Researchers found that dogs in reward-based training schools had lower stress levels than canines going through aversive-training.

By Kelli Bender
November 11, 2019 04:57 PM

Training a pet to behave can be challenging, but don’t let the project get the best of you.

A new study has found that yelling at your dog, and using other kinds of “aversive training” — like negative reinforcement — “can have long-term negative effects on your dog’s mental state,” according to Science Alert.

The study, which was recently uploaded to pre-print server bioRxiv, recruited 92 pet dogs, 42 canines from reward-based dog training schools and 50 from aversive-based training schools, and was led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal.

The dogs underwent a short-term assessment and a long-term assessment. For the short-term assessment, the canines were recorded for three of their training sessions and each had six saliva samples (three during training and three at home) to measure cortisol levels — cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Along with the saliva samples, the researchers looked at the training session footage for stress-related behaviors and each dog’s overall mood.

Results from the short-term assessment showed that dogs who go through aversive-training show more stress-related behaviors — like lip-licking and yawning — and have higher cortisol levels, even at home, when compared to the dogs going through reward-based training.

For the long-term assessment, a month after the first assessment, 72 dogs were taught to associate a bowl on one side of the room with a sausage snack. Researchers achieved this by only setting bowls with a sausage snack inside down on one side of the room, and using empty bowls, that smelled like sausage, everywhere else. The point of this exercise was to see how long it took the dogs to learn where they could expect the sausage snack.

The study found that dogs who underwent reward-based training were more curious and figured out what bowls contained the sausage snack faster than their aversive-training counterparts, who were more reluctant about exploring.

While it could be the case that the dogs with reward-based training found the treats faster because they were used to being trained with treats, the researchers feel that, overall, their study shows that reward-based training is best for your dog’s happiness.

“Our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk,” the study’s researchers wrote in their paper on the assessments.