Raising a puppy is a fulfilling yet challenging journey, especially when handling high drive dogs like Border Collies, or Australian Shepherds. These breeds, renowned for a high prey drive and a voracious appetite for mental stimulation, can test the patience and knowledge of even the most experienced dog owners.

In layman’s terms, a high-drive dog is one with a boundless energy that drives to engage in certain actions with strong enthusiasm. This includes activities that ignite the dog’s ingrained predatory behavior or ignite their play drive. If you’ve ever seen a young dog steadfastly chasing a tennis ball or engaging in a relentless game of catch, you’ve observed a dog’s drives in full effect.

Oftentimes, a dog’s behavior is not about what they are doing but is instead about their internal state, how they manifest their energy physically, and their focus—whether chasing after a tennis ball or tracking scents in natural environments. The predator-prey dynamic is often just a catch-all term used to describe the complex interaction of drives that occurs within our domestic dogs, leading to different behaviors exhibited.

This blog post aims to address the common mistakes with a high drive puppy in a pet or non-working home and give you training tips to develop a better understanding of your pet’s needs. Through comprehensive online dog training and valuable advice from expert dog trainers and behaviorists, you will learn how best to handle drivey dogs with a strong predatory chase drive in a family home.

Consider this your guide to understanding the world from your high-energy puppy’s perspective as we delve into the heart of canine drives, shedding light on the dog’s focus, balancing mental stimulation, and the vital role of human interaction to shape the behavior of our four-legged friends—right from the puppy stage.

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the malinois is where I see this go wrong very, very often

What Is A High Drive Dog?

High drive dogs are characterized by a significant level of both mental and physical activity, often necessitating considerable exercise and mental stimulation to meet the dog’s needs. Essentially, they possess an inherent enthusiasm or “drive” to engage in particular actions or behavior patterns, often related to chasing, hunting, or retrieving.

They’re often also labelled  a “High energy dog”, or “High Prey drive” and often not recommended for new dog guardians as a result.

One defining attribute of high drive dogs is self-motivation. They are often highly trainable and are eager to engage in working or play activities. High prey or chase instincts are common among high drive dogs, making toys and games that simulate these actions particularly stimulating. They often have high levels of physical energy and endurance.

Being highly intelligent, these dogs have the ability to make their own decisions and can outwit even the unsuspecting dog owners – and sometimes that encourages dog guardians to push their dogs energy out in a hundred different ways, or with one, and that’s often a ball, and often times these result in behavior issues.

High drive dogs include but are not limited to herding breeds like German Shepherds, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois and Australian Shepherds and hunting dog breeds such as coonhounds, pointers, and viszlas who all have a genetic predisposition to be working all day. This is often heightened in “Working line” dogs.

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The airedale terrier, a wonderful, active large terrier breed

2 Most Common Mistakes When Owning A High Drive Dog

Remember, most dog breeds in this world are or were bred for a reason, a purpose from herding sheep, to driving cattle, to keeping victorian factories free of rats. All of these dogs had a purpose – and it’s a purpose that they found immensely rewarding.

Most of modern life removes that in something I commonly refer to as “Domestic Redundancy” which commonly results in problems…  the biggest problems tend to be;

1 – Not Giving Enough Stimulation

High drive dogs need stimulation. Particularly when there aren’t natural outlets for their behavior. Or else things like separation anxiety, frustration, over excitement or even reactivity can set in. A modern family can sometimes forget that this need exists, and even in my day to day job as a trainer, I often ask where people got their puppy from, and when I hear the words “Oh a breeder on a farm” I tend to be looking for some signals.

2 – Giving Too Much Stimulation

The flip side is that a family introduces a high drive dog to their family, and they’re immensely focused on working the brain, or the muscles, or sometimes both in an intense way, right from the start.

And whilst this is great it also means these dogs swiftly become a burden, and donate serious negative stress to both the guardian and the dog – which ruins their relationship, turning their dog from a joy to a time suck! And then they don’t want to have to constantly meet their dogs needs which they’ve trained them to need. These dogs are often referred to as Endurance Monsters.

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german shepherds are known for their high drive, but they can be phenomenal dogs when you give them the skills they need

The Effects of These Mistakes

These mistakes usually create disharmony in this home because this wonderful, high drive dog, tends to become restless. And then they start showing intense behaviors that most people don’t tend to like. That could be anything from digging up your flower garden, to barking incessantly, or even developing reactivity!

How to Avoid These Common Mistakes with a High Drive Puppy

The good news is that your dog’s ability and behavior doesn’t mean you cannot live a happy life together, and some guardians go to great lengths to help their dog which is awesome and deserve commending. But remember, the best thing is to find a balance.

1 – Understimulation Of Your Dog’s Needs

On the other hand, under-stimulating your high drive puppy can lead to boredom, destructive behavior, and heightened chase drive due to pent-up energy.

Tips for Avoiding Understimulation:

  1. Meet their needs: Look into what your dog was bred to do, and find a way to simulate that as best you can, sure you’re not going to let your terrier capture prey, but you may start exploring hide and seek, or introduce more squeaky toys.
  2. Mental Stimulation: Regularly engage in activities that stimulate your puppy’s mind, such as puzzle toys or training sessions. This is especially important for smartest dogs like German Shepherd Dog and Australian Cattle Dogs.
  3. Physical Exercise: High drive dogs need a lot of exercise to channel their energy constructively. This can include long walks, fetch games, and the thrill of the chase in safe, monitored environments.
  4. Training: Consistent and regular training is crucial for high drive dogs. This can help with self-control and direct their energy positively. Consider online dog training courses from certified trainers.
  5. Socialization: Ensure your puppy has plenty of opportunities for socializing with other dogs. This helps with their mental and emotional development, teaching them essential skills such as bite inhibition and dog-to-dog communication.

Through better understanding and positive reinforcement, we can help our high-drive puppies navigate the world calmly and confidently. Remember, nurturing your young dog doesn’t have to be an uphill battle, as long as you’re cognizant of their heightened drives and the need for proper management. Good luck on your journey with your high drive puppy.

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hounds are seriously high drive dogs, and can be tough to handle, even for experienced dog guardians.

2 – Providing Too Much Stimulation

Overstimulation can lead to a variety of problems, such as frustration based aggression and increased anxiety in high drive puppies like Border Collies or Australian Shepherds. It’s crucial to manage your dog’s arousal level and prevent the occurrence of predatory behavior or erratic reactive behavior.

Tips for Avoiding Overstimulation:

  1. Consistent Calm Environment: High drive puppies are naturally inclined towards high arousal and predatory chase drive. Maintaining a peaceful, consistent environment can prevent this from becoming heightened and causing stress or anxiety.
  2. Capture Calmness: rewarding our drivey dog’s ability to relax is a good thing. When you bring home a high drive dog you’re going to want to reward them for choosing to relax. Encouraging when they stress shake and regulate their own emotions is important for any dog’s success, but even more so for a dog with a strong drive.
  3. Constructive outlets: one of the best things for your dog’s prey drive is to give them an outlet for the natural behavior that people honed. This is where play is good, giving your sport dog, or farm dog a ball is great – but we must always be mindful that outlets cannot become obsessions. Flirt poles, squeaky toys, snuffle mats and even actual sports like Agility can be great outlets.
  4. Safe Space: Create a calming area for your puppy, referred to as a “den.” This could be a crate or a certain area in the house where the puppy can rest. This is one of the reasons I like Crate trainingWhilst some trainers find it is often overused, a crate is an effective stepping stone to creating a safe haven for your dog if they become overstimulated as a puppy can find it really hard to stay in a bed for a long time. Note: This is different to a timeout.

You’d be surprised at how quickly reward-based training can work, and when we remedy the intensity our dogs tend to have a much happier mental state.

High Drive, Or Overtired?

I’m a firm believer that a lot of this belief comes when we get our working dog as a puppy, and they don’t ever seem to settle, and we come to the conclusion that “Well, if they’ve got energy, I’ll burn it off with them” – and that’s where real issues begin! This sort of decision is a bad one, because our dogs can get (and very often do get!) overtired.

This is a really common mistake. Try and be on the lookout for overtiredness!

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all dogs can learn to be good dogs and enjoyable dogs, so don’t count them out!

Overall, We’re Looking For Balance

Balancing out your dog’s strong prey drive, giving them productive outlets, whilst showing them they that don’t need to be working every hour of every day. It’s very much like when you have friends who are addicted to working, or socialising, or similar, that they struggle to shutdown and usually it impacts them in other ways, such as their health.

Your dog is the same. Even the finest competitors at dog sports will usually be taught how to relax. Sport dogs need breaks, and so does your dog.

But remember, we’re looking for is a dog who can go when you need to go, but be able to relax when you need them to relax. Something dog guardians typically find to be annoying? Is a dog who just needs to go, go, go.

So find that balance! and let’s promote good dog behavior.

High Drive Dogs Can Be Happy In Pet Homes – It Just Takes Work!

Navigating the journey of raising a high drive puppy can be filled with unique challenges and potential missteps. However, understanding these common mistakes and knowing how to avoid them—whether it’s overstimulation or under-stimulation—can significantly improve the path ahead. By crafting a balanced environment that provides the right kind of mental and physical stimulation, we’re set to see our energetic puppies grow into well-adjusted dogs.

It’s vital to remember that every dog, especially high drive breeds, requires a diligent blend of patience, training, and love. By steering clear of these common missteps and employing our provided tips, we empower ourselves to properly handle and train our high-drive puppies. The road may indeed get bumpy, but the bond and mutual respect we create with our puppies make every hurdle worthwhile.

As we conclude our guide, remember that every puppy is unique. It’s important to modify your approach based on your puppy’s personality and requirements. With consistent effort, positive reinforcement, and proper understanding, our puppies will grow to reach their full potential, making every challenge met on this journey a rewarding milestone.

If you need help training your dog, try our etsy store for step by step training guides!

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a professional, qualified, and multi-award winning trainer is the founder of rebarkable. She has always believed animals deserve kindness and champions force free methods. Believing that dog guardians will all choose the kindest options if proper information is provided, she aims to help all dog guardians who need it and make dog training as accessible as possible

Ali lives win Maryland, US with her husband and her three dogs.

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