Dogs that go through reward-based training are not only happier but are also better trained, study reveals.
Dogs are the best. However, they do need to be trained. Pet parents, shelter workers, and trainers need to ensure that training doesn't get the best of them, no matter how challenging. According to People, a new study has concluded that yelling at dogs and using aversive training — like negative reinforcement — “can have long-term negative effects on your dog’s mental state,” as stated by Science Alert. 92 dogs were recruited for the study. 42 canines came from reward-based dog training schools and 50 from aversive-based training schools. The study was led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal.
The dogs were made to undergo a long and short term assessment. For the short-term assessment, the dogs were recorded for three of their training sessions and six saliva samples were collected (three during training and three at home) to measure their cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Along with the saliva samples, the researchers also took a look at the training session footage for stress-related behaviors and even analyzed each dog’s overall mood.
Results of the short-term assessment showed that dogs who went through aversive-training show more stress-related behaviors, like yawning and lip-licking. Even when they were at home, these dogs showed a higher cortisol level, as compared to the dogs going through reward-based training. A month after this, they were made to undertake the long-term assessment, and 79 of them were then trained to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a sausage snack.
The bowls on one side of the room contained a delicious treat, while the bowls on the other side were empty. However, all the empty bowls were rubbed with sausages so they retained the smell and did not give the game away. The bowls were then moved around to time the dogs and record their performance. Higher speed to find the bowl was interpreted to mean the dog was anticipating a mouthful of deliciousness, while a slower speed meant the dog was more pessimistic about the bowl's contents.
As expected, the aversively trained dogs approached the bowls hesitantly whereas the dogs that underwent reward-based training actually located the bowls quicker. This just goes to show that reward-based training is actually more effective than aversive training, probably because dogs that fall into the first category understand how treat-based training methods work.
Conclusively, reward-based training is actually better for your dogs and aversive training doesn't have an edge over it. This approach doesn't only produce results but also keeps your dogs happy. "Our results show that companion dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level," the researchers wrote in their paper.
"Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviors and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more 'pessimistic' in a cognitive bias task." The researchers then concluded by saying, "Critically, our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk."