Some Thoughts on Teaching in Drive

Lesson Progress:

Eye Contact with Frisbee DogsHere Abby works Attention with Pompeii at the Farm. Pompeii has to release the disc and look Abby in the eye to earn a Frisbee. This is Self Discipline and Self Discipline with a high drive dog is a necessity.
A dog that is engaged in drive is often hard to handle and gives many good discdoggers fits. It is important for handlers to be able to work with the dog when it is high on drive because the game of disc engages many aspects of drive in our dogs: prey/kill, eye, stalking, chase…

The strength of these aspects of drive are breed specific, and also individually specific. A heavy focus on one aspect of disc drive can really damage our game. Too much eye from a herding dog can frustrate handlers to no end. Too much prey/kill and your dog is likely to be all over you when you are trying to play or will be shredding discs. You need to be able to work with your dog while he is engaged in drive, as playing disc is going to activate all kinds of drive in your dog. There are several key factors that are necessary for teaching in drive.

Resource Control

When teaching in drive, controlling our dog’s access to the disc is a necessity. It is unacceptable for your dog to attempt to bite or grab the disc without being asked. You control the disc and your dog’s access to it, and with the driven dog, this is a necessity.

Unsolicited bites should be not be tolerated. Heavy pawing and leaping on the handler should be not be tolerated. Targeting the discs with a nose or paw and light pawing at your body should be ignored.

Discs are Quiet when they are stable and close to your body and Loud when they are away from the body and moving quickly. Quiet discs are not appealing targets and Loud discs are hard to resist.


When our dogs give up their attempts to get the disc without permission, and offer eye contact (often right after they sit), then we are ready to play.

Getting your dog’s attention means that he has released the focus of his drive, the disc, and has shifted focus to the handler. This is the first step of teaching in drive, as we can’t do anything of meaning with our dog’s until we get their attention. If our dogs give us their attention to get access to discs, we don’t have to worry about that.

Patience not Pressure

Teaching in Drive requires patience, not pressure. Pressuring a driven dog is often counter productive. Pressure a retrieve, and you are going to get avoidance. Pressure a release, and you are going to get aggression or avoidance.

Instead of pressure and corrections, we need to use patience and rewards. We want to help the dog make a good decision, not make the dog’s decision for them.

When the dog believes that releasing a disc makes something awesome happen, he’ll spit that disc out and he’ll do it because he wants to.


Working on a retrieve requires that we use different techniques than working on a drop, which is different from working a mouth to hand transfer. When we’re working with a high drive dog who is engaged in drive, we have to move quickly and efficiently to the lesson. The lesson must then be executed well and brought to a clean and successful conclusion.

We need to focus on getting the desired behavior and ignore all behaviors that are not pertinent to the task at hand. We will develop and follow a plan in order to keep the game moving and the interaction productive.

If we are out in the yard working on a vault and our dog comes jogging in with a disc after a nice attempt and drops it early, we’re going to ignore that, as it’s not pertinent to the work we’re doing. If we give the dog a hard time for dropping early, the vault training session’s flow is damaged (way to reinforce that nice effort on the vault, eh?) and the entire focus of the session could change from Vault to Drop. Nothing kills momentum like arbitrary rigid criteria on silly details.

If our dog drops early in a vaulting session, we should make note of it and work to not let it happen again. Predicting the drop and cuing it might be a good idea. We can even just let it go. Gasp!… That’s right, we can just let it go and work on a drop in a session later in the day. It’s not a big deal. The point of the lesson was to work vaults, right? Let’s stick to the plan.

Plan your train, and train your plan. Especially with high drive dogs.

Drive Management

What we want to do is manage our dog’s drive, just as if we had our hands on a dial that controls the level of excitement.

If we are working with the driven dog, we need power. That power comes in the form of access to the focus of the dog’s drive, hopefully this is a disc. If a dog is a disc freak we can manipulate his behavior through access to our discs. Restricting access to the target for poor decisions and behavior and granting access for appropriate behavior.

We can slow the game down and do some eye contact if the dog is getting too high or we can jazz him up by Loudly waving the discs around, doing some bitework or firing out rollers.

Give Up Control

Probably the hardest thing for disc dog handlers to do when working high drive dogs is to give up control. It’s the dog’s responsibility to perform these skills. If they perform the skills, we can play disc together. If they don’t perform the skills, no play. If the dog likes to play disc, they will do whatever is required to play the game. Ask for the drop and wait for it to happen. When it happens, mark it and reward with another disc. It’s as simple as that.

Punishing the High Drive Dog

If we want to punish the high drive dog there’s not much worse than quitting the game. Quitting the game seems like a death sentence for some dogs. Nothing could be worse than that! The only problem with quitting the game is that is the end of the lesson.

Punish with a Pause

Another great punishment for the high drive dog is a pause of play. If the dog refuses to drop, it’s no problem. We just stop playing for a moment or go and gather some discs a nd take our time. We can dismiss the dog,”Go Do Dog Stuff…”.

This downtime in the game due to poor performance provides a stark contrast with a lively game full of success.

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