507 — Denise Fenzi on “Drive” vs “Arousal” in Dogs

Denise Fenzi on “Drive” vs “Arousal” in Dogs

Denise Fenzi, Founder of the famous Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, joins host Laura Reeves for Part 1 of this powerful and thoughtful conversation about what drives our dogs to the behaviors we see.

Denise and Laura discuss the difference between drive and arousal, and how that impacts on our dogs, particularly performance dogs, and some of the things that we as breeders need to consider when making breeding decisions.

“In the make-up of the dog, you’ve got the very bottom level,” Fenzi said. “Let’s call that instinct. Those are things that the dog does to stay alive. If you have a highly predatory dog and a rabbit goes by, the dog doesn’t think about what it’s going to do it goes. That’s the very bottom basic level. I will tell you that, in my opinion, this is where drives are rooted. So, the very bottom level is instinct in my opinion it is the hardest to change.

“Instinctually driven behaviors are very resistant to change. This is both good and bad because this is why your hunting dog goes out for an hour and does the thing. It’s painful, it’s hot, it’s tired, it’s cranky and it just keeps doing it and maybe it doesn’t even know why it keeps doing it, it just does the thing.

“One level up is the emotional level. That is where you have fear. Anxiety is linked to fear, it’s irrational fear, like you don’t even know why you’re afraid you’re just feeling anxious. You have happiness, you have anger, you have joy, you have caretaking for your young. So let’s call that the emotional level. Arousal can come from either one of those places… the bottom level the predatory drive instinctual base level, or it can come from the emotional level.

“Drive has a focus. Arousal is scattered movement. Focus sort of ties it altogether. If you have drive for a thing then you have to have focus or you just went out of drive. Now you’re looking at something else. Arousal gets complicated, because arousal can look like drive. (But) a dog can be in arousal and have no drive whatsoever.”

Listen to the whole show above to hear more.

Fenzi has titled dogs in obedience (AKC and UKC), tracking (AKC and schutzhund), schutzhund (USA), mondioring (MRSA), herding (AKC), conformation (AKC), and agility (AKC). She has two AKC obedience champions, perfect scores in both schutzhund and Mondio ringsport obedience, and is well known for her flashy and precise obedience work.

While a successful competitor, Fenzi’s real passion lies in training dogs and solving the problems that her own dogs and her students’ dogs present. She is a recognized expert in developing drive, motivation, and focus in competition dogs, and is known internationally as an engaging speaker and an expert in no-force training for sport dogs. She has consistently demonstrated the ability to train and compete with dogs using motivational methods in sports where compulsion is the norm.