By Thomas Riepe
– Translated by Simone Mueller and Charlotte Garner –
The term “drive” is a bit of a mouthful. In fact, when we mention drive, we are actually referring to motivation. This motivation comes from within the dog and triggers a certain urge to do something. In other words, we are talking about the dog’s inner needs.
For example, in childhood, play behaviour is exhibited much more readily than in adulthood. Children have a strong inner urge to play. This trains their body and mind, and improves their abilities. However, this urge to play decreases the older one gets. The urge to play comes from within, and if you call this inner need a drive, it is certainly not the end of the world.
However, there is no such thing as ‘prey drive.’ Predatory behaviour is not triggered solely from within the dog. While it is a natural behaviour for dogs, they will only show this behaviour after being exposed to an external stimulus. So, a dog will not show predatory behaviour unless they have been triggered to do so by something externally (moving prey, etc)
But what about searching for food? This again comes from the inside the dog because of hunger. But strictly speaking, this is not predatory behaviour. It is the first and second phase of ‘appetence behaviour’, which in this case means the search for and detection of food.
The dog can satisfy their hunger not only by hunting. If they find something that does not need to be hunted – dropped food, garbage, or something already dead, for example, they prefer that option, so they don’t need to waste their energy on hunting.
They will only hunt if it is triggered by an external stimulus. And, under natural circumstances, only if the prey provides more energy than the hunt costs energy. So, a large predator like a wolf would never run after a mouse for a long time. This is because they will use up much more energy on the chase, than they would get in return from eating the mouse, making it unbeneficial for them.
Predatory behaviour is not a drive; it is not driven from within. It is an ability that can be activated by external stimuli when required, to satisfy the need to acquire food as a final action. If it is not needed when the food is ‘lying around’ like this, it is eaten directly, and the need for food is satisfied without energy-consuming hunting.
In many dogs, however, the stimulus thresholds that trigger this predatory behaviour have been greatly lowered by breeding. This means that the dogs then react faster to external stimuli, meaning they display predatory behaviour faster and more frequently.
But this does not mean they are ‘high-drive’ dogs. It is simply because they have a lowered stimulus threshold, making them react quickly and often inappropriately.
Through breeding and degeneration of natural abilities, it allows us humans to take advantage of them.
Whether these ‘unnaturally’ altered abilities are good for the individual dog, or their breed as a whole, is a different question.
Heldmaier, G., Neuweiler, G.: Vergleichende Tierphysiologie. Springer, 2003.
Immelmann, K., Scherer, K., Vogel, C.: Psychobiologie. Grundlagen des Verhaltens. Beltz-Verlag, 1988.
Müller, W., Frings S.: Tier- und Humanphysiologie. 4. Auflage, Springer, 2009.
Wickler W.: Von der Ethologie zur Soziobiologie. In: Jost Herbig, Rainer Hohlfeld (Hrsg.): Die zweite Schöpfung. München, 1990.
Zippelius, H.: Die vermessene Theorie. Vieweg, 1992.
Original and unabridged Article:
By Thomas Riepe – Canine psychologist, animal journalist, animal book author
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