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