Yelling is the worst tactic for educating a puppy, study indicates

Yelling is the worst tactic for educating a puppy, study indicates
Yelling is the worst tactic for educating a puppy, study indicates. Photo: pexels

Educating a puppy is an exercise in patience and tolerance. What to do when it relieves its bladder on the rug, gnaws on furniture and shoes, or makes a fuss when it sees a neighbor? According to a new study, yelling at the little animal is the worst choice.

Scientists led by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, from the University of Porto, in Portugal, suggest that tactics that use relatively mild punishments, like yelling and pulling the leash, can stress dogs, making them more “pessimistic” than those that receive reward-based training.

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To reach this conclusion, the researchers recruited 92 dogs. They were divided into two groups: 42 were on the reward-treated side; and 50 received reprimand-based training.

For the short-term welfare assessment, the dogs were video recorded for three training sessions and six saliva samples were collected, three at home (baseline levels) and three after the training sessions (post-training levels).

The video recordings were then used to examine the frequency of stress-related behaviors (for example, licking lips, yawning) and the dog’s overall behavioral state (tense, relaxed, etc.), and saliva samples were analyzed for cortisol concentration.

For the long-term welfare assessment, the dogs performed a cognitive bias task. Dogs from the reprimand group displayed more stress-related behaviors, spent more time in tense behavioral states, and panting time during training sessions, showed higher elevations in cortisol levels, and were more “pessimistic” in the cognitive bias task than rewarded dogs.

These results indicate that the use of repressive methods compromises the well-being of companion dogs, both short and long term.

Previous studies suggested that although both methods are effective, punishment-based training may have negative effects. But these studies tend to focus on police and laboratory dogs, rather than family pets.

To find out if these effects persisted, the researchers measured how 79 of the dogs responded to a possible food reward. First, they trained the dogs to associate one side of the room with a delicious sausage. If a dog found a bowl on that part of the room, it would contain the treat. Bowls on the other side of the room would be empty.

Then, the researchers placed an empty bowl in various positions between the two extremes and measured how quickly the dogs approached. An “optimistic” dog ran excitedly to a bowl in the middle, while a “pessimistic” dog moved more slowly.

These “pessimistic” mindsets have been associated with separation anxiety and other behavioral problems in dogs. In the test, the more punishment a dog received, the more “pessimistic” it was and the more evident were the results.

These and other findings provide more than enough evidence that dog owners should avoid aversive training.

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