Kindness to dogs during training

Using even light punishments during training can make dogs more stressed and pessimistic compared to dogs trained with methods based on positive reinforcement. This is an important finding of a study conducted by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro from Porto, Portugal and her colleagues. They recently published Is the training method important? Evidence of the negative impact of aversive methods on the welfare of companion dogs.

The significance of this study is that it addresses a common question: If dogs can learn both positive training methods and ones that use punishment, does the choice of method matter? Recent research offers a convincing answer to this question because the effects of training methods extend far beyond the actual skills acquired.

To compare the effects on dogs trained with different techniques, the researchers recruited 92 dogs: 42 dogs from three training centers that used games and treats to encourage desirable behavior and 50 dogs from four training centers that trained. shouting, shaking on a leash and forcing dogs into positions. like sitting down. Video recordings of the training sessions revealed that dogs that were punished and coerced into behavior showed more signs of stress during training than dogs that were trained with positive methods. Behaviors compared included a standard measure of stress such as lip licking, yawning, and gasping.

Dogs trained with aversive methods were also more often in an overall tense condition than dogs trained positively. Aversive training methods were associated with more yapping, squatting, and lying on your side or back. Additionally, dogs punished during training had higher levels of cortisol (a common measure of stress) than at home. The positively trained dogs showed no difference in cortisol levels compared to when they were at home.


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In another part of the study, the researchers found that the effects on the dogs lasted beyond the workout and had an effect on their general outlook on life. Specifically, dogs that received punishment during training were more pessimistic than dogs that did not. To study this aspect of the dog experience, the researchers studied how 79 of these dogs responded to the potential for a food reward. The dogs learned that the bowls on one side of one room had sausages while the bowls on the other side of the room were empty. Next, the researchers placed bowls in places between the two locations and measured how quickly each dog approached the bowl with unknown contents. The optimistic dogs ran right over the bowl while the pessimistic dogs approached more slowly. The more the dogs were punished, the more pessimistic they were.

Previous work on the effects of aversive methods has focused on shock collars and working dogs. While such studies have concluded that positive punishment is detrimental to dogs, this new study looked at milder forms of aversion such as yelling and jerking on a leash, and was performed on family dogs. This is important because many people who never dreamed of training their dogs with shock collars (which have been banned in some countries) still use negative consequences when training their dogs. This study supports the idea that dogs are injured even with the use of less extreme methods, and offers compelling evidence that the use of punishment in training is an issue for canine welfare.

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