Helmut Raiser’s View on Which Drives Are Useful During Protection Training


Prey-drive, defense-drive, fighting-drive, etc. are the catch phrases of modern protection training. They are thrown around at every seminar we attend, they are the subjects of countless articles, but rarely do people agree on what is being said about these “drives.” About 20 years ago Helmut Raiser revolutionized Schutzhund protection training by identifying which inborn motivations (drives) are stimulated in the different phases of training. He did not just assign specific names to these motivations, he combined years of practical experience and research with the clinical studies and their results of such behaviourial giants like Brunner, Hediger, Lorenz, Most, and Trummler among others, to determine on a scientific level what drives are and how they fit into protection training. Without any further introduction, let me summarize his findings from his now famous book Der Schutzhund.

Prey Drive
Prey drive is part of a dog’s food gathering behaviour. In a predatory animal that means prey drive governs hunting and killing techniques. Chasing, flushing, pouncing, biting, and shaking-to-death, are the most important of these techniques when we are talking about protection training. In order to stimulate these instinctive techniques in the dog, we have to keep in mind what a real prey animal does when it is hunted. Prey is always on the move, it always moves in an evasive fashion, and it is panic-stricken. These behaviours in turn trigger pursuit, pouncing, biting, pulling, and shaking-to-death in the dog. Prey drive is inborn, and is a trainable instinct, meaning it can be enhanced or reduced. Prey drive can be exhausted, meaning that a time will come when the dog “doesn’t feel like performing the desired behaviours any more.” Author’s note: Considering the serious effects the end result of this drive would have on a prey animal, I do not subscribe to the idea that prey work is only a silly game.

Defense Drive
Defense drive counts as one of the dog’s aggression behaviours, and it can appear in conjunction with other behaviours. Threatening, staring, and biting are typical defensive reactions. Defense behaviour is generally triggered by threats, real or perceived, or open aggression. The goal of defense behaviour is always to create avoidance behaviour in the threatener. Defense drive may appear as defense of prey, defense of puppies, defense of territory, defense against the unfamiliar, or self-defense. The drive is satisfied in each case when the aggressor shows avoidance behaviour. Defense drive is not subject to exhaustion, so it can be activated at will. It should, therefore, be part of the combative behaviour of any protection dog. Furthermore, it is responsible for behaviours like countering when under stress or when threatened. The great danger when working a dog in defense drive is that the same stimuli which cause defense behaviour also cause avoidance behaviour. Which of the two possible behaviours is displayed by a dog when a trigger stimulus is presented is dependant on a variety of factors, among them confidence and temperament of the dog as well as the threatener, “life” experiences of the dog, age and maturity of the dog, location (unfamiliar or home turf), distance between adversaries, and the presence of other external influences (prey, mate, puppies). Author’s note: Hopefully this allows people to see defense for the double-edged sword it is. Defense is one part of protection training. The idea that good dogs should only be worked in defense is a dangerous one which has wrecked many great dogs.

Aggression Drive
Aggression behaviour contains reactive aggression (defense) as well as active aggression (social aggression). With all the different theories that exist about aggression, there still is no conclusive proof available as to whether or not genuine spontaneous aggression exists.

The three theories about where aggression comes from are:

  • Aggression is learned.

  • Aggression is created by negative experiences.

  • Aggression is inborn.

The truth is probably that aggression results from all three processes.

Research is available to support all three theories. For our purposes however, we should concern ourselves less with where aggression comes from and more with what triggers it, what its goal is, and what its biological significance is. The triggers for reactive aggression (defense) was covered under the previous heading. So, lets deal with active aggression. It is always intraspecific, meaning social aggression, and is the result of competition over things (territory, food, mates, etc.). Intraspecific aggression is activated by rivals, and by anti-social behaviour. The goal of the drive is to cause avoidance, submission, or worse of the rival. Biological significance is the even distribution of a species over available land to reduce the possibility of food shortages and epidemics as well as survival of a species and a pack by selecting the fittest animals for reproduction and as leaders. In species with a social hierarchy behaviours developed from the aggressive drive, which limit the negative results and guarantee the positive results of social aggression such as threatening, dominance, submission, and rituals of non-physical combat.

Aggression increases through maturation and practise. It can also be increased or decreased through training and through external influences, for example pain can be aggression stimulating. Other factors which affect aggressive behaviour are location and hormone levels. Two factors which affect aggression that a protection helper needs to be aware of are: personal acquaintance blocks aggression; and passive acceptance of a dog’s aggression impresses a dog deeply and causes unsureness.

A negative side effect of aggression in dog training is that it greatly reduces the dog’s learning ability.

Author’s note: We all want to see our dogs work aggressively against the “bad guy,” but we need to keep in mind that that is the final picture we want to see. Too often high quality dogs don’t reach their potential because their owners want to see them aggressive right from the start, forgetting about the fact that the dog has to learn many intricate exercises before he can walk onto the competition field. So if possible teach the dog an exercise first, then make him perform it aggressively.

Fighting Drive
Again the question of whether or not an independent fighting drive exists has not yet been answered. Some dog-experts feel that a fighting drive must exist and that it is related to the play drive. The term fighting drive is an oxymoron. It combines the word drive refers to an inherited trait which serves to preserve life and species, with the word fight which refers to physical combat. A drive to fight would then be an internal motivation which leads the animal into a potentially harmful situation. But even in social aggression the non-physical ritualistic showdowns are much more common than the injurious physical fights. However, that argument aside, the term fighting drive is a useful description of a desirable behaviour in the dog. We want to see a dog who has fun fighting with the helper. But only a dog who doesn’t feel like he is fighting for his life can be unstressed and have fun. Therefore I (Raiser) feel that fighting drive is an extension of prey drive.

What qualities make up good fighting drive – meaning the spontaneity? Practical experience has shown that dogs who work primarily in as a result of their defensive drive may still lack fighting drive. Dogs like that then often fail to engage the helper if he does not present any defensive stimuli, but work confidently while under threat. The desire to “seek the fight” is an essential ingredient of fighting drive. In all dogs with pronounced fighting drive, I also found pronounced prey drive. Making prey is a passionate activity which does not stress the dog. However, prey drive alone is not equal to fighting drive, the dog also has to use defense behaviour. The fundamental component of fighting drive is the active part of the aggressive drive, social aggression. Therefore, the dog must always see the helper as a rival. The object of competition could vary: it could be the prey (hence the relation to prey drive); or it could be social rank, which works well with dominant dogs. So in order to increase fighting drive, we have to promote prey drive, build up defense drive, and strengthen aggression by teaching the dog that he can defeat and dominate the helper. This should make it very clear that as much as fighting drive is a very desirable quality, one cannot expect to see it fully developed in a one year old dog.

Author’s note: Do your dogs a favour and help them develop all the components that make up good fighting drive, rather than waiting until it magically appears out of thin air because the dog should have “it” naturally.

What impresses me about the discussion of drives every time I read Helmut Raiser’s book is that he simply dissects the material on a scientific basis. He does not try to make the theory fit his practical techniques, on the contrary he willingly admits to his own past mistakes, and tries to improve his practical skill by better understanding the theory behind it. I will probably summarize the practical applications of these theories at some time in the future. For people who can’t wait, the full length version is available in my translation of the book Der Schutzhund.

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