Training methods for dogs vary widely. Some exclusively use rewards, others use punishment, and some use a combination of both. This study examined survey information and observed interactions in the home environment to assess the association between the ways owners reportedly train and the dogs’ subsequent behavior. Dog owners (35 women, 18 men) ranging in age from 12 to 73 years were recruited from Glasgow and Bristol, UK. One investigator visited each household and videotaped the owner–dog interactions. The filming protocol consisted of 5 separate subtests. The first evaluated the dog’s relaxed social behavior in which the investigator observed the dog without input from the owner. If the dog approached the investigator, it was briefly patted. Next, the owner was given 2 questionnaires to complete and the dog was ignored, after which the dog was asked to “sit” or “lie down” and then to “stay.” The owner took 5 steps back and faced the dog for a maximum of 30 seconds. A period of nonobject play followed for 2 minutes. The final subtest was a novel training task in which owners spent 5 minutes attempting to train the dog to perform a task. All owners reported using a combination of reward and punishment, with 38% reporting they used reward-based training for more tasks than they used punishment. Forty-nine percent reported using punishment-based methods more than reward-based. This study showed a link between the dog’s current behavior and the owner’s behavior and reported training history.
Commentary: Most owners choose dogs for their known playfulness, ability to learn tricks, and social behavior with other animals and humans. In this study, correlations were noted between reward-based training methods and willingness to approach new people and learn a new task. The general practitioner can use this information to educate new puppy owners about the detrimental effects of punishment-based training methods. In a media-centered world where owners may receive conflicting information, the family veterinarian now has more evidence to help dog owners make appropriate training choices.—Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB, & Amy L. Pike, DVM
Training methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Rooney NJ, Cowan S. APPL ANIM BEHAV SCI 132:169-177, 2011.