Study: Negative Dog Training Methods Can Cause Long-Term Harm

    17 November, 2019

    A new study suggests that dog training methods based on negative punishments can cause long-term harm to the animal.

    Much research in the past has studied training methods in general, including for dogs working with police or with search and rescue operations.

    But the latest study centered on dogs kept as companion animals for humans. Such dogs are often considered part of the family and need training on how to behave around people.

    Researchers from Portugual's Unviersity of Porto led the study. The researchers carried out experiments involving two kinds of dog training methods – aversive and reward-based.

    Aversive methods depend on the use of some kind of negative action in answer to unwanted behaviors. Examples of this include shouting, pushing or pulling the dog to force it to do something or using special collars that put pressure on the neck.

    In this May 7, 2019 photo, Professor Stephen Mackenzie, head of the university's canine training program does an obedience drill with his dog Kimo, at the State University of New York, Cobleskill, in Cobleskill, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)
    In this May 7, 2019 photo, Professor Stephen Mackenzie, head of the university's canine training program does an obedience drill with his dog Kimo, at the State University of New York, Cobleskill, in Cobleskill, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

    Reward-based methods involve giving the dog food, praise or attention when the animal completes wanted behaviors.

    The study included 92 dogs that were attending training schools in Portugal. Fifty of the dogs received aversive training, while 42 were trained using reward-based methods. The experiments were designed to measure both short-term and long-term effects of the two training methods.

    The dogs were video recorded during training sessions so researchers could observe their reactions to the training. Researchers also collected mouth fluid from the dogs before and after the training to test for levels of a stress-causing hormone called cortisol.

    Researchers reported that dogs from the aversive training group were observed to have more stress-related behaviors than those in the reward-based group. They also showed increased levels of cortisol. The study suggests these results clearly demonstrate the short-term effects of aversive training methods.

    Another part of the experiment was designed to measure the long-term effects of the two different methods. This involved the dogs taking part in an exercise about a month after the training sessions.

    The dogs were put in a room containing food bowls. Researchers observed how quickly and excitedly the dogs went to the bowls. The researchers reported that the dogs receiving aversive training were observed to be more "pessimistic" in behaviors in the room than the ones trained with rewards.

    The latest study supports earlier research on the effectiveness of reward-based training. Many other studies have suggested that food is the best reward to get dogs to perform the behaviors we want.

    One of those studies was led by Erica Feuerbacher, a professor at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her study compared a food reward to a reward of petting or praising the animal.

    Feuerbacher told The Associated Press the dogs were clear about what reward they liked better. "They'll work harder and respond faster for food than for social interaction," she said.

    Feuerbacher noted, for example, that research has found that dogs were likely to stay near a person praising them for the same amount of time as if they were being ignored.

    Zazie Todd is the writer of a forthcoming book called "Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy." She told the AP that people clearly should not expect a dog to obey just because they love them.

    "If only it was like that," she said. Todd added: "If your boss stopped paying you, you'd probably stop going to work pretty quickly. You need to motivate your dog too."

    Some dog trainers teach the use of "life rewards," which could include play or taking the dog for a walk. Todd says these can be useful, especially to help keep behaviors the dog has already learned.

    However, for most everyday behaviors most people want to teach, food rewards are just "quicker and easier," she said.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on the research study and The Associated Press. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

    What are your experiences with dog training? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


    Words in This Story

    negative adj. not positive or desirable

    companion n. someone you spend a lot of time with

    collar n. a line that attaches around the neck of an animal

    stress n. feelings of worry or nervousness caused by difficult situations or problems

    hormone n. one of several chemicals produced in the body that influence growth and development

    pessimistic adj. tending to believe that the worst will happen

    respondv. say or do something as an answer or reaction to something that has been said or done

    boss n. person who leads a group of employees

    motivate v. stimulate someone's interest or enthusiasm for doing something