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.
In our society, there is a tendency to have a political response to most things. Many people are of the opinion that criminals transgress due to an unhappy home life or a poor upbringing. Comfort and discomfort are a major part of the influence that affects a person’s life, whether you are of the opinion that some people are “just bad” or otherwise. By the same token, dogs are liable to react to their circumstances, and it is well-known that a more content dog will behave in a more respectful manner.
When it comes to training a dog, you will get results if you motivate by fear. However, these results may not be satisfactory to you because although the dog will respond to commands, it will do so tentatively, conscious as it is of the fact that getting it wrong will lead to punishment. If a dog is trained in a happy atmosphere with an owner who is prone to reward good behavior, then it will react to the correct stimuli in the correct way. It will behave in a way which makes you feel proud, rather than simply satisfied.
If you have concerns about being too “soft” with your dog, simply remember that a dog will react in kind to the way it is treated. If you let it be lazy, then it will take the opportunity – simply because that is what it knows. If you encourage activity, however, it will reward you with the behavior that you want from it.