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Does training method matter?: Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare

By Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, I Anna S Olsson

Posted 29 Oct 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/823427

There is a growing number of dogs kept as companion animals, and the methods by which they are trained range broadly from those using mostly positive punishment and negative reinforcement (aversive-based methods) to those using primarily positive reinforcement (reward-based methods). Although the use of aversive-based methods has been strongly criticized for negatively affecting dog welfare, these claims do not find support in solid scientific evidence. Previous research on the subject lacks companion dog-focused research, investigation of the entire range of aversive-based techniques (beyond shock-collars), objective measures of welfare, and long-term welfare studies. The aim of the present study was to perform a comprehensive evaluation of the short- and long-term effects of aversive- and reward-based training methods on companion dog welfare. Ninety-two companion dogs were recruited from three reward-based (Group Reward, n=42) and four aversive-based (Group Aversive, n=50) dog training schools. For the short-term welfare assessment, 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). Video recordings were then used to examine the frequency of stress-related behaviors (e.g., lip lick, yawn) and the overall behavioral state of the dog (e.g., tense, relaxed), and saliva samples were analyzed for cortisol concentration. For the long-term welfare assessment, dogs performed a cognitive bias task. Dogs from Group Aversive displayed more stress-related behaviors, spent more time in tense and low behavioral states and more time panting during the training sessions, showed higher elevations in cortisol levels after training and were more ‘pessimistic’ in the cognitive bias task than dogs from Group Reward. These findings indicate that the use of aversive-based methods compromises the welfare of companion dogs in both the short- and the long-term.

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