Positive punishment is the addition of an aversive stimuli to reduce an unwanted behavior. For example, the unpleasant sensation of prongs against a dog's neck when pulling at the leash on a prong collar.Negative punishment is the removal of a desired stimuli to reduce an unwanted behavior. For example, no longer walking forward when a dog pulls.Positive reinforcement is the addition of a desired stimuli to increase a wanted behavior. For example, giving a dog treats when they walk with slack in the leash.Negative reinforcement is the removal of an aversive stimuli to increase a wanted behavior. For example, the unpleasant sensation of prong's against a dog's neck going away when they stop pulling and walk with slack in the leash.
- Study authors recruited 7 canine training schools
- Schools were classified into 'aversive,' 'mixed,' or 'reward' based on the frequency with which each of the four methods discussed above were employed during six randomly selected video training sessions from each school.
- Head trainers at each school were asked to indicate dogs that met inclusive criteria: new to the school (less than 2 months in training) and free of underlying conditions/concerns that could increase stress (aggression, separation anxiety, etc).
- The final sample size consisted of 92 dogs, 28 at Aversive schools, 22 from Mixed schools, and 42 from Reward schools. Only 79 of this sample participated in the cognitive bias task.
- Animal welfare was evaluated both in a training setting and in a non-training setting
- During training sessions, the first 15 minutes of the session were recorded on three different occasions for each individual dog. These recordings were evaluated for behaviors associated with stress, such as lip licking. Observers were blind to the training classification of the school when evaluating display of stress related behaviors.
- Saliva samples were collected from the participating dogs to measure cortisol levels, a hormone positively correlated with stress
- To evaluate welfare outside of the training setting, dogs were made to perform a cognitive bias task.
- This test evaluated the time taken by a dog to approach an empty food bowl in a location that had previously been associated with either an empty or a full food bowl.
- Dogs in a positive affective state are expected to be eager to seek out a potential reward, while dogs in a less positive affective state are expected to take longer in the same scenario to seek out the same reward
- Behavior during training session
- A strong association between the Aversive group and frequency of stress-related behavior displays, such as yawning and lip-licking was noted
- Tense behavioral states were seen more frequently in the Aversive and Mixed group than Reward group
- Cortisol levels
- Cortisol levels were significantly higher in the Aversive group when compared to the Reward group
- Cognitive Bias test
- Dogs from the Aversive group were slower to seek out an anticipated reward than dogs from the Reward group.
- This suggests a lower affective state, associated with negative welfare
Overall, our results show that companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare during training sessions than dogs trained with reward-based methods. Additionally, dogs trained with higher proportions of aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare outside the training context than dogs trained with reward-based methods. Moreover, whereas different proportions of aversive-based methods did not result in differences in dog welfare outside the training context among aversive-based schools, a higher proportion of aversive-based methods resulted in poorer welfare during training. To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive and systematic study to evaluate and report the effects of dog training methods on companion dog welfare. Critically, our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods is at risk, especially if these are used in high proportions.
In other words, aversive methods negatively impact the psychological state of dogs, and therefore their welfare. This further supports previous studies that have suggested as much.
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