Category Archives: Training tips

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.

Aggressive Dogs

Meghan Herron, veterinarian author of a recent study on dogs aggressive to other dogs says “the number-one reason why dog owners take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation, do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”

The use of such confrontational training techniques can provoke fear in the dog and lead to defensively aggressive behavior toward the person administering the aversive action.

Far better to use non-aversive training methods including:

  • Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression afterward)
  • Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
  • Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
  • Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

With consistent and regular sessions using these positive methods, aggressive dogs slowly gain confidence in their owners and become easier to take out on walks.

“Canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s ‘alpha’ status,” Heron says, “but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems. Aversive techniques can elicit an aggressive response in dogs because they can increase the fear and arousal in the dog, especially in those that are already defensive.”

These fear inducing, aversive techniques should be avoided:

  • Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression in response)
  • Growling at the dog (41%)
  • Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
  • “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
  • “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
  • Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
  • Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
  • Spraying the dog with a water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
  • Yelling “no” (15%)
  • Forced exposure (to something that frightens the dog, such as tile floors, noise or people) (12%)

Toilet training your new puppy

Toilet training is fundamental to a new pup’s introduction to family life. Start it the minute you get home with her.

Choose a toileting place away from the deck, thoroughfares and busy spots like the clothesline.

Give her plenty of opportunities to go to this place. Take her out to this spot before she has time to find another: as soon as she wakes from a snooze, after food, after play or if she starts to sniff or circle suspiciously.

While she is toileting say “wee” or “potty” so that she learns to toilet on command. This is useful for the last walk before bed or when travelling.

Positive reinforcement is the key to successful toilet training. Immediately reward her after she relieves herself. Praise her with a pat, “good girl” and, especially at first, give her a food treat. Try not to miss an opportunity for rewarding her for the right behaviour and she will soon learn to do the right thing.

Set an alarm to remind you to take her out again so she doesn’t make a mistake.

If she doesn’t go when you take her out, set a 10-15 minute alarm and keep her on lead,  in a crate or with you to prevent any mishaps.

Short term confinement in a crate inhibits elimination and many pups will toilet as soon as they are released. Take advantage of this by rushing her to the chosen place as soon as you open the crate.

If she soils inside ignore her and clean the area with a non-ammonia based cleaning product like Urine-off so she doesn’t use the same place again.

Punishment for toileting inside will associate toileting near you with trouble. She will avoid you and toilet training will be delayed.