According to the results of a new study, dogs trained using aversive stimuli, which involve punishments for incorrect behavior, show evidence of higher stress levels compared to dogs trained with reward-based methods.
The researchers observed the behavior of 92 companion dogs from 7 dog training schools in Portugal that use either aversive methods (which use mainly aversive stimuli), reward methods (which focus on rewarding desired behaviors), and mixed methods (which combine the use of both rewards and aversive stimuli). They filmed training sessions and tested saliva samples for the stress-related hormone cortisol. The authors also conducted a cognitive bias test in an unfamiliar location outside of the dog’s usual training environment with 79 of the dogs, to measure their underlying emotional state.
Dogs trained using aversive and mixed methods displayed more stress-related behaviors, such as crouching and yelping, and showed greater increases in cortisol levels after training than dogs trained with rewards. Additionally, the researchers found that dogs from schools using aversive methods responded more pessimistically to ambiguous situations compared with dogs receiving mixed- or reward-based training.
Researchers say these results suggest that aversive training techniques may compromise animal welfare, especially when used at high frequency.
Journal Reference: Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Gabriela Munhoz Morello, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, I. Anna S. Olsson. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (12): e0225023 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225023