New Study Recommends Reward Training



Probably the hardest part of pet ownership is training. Whether it’s housebreaking, teaching tricks or instilling discipline, training can challenging for both owners and their animal companions. However, pet parents should be careful in what training tactics they take. A recent study found that yelling and using “aversive” training techniques like punishment and negative reinforcement can have harmful, lasting effects on dogs.

The paper states that dogs with aversive training "experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level.” These negative effects include stress-related behaviors, increased levels of cortisol and more frequent displays of pessimism after the training session was over.

The researchers gathered their results primarily through observation. They compared the frequency of stress-related behaviors such as yawning, lip-licking and yelping between dogs that received aversive training and those that experienced reward training. They also tested saliva samples from both groups of dogs and found that dogs in the aversive group had higher levels of cortisol.

A month after the training session was complete, the researchers looked at the long-term effects of the different training styles. The dogs learned to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a treat. If the bowl was on that side, it always contained a treat, but if it was on the other side, it did not.

The research team then moved the bowls around the room to different locations to see how quickly the dogs would approach them to find a treat. A slower speed in approaching the bowls was interpreted to mean that the dog was more pessimistic about the bowl’s contents. It turned out that the more aversive training a dog was exposed to, the more pessimistic it was. It was also discovered that dogs with reward training more quickly mastered the bowl location task than those that received reward-based training.

With these results in hand, the research team found that aversive training was not more effective than reward training. Reward methods can actually benefit a canine’s overall happiness, indicating that there could be a superior training tactic that enhances pet well being.


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