by Hub Holmes
I believe that the most important aspect of training a stockdog is the “drive”. Drive is the dog’s desire to work, chase, maul, and otherwise wreak havoc on the livestock. So many dogs that come to our training center have a low drive level, both manmade and natural, that we spend a lot of our time building the drive to acceptable levels. People cause these problems because they do not understand the development of a young dog’s mind. The problem occurs naturally when the drive is “bred out” in order to create a more useful dog off of stock. All of these aspects of drive problems are detrimental to stockdogs.
I place such importance on drive because it is the measuring stick that we use to determine the level of training that we can achieve with our dogs. With a high drive level we have a lot of energy created between stock and dog. This energy attraction allows the trainer to be more energetic and creative in training. It also makes training easier because if we make a small mistake the drive is still high enough to start again without losing much ground.
A dog can have tremendous “natural presence” over stock —in other words, the ability to move stock without expending a lot of energy — but at the same time have a low drive level. This means that if the stock were to hurt the dog he would not have the confidence to bounce back and go to work again.
A few years ago, I had two dogs, Chip and Dave.” Both dogs were open trial winners. Chip had a great natural presence. He could move sheep, goats and cattle with little effort. Normally, they would turn and trot away from him but if stock challenged him he would turn off, lose his drive and eventually be beaten. As the years went by, he was more easily turned off to the point of becoming a pretty weak dog.
Dave never had the presence over stock that Chip had. This caused him to be challenged more often. He always answered the challenge, usually by gripping. He would actually become more driven on challenging stock. Consequently, he never was beaten, his confidence stayed high and he retained his ability to move stock all of his working life. An interesting factor here is that the same stock would move off of Chip easily that would fight with Dave.
As time went on Dave stayed at the same level as Chip slowly lost his ability to move stock.
I think Chip’s problem was a natural occurrence. As I studied bloodlines more, I saw this happening quite a bit in his line.
Some of the low drive levels I see are manmade. Maybe the dog got loose on stock as a youngster and was treated too harshly for this. As things go you might have a 50/50 chance of recovering the drive when this occurs. As a dog owner, be aware of this problem and do not let young dogs on stock without direct supervision.If your dog gets to stock by accident it is usually the owner’s fault. My advice to the loose pup’s angry owner is catch your dog without being loud. Be as gentle as possible. If you are angry, do anything to vent your anger but not at the pup.
The low drive level occurs naturally more often when herding breeds are bred for things other than herding. If you want a stockdog, make sure you get bloodlines that are working now, not in their grandparents’ time. (I am keeping my thoughts brief on the above two sentences because I do not have my soap box ready for use just now.)
In brief, to save yourself a lot of extra time, trouble and to avoid absolute failure, make sure your dog comes from working parents, this also means that the parents should be trained to take commands and be obedient around stock. No use in putting a dog who just chases in the same category as a working dog. There are too many good dogs available in all herding breeds to set your standards low. When you have one with the desired natural drive, take care of and nurture this drive. Do not do something careless to dampen the drive in a good dog.
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine December 97/January ’98