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Training methods that focus on punishment negatively affect dogs' well-being, study finds

Experts suggest a gentler approach to training dogs

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Photo (c) SanyaSM - Getty Images
Training dogs can be a difficult process for many consumers, and now a new study is looking at which training methods best serve both dogs and their owners. 

According to experts, dogs are likely to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety when training emphasizes punishing them for their bad behavior. 

“This is the first time a large-scale study of companion dogs in a real training setting, using the types of training methods typically applied in dog training schools and data collected by the research team,” the researchers wrote. “The results suggest that the use of aversive training methods, especially in high proportions, should be avoided because of their negative impact on dog welfare.” 

Considering dogs’ well-being

To better understand how more aggressive training methods can negatively affect dogs’ well-being, the researchers analyzed 92 dogs involved in one of three training programs. Each program had a different approach; one rewarded positive behavior, another punished bad behavior, and the third had a combination of both. 

The researchers analyzed both saliva samples from the dogs and video recordings while at the training centers and at home to understand how the different training methods were affecting their well-being. They also took a large group of the dogs to an unfamiliar location to see how the training affected their attitudes and behaviors in a different environment.

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the training programs that punished the dogs for engaging in bad behaviors were detrimental to their well-being. Saliva samples showed higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and their behaviors were more skittish and anxious. The study also found that the dogs were more likely to pant during the training when they were being punished and were generally more tense than the dogs receiving rewards for their positive behavior. 

The punishment-focused training method also led the dogs to be more nervous when they were taken to an unfamiliar environment. 

Based on these findings, the researchers worry about how dogs will be affected long-term if this aggressive type of training persists. They encourage consumers to adopt a gentler approach with their dogs, as focusing on rewarding positive behaviors while training will lead to less stress and anxiety. 

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