There are some people who feel that fear is the best motivator – period. If you want someone to act in a certain way and eschew other behaviors, you will often use the “stick” approach. This works in a fairly simple way – you make clear what you want to happen, and threaten negative results if the outcome is not to your taste. If the outcome then falls short of what you had hoped, you follow through with your threat. The person then becomes aware that your threat was genuine, and resolves to take you seriously.
The same process is often applied to training a dog. If the dog transgresses in some way, it will be punished. Often this will take the form of a physical punishment such as striking the dog. If this method is applied frequently enough, it will filter through that the behavior and the punishment are linked. Eventually, or sooner, the dog will make the link in its brain and cease the negative behavior. However, it may also come to see you as its punisher rather than its friend.
The key is to not over-punish your dog. It is simply not accurate to say that fear is the greatest motivator. Anyone who has seen the effects of excessive physical punishment on a dog cannot fail to see how the results can be hugely negative. It may resist the instinct to transgress, but equally it will not want to do anything at all. And a dog which behaves well, but loses its vitality, says more about its trainer than anything else.
Part of dog training, an important part, is knowing when and how to reward your dog. The concept of positive reinforcement is an important element of training any animal, and dogs have a mentality which responds well to this type of action. While a human may look for ulterior motives in any reward system – and openly rebel against such actions – a dog will simply see that there is a connection between “good” behavior and good results. This is why positive reinforcement is a necessary part of training any dog.
It works as follows: You want your dog to learn how to respond to a certain command. By repeating that command until the dog carries out the action, you create a link in your dog’s brain between the command and the action. When the dog responds to the command by performing the action, you then reward it by giving it a treat. The link is then strengthened in the dog’s brain. Command + Action = Treat. The dog will become willing to respond to your command, knowing that the results will be in its favor.
It can take time to make this message stick. Some dogs are less amenable to training than others – just as all humans are different, so are all dogs. But just as all humans have instinctive ways of responding to stimuli, so do all dogs. It is essential that you give your dog time to work out the right way to react to your training. The benefits will quickly become evident.