These two terms get tossed around a lot in the dog sport world, and sometimes they're used interchangeably. So, let's unpack them!

First, some definitions:
drive: an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.
Unpacking that further:
urge: a strong desire or impulse.

motivation: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

So, it's clear. These two things are NOT the same.

It's maybe impossible to split apart what is drive and what is motivation when we are looking at the dog in front of us. However, as trainers, I believe we should focus on the motivation piece vs the drive piece. After all, drive is innate, by definition. How much can we impact it once we have our puppy home?

All dogs have food drive. They have an innate desire to eat. Otherwise, they don't survive. Naturally, food is a pretty good motivator for most dogs. One could say that if a dog has “high food drive”, then one could assume that dog is easy to motivate with food.

Some dogs have toy drive. This is an innate desire to chase something that is moving. To bite something that is squeaking. To thrash something to make sure it is dead. Toys can be good motivators for these dogs. If a dog has high chase drive, it would be easy to motivate them with a game of chase.

Do you see how these two terms are describing two different things in the dog's behavior?

Motivation is the reason one has for behaving. Another way to put this is: reinforcement drives behavior.
Drive is how much they want the motivator.

So, what if you have a dog with “low <insert resource here> drive”? How do we motivate these dogs?

I'm here to tell you that predictability is powerful. That even if you have a dog with “low food drive”, the more the dog can rely on and predict the delivery of that food, the more valuable it becomes, the more likely they are to do things for it.

Here's a shaping session with Gletta when she was just a puppy. How would you label her “drive” based on the first 30 seconds of this video?
What about the last 30 seconds? Did you opinion change of her throughout the video? If so, did her food drive change, or did her motivation for the food change? What impacted her motivation?

Drive and motivation get tossed around a lot in agility because of its correlation with speed. Agility is a timed event! We want them to go fast. When we are tasked with a project that we know is going to end in a big payoff, we are (generally) motivated to get said task done. Dogs are the same.

We have to teach them about those payoffs and how to know they're coming. You didn't know this blog was going to be about reinforcement strategies, did you? 🙃 #sorrynotsorry

Here's another video of Gletta as a puppy. When do you see her at her “fastest”?
Is it on her way to do target? Is it on her way to the tossed cookie? Is it on her way back to me from the tossed cookie, before she makes her choice to touch the target?

I think it's her return from the cookie, just before she makes her choice to touch the target. There is a glimpse of speed because of the predictability of how to get the next cookie: return from the first one. She really knows that part of the process and has speed in the reinforcement loop. She also has some knowledge of touching the target. Her motivation to return after eating a thrown cookie is being baked into touching the target.

The key point that I want everyone to take away from is this that predictability, clarity and control over how one earns their rewards is extremely motivating. We do better job at work when we know how, when, and where our next paycheck is coming from.

Drive isn't the only indicator of a high-speed sport dog. Good training goes a long way.

Observe your dog's behavior, vs using a label that may impact how you you feel about them during training. Can you be more clear in how, when, what, and where their reward is coming from?

*Note: I know there are other factors when it comes to drive, motivation, and speed. The purpose of this blog is to pull apart common terms (drive and motivation) and get trainers thinking about behavior and what drives it.

Happy Training!