It’s all too easy to shout at your dog if you catch them doing something bad, but a new study suggests yelling at pets can traumatise them in the long-term.
The findings come from a new study, in which researchers recruited 42 dogs from obedience schools that used reward-based training, and 50 dogs from aversion training schools in order to study the affects each training method had.
Each dog was filmed during the first 15 minutes of three training sessions and saliva samples were used to assess the stress levels each dog experienced, the research paper explains.
Three saliva samples were taken from each dog when they were relaxing at home in order to establish baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and three more were taken from each dog after training.
The researchers, led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal, also analysed the dogs’ behaviour during training, looking for stress indicators such as yawning, lip-licking, paw-raising and yelping.
During the study, the researchers found dogs who had experienced shouting and lead-pulling during their training were found to be more stressed, with higher levels of cortisol found in their saliva, as well as elevated stress behaviours, particularly yawning and lip-licking.
In comparison, pups who had calm, gentle teachers displayed fewer stress behaviours and had more normal cortisol levels, Science Alert reports.
Explaining their findings, the researchers wrote:
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.
Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviours and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more ‘pessimistic’ in a cognitive bias task.
Not only did the aversion-trained dogs experience stress immediately after training, but the affects appeared to continue long-term. The dogs were studied again a month later, when researchers trained the dogs to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a sausage snack.
If the bowl was on one particular side it always held a delicious treat but if it was located on the other side the bowl was empty.
The researchers then moved the bowls around the room to see how quickly the dogs would go looking for the treat. A fast approach suggested the dog was anticipating a snack, whereas a slower approach meant the dog was less hopeful about the bowl’s contents.
As anticipated, the more aversive training a dog had received the more slowly it approached the bowl, while the dogs who received positive reinforcement during training actually figured out the bowl location task faster.
Overall, the results suggested reward training is much better for your dog’s happiness.
The researchers added:
Critically our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.
Dogs are known for offering unconditional love to their owners so it’s only fair we do the same, even if they mess up.
Shouting at our fluffy companions might seem like a quick solution at the time, but it’s no good if it traumatises them for longer than anticipated!
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.