Advice Blog

Fear, Survival and Motivation

Posted on April 1, 2015 at 3:45 PM

The word fear usually brings to mind something dangerous, harmful or painful. We must be aware what impact an environment, distraction, sound, smell or noise has on our dogs. It is natural for a dog to be fearful otherwise it would not survive. However we must ensure that natural level of fear they have is adapted to our lives.

For example a gunshot should evoke a fear on animal being hunted or in the wild; it gives them a stronger chance of survival. However some dogs are used for hunting, as gundogs, so we condition them to be confident around firing and loud noises in order to perform a task.

So the same noise that could install fear in one dog could also have no impact on the second dog. The second dog has adapted and been conditioned to realise this noise is not dangerous, harmful or painful, it is simply a noise, there is no impulse to flee or hide. We cannot allow the fear to gain momentum and should not allow the dog to think that running away or hiding is how they survive when it is unnecessary.

Our dogs need us to help them adapt in all aspects of living with us and our heavily human orientated environments. We must strive to reduce our dogs stress by removing unnecessary fears. Our dogs don’t know it is irrational; they are acting to on impulse to survive. So how would we do that?

For example if we take a dog that is fearful of other dogs. Now we are walking down the street and it sees another dog. If you stop and analyse the biggest motivator a dog would have at this point is removing the fear. The dog being stressed and consumed with fear wants to remove itself from the fear. It is the biggest motivator.

The same dog can learn it doesn’t have to remove itself it can remove the other dog by reacting or behaving in a certain way. The dog at this point also is allowed to vent its stress in an unhealthy way and to certain extent enjoy it. Any dog going to an intense level of being will undoubtedly be enjoying the release. So now we have a fearful dog also learning to self-reward. Some dogs even revel and thrive on the buzz, learning to seek the thrill of the fight.

I want to control as many rewards as possible with most dogs and certainly high value ones. There is generally a divide amongst some dog trainers at this point. Where we need to have something of higher value to the dog as we are opposing something that the dog could term highly fearful or learned it’s highly rewarding. One way would be to starve the dog to create a stronger food drive in the dog, tapping into survival mode of the dog where food is a necessary resource to stay alive over acting out. Others will look to make the dog confront its fear and correct any reactivity.

I try to work in preventing any reactivity by having communication that can clearly interrupt any build-up of intensity. I work to have the dog with me mentally and know I am the gateway to rewards. I achieve this by controlling the dogs movement in an environment, entry through thresholds, heeling and become its source to focus on. If I can see something the dog wants to do I control it and look for a specific behaviour or state of mind before giving the reward. Whilst using food can be a good motivator a dog who looks to you for guidance and all rewards is an invaluable motivator. Dog training is never linear, it requires a truer understanding of how to best help our four legged friends not only survive but thrive.



Derek Bryson

Paws for Walkies

Categories: None