To evaluate the effects of aversive (punishment) and reward-based training methods on companion dog welfare, a study has shown that dogs with no previous training were more affected by the avoidance based cues of rewarding methods and had greater distress when no significant reward was given for a behaviour compared to dogs with training history.
According to the research, fear-based nature of the latter strategy (offering no reward) has also been shown to negatively impact the dog's psychological state.
Dogs respond best to rewards, not fear
In short, what this means is that dogs do respond to fear-based (punishment) training but not in ways that are particularly desirable. Other training methods can achieve desired behaviour more effectively and with less stress suffered by the dog.
Negative affectivity may be due to the difficulty in establishing a positive association with aversive stimuli as well as the possible adverse impact on behaviour.
Reward-based training methods will often lead to less separation anxiety and fewer undesired behaviours.
A 2012 study looked at the total number of behaviours between dogs trained with positive reinforcement and those trained with aversive methods.
To evaluate the impact of training method on aggression and fear it is necessary to explore both the behaviour of the dog and the temperament of the dog.
Fearful and aggressive dogs, does training method matter?
There is no question that fear and aggression are related and studies have shown that dogs trained with aversive or reward-based methods may experience different levels of fear or aggression.
For example, aversive-trained dogs will tend to display less aggressive or reactive behaviour, as well as a more focused focus on avoidance and will tend to be more fearful of novel situations and might feel more intense physiological arousal and perhaps be more reactive.
Reward based or in-game training is more likely to result in increased engagement, sustained action and less fear and less aggression.
The nature of the training method is not the only determinant of the nature of the relationship between training method and behaviour.
There are also other factors that influence the level of negative affectivity of a dog as well, such as its intelligence.
On the other hand, there are many instances where the performance of a behaviour is significantly affected by the time of day, the number of prior repetitions of the behaviour and possibly, by the nature of the individual dog.
For example, the significance of fear extinction and avoidance learning, in particular, is discussed in more detail in the fear extinction article.
There are a few studies that have examined the relationship between different training methods and varying levels of emotionality and behaviour in dogs.
The studies tend to focus on the indirect relationship between particular dog training approaches and extinction training methods and affectivity in dogs.
The methodology of these studies differs from many other previous studies because they are based on keeping track of the dog's behaviour as it changes under different approaches.
Extinction dog training results
Dog's that received extinction training showed significantly more behaviour change than the other training methods.
Study 1 compared dogs trained using the quick recall method, aversive extinction, the passive avoidance method and the cue-reinforced extinction method to their counterparts in a parallel study.
Eighteen total behaviours were collected and recorded by using a survey that included pictures of the behaviours or videos of the behaviours.
Positive and negative affectivity was determined using a scale ranging from 1 to 4, in which 1 indicates extreme fear or anxiety and 4 indicates extreme positive or happy behaviour.
Measurements of anxiety and fear and relationship between the levels of these two affectivity scales were all recorded.
There was no significant difference in the mean level of fear or anxiety between the two groups, nor between the two extinction methods.
However, there was a significant difference in the mean level of positive or happy behaviour between the two groups.
Dogs that were trained using the extinction method exhibited significantly less positive or happy behaviour than the dogs in the other groups.
Summary of findings: dog training using punishment vs reward methods
The following is a quick summary of some of the key findings of this study:
Dogs from Group Aversive were more 'pessimistic' in the cognitive bias task than dogs from Group Reward.
Dogs from Group Mixed displayed more stress-related behaviours, were more frequently in tense states and panted more during training than dogs from Group Reward.
In total, 8 dogs from Group Aversive, 8 dogs from Group Mixed and 15 dogs from Group Reward had their samples selected for analysis.
Dogs of Group Aversive took longer to reach all bowl locations compared to dogs from Group Reward, but no differences were found between Group Mixed and Group Reward, as well as between Group Aversive and Group Mixed.
During the welfare assessment in the training sessions, dogs from Group Aversive were observed more frequently in low behavioural states than dogs from Group Reward, and dogs from both Group Aversive and Group Mixed were observed more frequently in tense behavioural states and more frequently panting than dogs from Group Reward.
Overall, dogs from Group Aversive displayed stress-related behaviours more frequently than dogs from both Group Mixed and Group Reward and dogs from Group Mixed displayed stress-related behaviours more frequently than dogs from Group Reward.
Overall, these results indicate that dogs from Group Aversive were in a less positive affective state than dogs from Group Reward.
Dogs from Group Reward showed a tendency to learn the cognitive bias task faster than dogs from Group Mixed.
Dogs from Group Mixed showed higher frequencies of stress-related behaviours, were found more frequently in tense states and panted more frequently during training than dogs from Group Reward.