Aversive-based training focuses on punishment and negative reinforcement suchas use of shock, pinch and choke collars, leash jerks, physically dominating,striking or yelling at the dog. In contrast, reward-based training focuses onpositive reinforcement; for example, giving the dog food treats. There areconcerns about poor animal welfare outcomes from aversive-based trainingcompared to reward-based training. However, few studies compare dog welfareduring and after different types of training.

This study investigated the effects of different training methods on thewelfare of companion dogs. A total of 92 dogs were recruited from 7 trainingschools in Porto, Portugal. Dogs at 2 schools received 75 to 84% intendedaversive training (Group Aversive, n=28 dogs). Dogs at 3 schools received onlyreward-based training (Group Reward, n=42). Dogs at 2 schools received lessthan 37% aversive training (Group Mixed, n=22). During and after training, dogbehaviour was evaluated including stress-related behaviours (e.g., liplicking, yawning) and overall behavioural state (e.g., tense, low, relaxed,excited). Saliva samples were collected to measure the stress hormonecortisol. In addition, 73 of the dogs completed a cognitive bias test wherelatency to reach stimuli is thought to reflect affective state (emotion).Statistical analyses controlled for potential confounders including ownergender, children in household and dog age.

Group Aversive showed more frequent stress behaviours and low and tensebehavioural states than Group Reward. Average post-training increase insalivary cortisol was higher in Group Aversive than in Group Reward. In thecognitive bias test, Group Aversive demonstrated longer latencies for all thestimuli suggesting they regarded the food reward as less probable possibly dueto a less positive affective state. While this was not a randomised controltrial that could establish causality, the study is the first to systematicallydemonstrate that companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods experiencepoorer welfare compared to dogs who receive reward-based training.

de Castro ACV, Fuchs D, Morello GM (2020) Does training method matter?Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dogwelfare. PLOS One 15(12), e0225023.

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