Journal Article: How to Train vs. How to Teach

Title: Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare

Authors: EF Hiby, NJ Rooney and JWS Bradshaw

Published: 2004 in Animal Welfare

General overview:

These authors distributed 600 surveys total in two counties in the UK in rural and urban dog-walking areas and veterinary facilities, and 326 were returned completed correctly and used for analysis. The surveys asked questions relating to information about the owner and the dog in addition to dog performance on seven basic obedience tasks, training methods used and undesirable behaviors. The use of punishment was associated with problematic behaviors like over-excitement and separation-related problems while the use of positive reinforcement only was associated with higher reported obedience. The authors note that while the relationship between problematic behaviors and the use on punishment is not precisely known, this work demonstrates that the use of punishment does not result in an obedient dog.

My comments:

This paper is, by far, one of the best written that I’ve come across so far. They authors did an excellent job describing their survey aims, how the analyses were performed and their results (both the basic demographic representations in their data and the interactions between training methods/obedience/problematic behaviors). In my opinion, the best part of this research was the limited scope of the question that the authors asked (and how they stated it explicitly in the article): “The aim of the current study is to document the use of training methods by the pet-owning community and investigate how these methods interact with both obedience and problematic behaviours.”

For me, some of the most interesting findings in this study were the types of behaviors that more owners reported using punishment or rewards only to tackle. For instance, owners 79% of owners reported using punishment when a dog chewed a household item while 79% of owners used positive reinforcement to train “come when called”. Few (12%) of owners used punishment during toilet training with their dog but “heel” training was more split (26% used punishment and 45% used rewards). I wonder if these proportions suggest that there are trends in how owners think to train certain behaviors. This is interesting because it may suggest that owners could benefit from a paradigm shift of “how to train sit/come when called/heel” to “how dogs learn”. (With the idea that learning how dogs learn would result in greater use of positive-reinforcement based training because it is the most effective way to teach dogs, per the current literature.)

The other significant finding that these authors presented was that owners who reported using punishment of any kind resulted in more separation-related problematic behaviors. It should be noted that the authors’ included any destruction/noise/elimination behaviors when left alone as “separation-related behaviors” because these behaviors are not necessarily separation anxiety. Problem behaviors that occur when owners are away can be attributed to many potential causes. The authors hypothesize the association between punishment and separation-related behaviors may result from that the fact that most owners aren’t animal behavior experts: incorrectly applied punishment could create an environment of uncertainty and confusion for a dog, exacerbating anxiety and conflict that are known causes for separation anxiety.

 

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