Training a new puppy can be frustrating. With the possibility of accidents in the house and destruction of your belongings, overwhelmed pet parents often resort to yelling. What was once thought of as harmless mild punishment style training is now proving to have lasting effects on our beloved companions. It’s time to think twice before yelling.
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Styles of Training
With the variety of training schools and resources that are available to us, it’s important to understand the most common forms of training styles that are offered at dog training academies. When you are researching methods, you will often find these two common styles of training:
- Positive reinforcement/Reward training: This type of training is commonly known as reward-based, force-free, and clicker-style training. This method is done by establishing a marker for correctness and timing and then reinforcing the behavior with a treat or playtime. For example, consider the process of using a clicker to teach your dog to sit. By using your clicker each time you’d like your pup to pay attention, they will soon realize that once the clicker is out it’s time to listen up if they want a treat! When they sit on command, you award them with a click, followed by a treat. By using positive reinforcement, you receive a well-trained pup that is eager to please. This process is of course more involved with each new command, but the basic premise is a command followed by a reward.
- Negative reinforcement/Discipline training: This type of training is based on asserting dominance over your dog through fear of punishment. This could be yelling, leash pulling, hitting, shock collars, or any other form of “corrections” during training in an effort to teach them basic obedience. While this technique may have come first in the world of dog training, it is now shown to have lasting effects on a dog’s mental well-being.
Most studies on dog behavior and punishment training have been performed on police and military dogs, so it was time to see how our furry companions felt about our training styles. To find out how true companion dogs reacted to punishment, the scientists at the University of Porto in Portugal (study led by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro) recruited 42 dogs from reward-based training programs which used food or play as rewards, and 50 dogs from negative reinforcement style training that included yelling and leash jerking.
In order to accurately measure their stress levels, each dog had their saliva tested for the stress hormone cortisol before and after training, as well as had their training sessions recorded.
The short-term results of more “fear-based” training left the dogs with higher levels of cortisol in their saliva during training, as well as at home in the following hours after their training sessions. They also displayed physical examples of stress such as licking their lips and yawning. Dogs with positive reinforcement training did not experience any spikes in their cortisol levels or stress-related body language.
It’s clear that your choice of training methods can have an instant impact on your dog’s stress level, but how about the long-term effects?
Long Term Effects
To find out if their training styles had lasting effects, the team studied 79 of the dogs’ reactions to a food reward. First, they trained each dog to associate one side of a room with a tasty sausage treat. If the bowl was present on that side of the room, it would contain a sausage. Each bowl on the other side of the room would always be empty.
They then placed an empty bowl in different positions between the two extremes and measured how quickly each dog would approach the new bowl.
Researchers separated the two types of dogs by listing them as either pessimistic or optimistic. The optimistic dogs had reward-style training while the pessimistic dogs received mild punishment during their training. The researchers explained these two variants as a glass half full vs glass half empty types of personalities.
An “optimistic” dog would eagerly approach the bowl hoping to find a delicious sausage, while the “pessimistic” dog would approach the bowl slowly and seem a bit more uneasy.
The pessimistic dogs also happened to be associated with separation anxiety and multiple behavioral problems. The more severe the punishment-based training they received, the more drastic the results.
This study proves that our style of dog training can have lasting impacts on our furry friends. Though the effectiveness of training style was not addressed, nor which option is “better”, it’s clear that the lasting impact on a dog is quite sad.
“Critically, our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.” – Researchers
Some studies have even shown that reward-style training may help our dogs better understand their training process versus just being fearful of an action. No matter which method you choose to abide by, it’s now clear that reward training is much better for your dog’s happiness and mental health.
Reward-style training is also thought to be more effective in the sense of instilling obedience in every situation. In fear-based training, dogs often associate one pet parent or person with fear of possible punishment. By using this training method, your dog may not follow commands in situations that don’t involve you.
By using reward-style training, every person with a command brings the possibility of a reward!
As pet parents, it’s up to us to provide a life filled with love and comfort for our furry friends. By focusing on reward-style training, we can help our dogs understand the basics of obedience training without the fear and stress that can come along with punishment-style methods.
Though our dogs can come with their own set of frustrating quirks, they can be addressed in a kind and fear-free way. The next time you have the urge to yell at your furry BFF, remember that their happiness and comfort lay in your hands.