Tell Me About Your Dog! - Part 5

Continued from Part 4

Fighting "Drive," Conclusion

This brings me to the end of the discussion of fighting ?drive?. The major contributing components I have been able to isolate are the six I just described: prey drive, defense drive, frustration aggression, social aggression, dominance behavior, and rage. All dogs will have these components in some form or another. But we have to draw the line at the point where the components stop being useful. I hope you will agree with me when I say that a dog that everyone describes as having great fighting "drive" will display most if not all of these components in a useful form. I feel that it is important to look at this concept as a package made up of components, and not one drive. The individual components need to be promoted, solidified and manipulated to where a dog can freely switch between all the components he has in order to deal with virtually every situation he may encounter. Only then does a dog have fightin "drive." We also have to accept that some dogs will have fewer dimensions to their individual fighting "drive" package than others. Knowing which components are workable is very important in chosing the right training approach. I would say that in the good modern day sport dog the package consists of prey drive, defense drive (with the strong passive reaction being the most common), and frustration aggression. Social aggression, dominance behavior and rage are more rare. But when we see a dog that has all six components, we will not forget him soon, because the fighting "drive" that is displayed when those dogs work leaves a lasting impression.

There are few more terms I would like to discuss.


Sharpness is probably the most incorrectly used term in English dog terminology. I may be wrong here, but I thought the word sharpness was a translation of the German term "Schärfe." But the use of the term sharpness is very much a contradiction of the German term. In every conversation I have, people use sharpness synonymous with spooky or jumpy or nervy. But the word "Schärfe" in German texts is actually defined as being synonymous with aggression. So there certainly is a great discrepancy between the uses of the word.

The type of aggression that is talked about when the term sharpness is used seems to vary depending on the designed use of the dog. For example, in big game hunting dogs and terriers it refers particularly to the intensity and attitude with which these hunting dogs kill their respective prey. It is not prey drive as such; it is the actual killing response that is assessed. I have heard the term "gameness" used in the US in a similar context. For the large game hunting dogs the word used is "Wildschärfe," which translates as game sharpness. This assessment is made best when observing how the dog deals with wild boars. Because of the "bringing down" requirement in this type of hunting many of the dogs of these breeds use physical dominance techniques. For terriers the term is "Raubzeugschärfe," which translates as small predator sharpness. Terriers are used to hunt and kill small predators such as martens, foxes, badgers, etc. It is no easy feat to kill these predators without suffering injury. So a particularly fast and furious shaking technique is very common, as is a chomping bite behavior. These types of sharpness categorize the dog's prey drive.

Now to the term that we should be most interested in for our service dogs. The term used here is "Mannschärfe," which translates into man sharpness. The definition of this quality states the following. The quality in the dog that leads him to actively confront any apparent (or feigned) or actual threat from a person in a hostile manner. If I were to use terminology I have already discussed in this article I would say that sharpness could be equated to showing an active defense reaction to a real or perceived threat.

I did a fair bit of research and could not find anything written that stated that this quality has to come together with a low stimulation threshold for threat. So in fact how easily a dog is triggered does not seem to be a factor by definition. But to be fair, when I was growing up, the dogs we called sharp were the ones that would become very aggressive without much provocation. One thing that I never thought of when I used the term sharp was spooking away. In the old East German Koerung system, sharpness was rated from 0-5 with 5 being the most desirable. So when did sharpness become a bad thing? I don't know. I don't think it is a bad thing.

Flight Drive

Flight drive is part of the self preservation mechanism of animals. All animals have this in them somewhere. In some cases flight drive is described as just a very strong form of avoidance behavior. I don't think that is a wrong way of putting it, but I don't believe it is totally accurate either. Flight drive is more than just staying clear of a threat, it is actually turning around and running away. I generally use the term flight tendency when I discuss this trait. I have seen weak dogs who do not have a have a high flight tendency. But I have also seen fairly strong dogs who still have in them a tendency to bolt away when the right trigger is hit. I think for us to get a clear picture of a dog we should make an assessment of the flight drive or flight tendency in a dog, so it can be weighed against the other traits the dog possesses. The trigger stimulus is for flight is fear.

Defense Drive Overlaps

Defense of prey

This trait is often referred to as guardiness or possessiveness. This is naturally an overlap of prey drive and defense drive. The trigger stimulus is a sense of worry over loosing prey. This has proven to be a very useful trait during protection work. Guardiness is to some degree inborn, but it can be created to some degree through training, it most certainly can be promoted. It is a good way to add the intensity that defense drive brings with it without having to threaten the dog himself. As with all defense work, avoidance or retreat is a possibility, so caution has to be taken here also to ensure the work is done correctly.

Dogs seem to have different levels of guardiness depending on the prey object. In some it is limited to actual food related items like bones, etc.., in some toys are the focus of their possessiveness, and in others only protection equipment seems to be worthy of defending and only against strangers. I feel it is a worthwhile trait to assess because it gives us additional training options.

Defense of territory

Territorial aggression as it is sometimes called can be one of two things. It can be an actual defense of the territory the dog considers his, like a yard, or even a car. This kind of aggression is a type of defense reaction where the worry is over the potential loss of territory. And this worry leads to a defensive reaction. Dogs who display this overlap don?t act like thay are personally threatened, f or them the dispute is over territory.

Or dogs may sometimes appear to be territorially aggressive, but in fact aren't. This can happen in dogs who actually feel personally threatened, but only feel secure enough on home turf where they feel protected to show a defensive response. While anywhere else the dog would retreat or be avoidant and submissive. For these dogs I would call it a self defense reaction.


I am putting mistrust as part of the defensive drive points. The reason for this is that aside from socially aggressive dogs, we can also have mistrusting active defensive dogs who appear to be almost the same thing. Naturally, the other forms of defensive reactions occur as well, since they are triggered by the same stimulus. But only the active defensive dogs will appear like a socially aggressive dog. To a certain degree this form of re-active aggression does fall under the aspects of social behaviors. Mistrust of strangers is what will lead to the worry that may trigger the defensive response in the dog, no matter what the response may be. The difference between this and social aggression is the following: the socially aggressive dog, as I see it, is not really in defense drive. He treats strangers with aggression, period. I'm sure trust plays a role here but is not a deciding factor. As I mentioned under social aggression, the aggressive response does not stop (if left uncontrolled) until integration occurs. But a mistrusting defensive dog will stop reacting defensive towards the person as soon as the threat of mistrust is neutralized. Once this is done such dogs can be social towards people they would have met with aggression before.

Play drive

I will end this article with a discussion on play drive. What is play drive? Does such a drive exist? I believe it does exist and it is a drive in itself. Now, it also has a certain componential nature, but because I believe it has pretty much a singular biological function I think it is a drive in itself. I believe that play drive is nature?s school. The drive to play ensures that young animals practice adult behaviors i n a non-risky way. How good a dog's play drive is I think depends a little bit on how many dimensions there are to his play. Dogs practice prey drive by stalking and chasing each other and other moving objects. They practice defense drive overlap behaviors by guarding objects, food, and small sections of territory, they practice dominance through wrestling matches. The desire to compete is a way to practice the survival of the fittest principle of nature. It is this competitive spirit that leads puppies to race each other and play tug of war. Sometimes a puppy won't show any interest in an object or running, until he can measure himself against another. We can capture a part of this competitive spirit and make it part of protection training. I think that it is this competitive spirit of play drive that leads people to link play drive with fighting "drive." I believe that play drive is linked to fighting "drive" on two levels. On one hand the competitive spirit allows dogs to develop the urge to measure themselves against human competitors as well. It is not serious enough to warrant the term fighting however. On the other hand I believe the more extensively a dog plays the more dimensions he will later have to his fighting "drive," since nature's way of practicing techniques allows a bit of a glimpse into what will be. So play drive lets the dog practice the components of fighting "drive" on his own. That is why dogs who have an extensive play drive can develop a well rounded fighting "drive" even if the training people do with him is fairly one or two dimensional. Such dogs are able to develop the other components to some degree on their own. Still, the seriousness we want to see in the adult dog's fighting "drive" needs more work than what play drive will do for the dog.

Another point to make about play drive: since our dogs are infantized wolves, we can preserve certain pieces of play drive long into adult life and even for the entire life of the dog. The desire to play is a lust-oriented drive in the dog. And by keeping this alive we give ourselves yet another drive to work our dog in to make training even more fun and successful.


This article was difficult to write, but it was a lot of fun too. It gave me an opportunity to browse through many books on my shelves that sometimes just sit there. It gave me a refreshed interest in talking about dogs and delving into their minds. I had a hard time putting some of these thoughts into words so that they wouldn't be misunderstood. But in the end my goal is to get people to think about their dogs and talk about them and learn more about them. And I think I accomplished that. Thank you as always for reading my thoughts.


Armin Winkler has been the instructor at many schutzhund training seminars. He has been training schutzhund dogs since 1976 and is a USA member who lives in British Columbia. His English translation of Dr. Helmut Raiser’s Der Schutzhund is available from Armin Winkler Publishing, 3503 Lakeshaw Road, RR#7, Duncan, BC Canada V9L-4W4 or by phone (250) 746-8989.

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