Effect of Training Method on Dog Learning

From Applied Animal Behaviour Science via the RSPCA’s Science Updates Issue 33.

Dogs are trained by their owners using a variety of techniques.
Although the use of reward-oriented training protocols has increased in popularity in recent years, many owners still report using different kinds of punishment, especially for specific, unwanted behaviours, such as stealing an object.

However, there have been few empirical studies on how an owner’s training style affects a dog’s temperament and later ability to learn new tasks.

The authors of this paper surveyed around 50 dog owners in the UK, to ask them about the methods used when training common tasks such as toilet training, sitting on command and walking to heel. The owners were then interviewed in their own homes, and their interactions with their dog were video recorded, especially while training the dog to perform a novel task (touching an object with its nose). The researchers found that dogs owned by subjects who reported using a higher proportion of punishment were less likely to interact with a stranger, and those dogs whose owners favoured physical punishment tended to be less playful.

Dogs whose owners reported using more rewards tended to perform better in the novel training task. Ability at this novel  task was also higher in dogs belonging to owners who were seen to be more playful and who employed a patient approach to training. The authors conclude that, for dog owners, the use of reward-based training appears to be the most beneficial for the dog’s welfare, since it is linked to enhanced learning and a balanced and healthy dog-owner relationship.

Rooney, N.J. & Cowan, S. (2011) Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132: 169-177.

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