The VK9 Blog

Learn how to be the best owner for your dog with free training and nutrition advice!

Understanding the Five Most Common Drives in Dogs

Nov 29, 2023


Drives are dogs' subconscious urges and cause them to act a certain way in the presence of particular stimuli. A dog's drive is his work ethic. The higher the drive, the more eager the dog is to work.

Dogs have numerous drives that influence their behavior. The five most common drives are prey drive, food drive, hunt drive, pack drive, and defense drive.


Prey Drive

Prey drive (also called play drive or toy drive) is a dog’s desire to stalk, chase, and capture prey. Dogs with high prey drive have an overwhelming desire to chase moving objects. This can be toys, leaves, small animals, cars, and other moving things. High prey drive dogs need early and consistent training to cap their drive and control their impulses.

Over the years, I have noticed a correlation between prey drive and overall energy. The more prey drive a dog possesses, the more energetic the dog is going to be. Be careful what you wish for!


Food Drive

Food drive is a dog’s desire to work for food and can be considered a subcategory of prey drive. Dogs with high food drive love food and will work for any food reward you offer, including kibble. Dogs with high food drive are fun to train because they are motivated to work and learn.


Hunt Drive

Hunt drive is a dog’s instinctual impulse to hunt or search for something using his sense of smell, hearing and/or taste. Dogs with high hunt drive make excellent working dogs and excel in Search & Rescue, K9 Nosework, barn hunt, and other arenas.


Pack Drive

Pack drive is a dog’s primal need for social contact. Dogs with high pack drive seek out attention, affection, and companionship from people and other animals, especially those within their pack. Dogs with high pack drive tend to make great service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. They generally do not like to be left alone for long periods of time and can become Stage 5 clingers. Without proper training, they can develop separation anxiety and become destructive in their homes and crates.

Dogs with moderate to high pack drive are usually easy to train because they are eager to please and willing to work hard for their handlers. Dogs with low pack drive can be harder to train because they are independent and self-serving.


Defense Drive

Last but not least is defense. Defense drive is a dog’s desire to protect what is his: his home, his family, and his possessions. Defense equates to protection but too much defense is not good. Dogs who are highly defensive can be challenging to work with. They pick fight over flight, and, when left unchecked, can become dangerous. Highly defensive dogs are not a good fit for families and need firm but fair handlers who are confident and consistent.


Ideal Drive Combinations

You might be thinking, How much drive is right for me?

Drive is categorized as low, medium, and high.

For family dogs, I recommend medium drive dogs because these dogs have enough drive to have fun with the family without being overbearing.

For service dogs, and depending on the dog’s exact job, I look for medium to high drive dogs, specifically low to medium defense drive, medium prey or hunt drive, medium to high pack drive, or high food drive.

If you want a lazy couch potato, get a dog with low drives. If you want a hard-working dog, get a high drive dog.

I personally prefer medium and high drive dogs or dogs with high hunt drive because detection and tracking are two of my favorite things to do. My personal dog, Havok, is a high drive dog while Zoey is medium drive. My Personal Protection Dogs in-training are medium drive as well.

 Happy Training!


This information is an excerpt from The Puppy Head Start© program Module 1 (Puppy Selection). Content is copyrighted. Do not use copyrighted work without expressed written permission from Valor K9 Academy or you will risk being liable for copyright infringement.

Three puppies sitting

The Valor K9 Academy® Seven-Step Temperament Test

Over the years, I’ve crafted a proven seven-step temperament test, and I’m sharing it with you! Here is what I do, and what I look for, when I’m evaluating puppies.

Read Now
Puppy licking bowl

Picking the Right Food for Your Growing Puppy

Diet affects behavior! Learn how to pick the right food for your growing puppy and gain insights on how to read a label when shopping for your dog's food.

Read Now

Get Actionable Training Tips and Updates Delivered To Your Inbox.

Dog training is a marathon, not a spring. We'll guide you on your journey to having a well-behaved dog.

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.