What is a high-drive dog?
“Drive” refers to how a dog is driven to perform a particular behavior. Oftentimes, it’s due to a dog’s genes and what task(s) the breed was designed to carry out. The challenge can sometimes be finding appropriate sports or activities for high drive dogs.
Many hunting and working breeds have high drive. However, it can show in any breed. Sometimes drive manifests as problem behaviors, which may indicate that your dog needs something else to do.
If your dog’s breed was characterized to perform a specific task or sport, try that first. For example, a Border Collie could thrive with herding. Or, on the other hand, a Belgian Malinois might really enjoy protection work.
Here are 10 different sports and activities for your high drive dog to try.
Dog agility is known to be a fantastic outlet for dogs with lots of energy. Agility courses are usually timed. Your dog will navigate tunnels, jumps, weave poles, and more at high speeds.
Training for agility can be strenuous and time consuming, but very rewarding for your dog. Sometimes, it can take a year of training before successfully competing. However, not every dog needs to compete. It’s always okay to just do it for fun! You can try taking your dog to classes for agility to boost his skills and master the basics.
Some breeds best suited for agility are Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Sheepdogs, Golden Retrievers, Whippets, and Jack Russell Terriers.
Canicross, at first, sounds a lot like going for a basic run with your dog. But it’s more fun than that! Runners are attached to their dog via bungee leash and harness. The dog essentially pulls the runner forward.
An ergonomic (and SAFE) harness is required for Canicross to keep your dog as comfortable as possible. Many harnesses criss-cross the length of the dog’s back and attach to the leash near the base of the tail. Your pup should be able to breathe properly and move freely in a safe harness.
If you’re already a runner, or you run with your dog, try Canicross! Some people say it feels like you’re flying. Read more about Canicross here.
Popular breeds for canicross include German Shepherds, Border Collies, Huskies, Weimaraners, Belgian Malinois, and other medium or large dogs. Not every dog will be suited for Canicross. If your dog has breathing issues, this sport might not be suitable.
Lure coursing is having a dog chase after a mechanical lure, usually in a field or open space. There are lure coursing clubs that are open to all dog breeds, although some are only for purebred sighthounds.
This is one of the higher speed activities for high drive dogs. With that in mind, there are some safety risks associated with lure coursing, such as muscle strains and foot injuries.
Many sighthounds enjoy lure coursing, and it’s a great opportunity for them to use their running abilities. You can even enter your dog in competitions. Lure coursing can improve his sportsmanship and focus.
A few other breeds that might enjoy this activity are Afghan Hounds, Ibizan Hounds, Borzois, Basenjis, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Irish Wolfhounds.
Think of it as advanced frisbee, where handler and dog work together. There are two types: distance throwing and freestyle, where multiple discs are used in tricks and jumps, choreographed and set to music.
If your dog has always enjoyed a good game of frisbee, try it out. Any breed or mixed-breed can participate. Having an agile dog definitely helps, and so do lessons. It’s good to get the basics under your (and your dog’s) belt, and training with a pro can assist you in your success. You as the handler may need to work on your throwing too.
Although Border Collies are well suited for this sport, any breed can be fit to take part in Disc Dog, even mixes and mutts.
The sport of dock diving involves dogs jumping off a dock into a pool of water, competing for highest or longest jump. As the handler, you have your dog wait at the far end of the dock, and on command, have them jump after their favorite toy into the water.
Swimming dogs can excel in this sport, especially swimming dogs with toy drive. Consider taking your pup to a dock diving class with a pro to guide you. All you need equipment-wise is a floating toy and a towel. Some dogs will be naturals at dock diving, while others may need more encouragement.
Some breeds that might like dock diving are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and Whippets.
Another sport to try is herding. This one usually works best with dogs that already have a herding instinct. In this sport, your dog moves around a field, controlling where livestock go.
There’s a big teamwork aspect to herding, as you and your dog both have to be in control of the situation. I find this to be one of the most impressive activities for high drive dogs. Watching how the dog and handler work together to move livestock is mesmerizing!
The American Kennel Club offers both tests and trials in herding, but the dogs need to have prior training and exposure to livestock before entering. If that’s something that interests you and possibly your pup, then give it a shot!
The breeds best suited for this sport are natural herding dogs, like Corgis, Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, Jack Russell Terriers, and Australian Shepherds.
Higher Level Obedience
If your dog already has basic or medium level obedience, try out higher level obedience. It can be a wonderful outlet and a relatively low-pressure activity to keep your dog busy. It’s all about having a dog that can behave himself in public, around other dogs, and at home.
There are also competitions for obedience, if you’re interested in some extra challenge. Or just keep it low key, whatever suits you and your dog best.
Any breed can thrive on higher level obedience, but there may be different criteria for breeds at certain competitions.
“Schutzhund” is German for “protection dog.” It’s important to note that a Schutzhund dog is NOT an attack dog. In this activity, a dog’s obedience, protection skills, and tracking are tested. This is one of the more intense activities for high drive dogs.
There’s some serious training that goes into Schutzhund. If you want to get into it, there are various Schutzhund Clubs you can join. They will help you determine if your dog is right for it or not. Schutzhund is a challenging sport, and is usually very intense.
The breeds that you see most often in Schutzhund are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, but any breed can try it out.
Scent work is an activity that mimics what working dogs do to find a scent and notify the handler. It can be really fun for both you and your dog, and very rewarding as well. Some dog clubs have scent work classes, but you can just do it from home if that’s more comfortable.
It involves using cotton swabs dipped in certain essential oils that your dog will search for. The swabs are strategically hidden somewhere, and it’s his job to find them. Your dog learns to alert you when he finds the item. The AKC holds scent work trials if that’s something you’d be interested in too!
Some breeds that may excel in scent work are Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois. But any breed can do scent work.
Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs have a big job to do, and they often save lives. There’s rigorous training involved, and it’s strongly recommended that you have guidance from a professional. Most SAR dog handlers are volunteers.
Not every dog is right for SAR. You’ll have better success if your dog has the right characteristics to begin with, like high energy, intelligence, and confidence. If you think Search and Rescue could be a possibility for you and your dog, find a local group to work with. You also should be physically fit and able to perform searches (and rescues) with your dog.
Common breeds for this job are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Bloodhounds, Border Collies, and Belgian Malinois. Mixed breed dogs can also succeed in SAR.
If something on this list has caught your eye and you think it might be right for your high-drive dog, try it out. These sports and activities for high drive dogs can be hugely rewarding.
Even if you aren’t competing for a prize, they’re a lot of fun. Some, like Search and Rescue, can give your pup a greater purpose. Others, like agility and Disc Dog, are a great way to progress with his skills and athleticism. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and give it a try!
If your dog excels at a particular activity and you’d like portraits to capture his athleticism, click here to schedule a call. I’d love to learn more about your athlete.
Join the pack for access to upcoming events, exclusive offers, and more (including info I don't share anywhere else).