This exploratory study compared the effects of 2 training methods on the behavioral welfare of pet dogs and the dog–owner relationship. The first method is based on positive reinforcement (appearance of appetite stimulus) and the second on negative reinforcement (disappearance of aversive stimulus). Both training methods are based on operant conditioning, which entails an animal learning that responses to instructions or stimuli have consequences.
This is the first direct observational behavioral study in nonworking pet dogs, as previous studies in pet dogs were based on questionnaires only. This study focused on the dogs’ on-leash behavior and ability to obey the sit command and evaluated the subjects for signs of stress and attentive behavior to the owners. The impacts of the methods were evaluated during advanced training classes to avoid the effects of training novelty and to have more consistency from owners and less confusion from subjects.
The dogs trained using negative reinforcement (n = 26) showed signs of stress and lowered body postures. Subjects trained with positive reinforcement-based methods (n = 24) showed increased attentiveness toward owners, as measured by frequency of gazes at the owner. Avoidance behaviors measured were not statistically significant. Further analyses are necessary to assess whether field training results are applicable to home training results. Study results suggested that positive reinforcement-
based training is less stressful to dogs and potentially more beneficial for dogs’ welfare and the dog–owner relationship.