however,  there are misconceptions.  For example, assuming a dog will learn to like a particular toy,  method or activity through sheer repetition (i.e.  If offered enough the dog would just begin to play in that particular way).

Unfortunately the item that most individuals are most interested in “fixing” is use of Tug.

“Tugs are overrated”  according to Fenzi!  Tug is not necessarily the best option for many dogs. It is just the most convenient for humans since it is portable. It is a popular trend.  It does not necessarily build a focused dog nor is it appropriate in the places many choose to use them. Most individuals try to opt for tug when it really is not right for their dog.

Busting False Assumptions

– “It does not mean, if you can not tug,  you can not have or do not a have a relationship with your dog”.

– You can not control what will be motivating and what is desired by a particular dog.  (This will determined by the individual dog)

– A dogs emotional state will not necessarily be better by offering tug

–  Tug is not a necessity, or the  be all end all form of activity.  One can use other forms of play that can be built appropriately and used effectively.

Once you have a particular desire or interest by a dog, play will build. Genuine play is addictive and as you play more, the dog wants more and seeks out more.   However, you have to build that desire through one of the drives that motivate.  Play should be carefully layered and mindfully built for good outcomes.

Some things to think about 

– Reading a dogs emotional state before attempting play is essential.  (Are you contributing to stress by attempting to force a type of play or at a time dog is not in the right state of mind to play?)

– Avoid pestering  the dog to get attention. (find ways to engage the dog rather than pestering with poking, patting, prodding, slapping with toy or inadveretly pushing toy in dogs mouth)

–  You don’t have to be over the top, or over the top person to engage your dog. (“What’s your norm”, using your norm is fine, you just have to show change in tone when engaging.  Owners can make things worse by being over the top which worries some dogs.  Be at the dogs level.)

–  Understand your dog’s safety needs. Safety trumps everything –  If they don’t feel safe the dog won’t engage in fun.  Dogs do not choose to be fearful.   Do not attempt to play  when animal is distressed, you will only add to the pressure it already feels.  If not careful you can build the anxiety into training or even into play itself.

Remember motivators are relative – you need to know the order of relative value for toys, play etc etc.   What you as human likes in a soft fuzzy will not necessarily be what the dog finds a happy toy, or appropriate for its sensory level.



Fenzi, D. (2014). The Dog Athlete. Fenzi Academy obtained from


Happy Anniversary to Us

It’s been approx 2 yrs of journaling.  Time sure does fly by fast!  So fast, that it seems that keeping up with a blog is now proving difficult.   Currently my schedule is packed, so much so, that we will be taking a hiatus.  I am not sure exactly when we will be back, but know we will be once time constraints are less pressing.

Happy training! ….
May the wind be in your dog’s ears and the zooming in your direction ~ Hibikitree

Canine Leaps of Faith

Assumptions and Impulse Control

This weekend proved peculiar when one of my training friends decided to hike off leash with her super herding dog.  This time around the adventure resulted in a big scare after they decided to take a detour walking over a smaller overpass on a new route home in an unfamiliar area.

In doing so, her dog decided to jump over and off the overpass wall landing 12 feet below and dashing into the bridge tunnel entrance in fright. It happened so fast and in a panic my friend jumped over part of the steep embankment in an effort to rescue her canine partner. Fortunately, her canine was not hurt since he landed on the spongy turf below. However my friend now has a sprained ankle. In retrospect,  I guess you could say this is a light sentence.


Mulling things over, it important to realize that any breed of dog can make impulsive choices. Once in mid air, in this case, the dog could not change the actions it had committed to.

The wall of the bridge, although only waist high, visually blocked the dog’s ability to properly evaluate it surroundings and the wind may have blocked his hearing too.

All of this also suggests that just like people, dogs visually perceive elements in their environment differently and depth perspective may be individual to a breed or animal itself.

In further musings and discussions about casual strolls around bridges and abutments, certain landscape contexts appear to preclude a dog’s ability to make wise choices even for the veteran dog or well trained. Even for herding dogs guiding sheep who are hefted there is potential for failure in unfamiliar spaces.  Most likely this is because often a dog will make the assumption there will always be a short jump to the ground when landing on the opposing side of an obstacle/wall.  In the case of the exuberant dog who dashes first and asks questions later, it is a recipe for disaster.

According to Pets Doc Vet clinic “Dogs use other cues (such as smell, texture, brightness, and position) rather than relying solely on color.”, or even proximal space.  What this boils down to, dogs can be unaware of the spacial “other” particularly if visually there isn’t something to reference within their plain of vision, or assist with depth perception. It simply may be a particular dog can not cognitively make the connection of space as it pertains to “Esherisque” elements of vision. If the animal is positioned blindly, or has little experience with space awareness, a blind fall can take them by surprise.

I found several examples reported in Scotland regarding the walls of Overtoun Bridge, and also another case of a Shiba in NY state that had fallen off a cliff in the Fall of 2012, and yet another becoming wedged in a crevasse while diving after squirrels.

Although reported cases appear to be few and far between, it certainly deflates the myth that all dogs have space relation understanding and or can navigate all terrain elements without guidance from their owner.

What can owners can do to avoid such calamities?

– Obeying leash laws and keeping dogs on leash and  or in a safety harness in areas that are potentially problematic on hikes (i.e. mostly use a leash to prevent your dog making unwanted impulsive decisions on unknown architecture)
– Providing continued refreshers for verbal cues and proof impulse control, i.e. seek training so recalls remain sharp.
– Keeping dogs away from precipices and ridges if the terrain in unfamiliar.  Shibas in particular can quickly get themselves into a pickle when on the hunt, off leash or just zooming about playing king of the hill.
– Scanning the environment to take a dogs eye view, this is so important not only in the every day but for performance events as well. -Scheduling regular veterinary eye checks to allow dogs to keep up to snuff on adventuring.


Benjamin, I.  (October 2012) Puppys saved after falling off cliff in Thacher Park.  Retrieved from ;  The Record, Troy NY.

Greico, S. (Feb 2012) Dog freed after being trapped between boulders. Retrieved from

Why have so many dogs leap to their deaths from overtone bridge?  (October 2006)

Watkins, M. (no date). Through the eyes of your dog. retrieved from The Pets Doc Veterinary Clinic.

Watkins, R. (2001). Hefted sheep. retrieved from


Ants in the Pants

Yep its a blur……Sometimes a dog just has to remain in motion.  Taking pictures under such circumstances can be a challenge.   I am thankful for good recalls!   Happy Thanksgiving