Research summary: Carrots versus sticks

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We have reviewed this study for you: 

de Castro et al, 2019 – Carrots versus sticks: The relationship between training methods and dog-owner attachment –  App. An. Beh. Sc. – 31 July 2019

Research question 

Does the use of aversives in training negatively impact the dog-owner bond?

The answer, as usual, is: it’s complex.

What they did

They tested the bond by using a famous psychology test (Ainsworth) to see if the dogs showed a response typical of dogs/babies to the departure/absence of their care figure with whom they have a sound attachment.

The results

Differences between dogs trained using aversives and dogs trained using rewards: Dogs trained using aversives:

1. Showed less play behaviour in the presence of their owner than dogs raised using reward-based methods (always a animal welfare red flag), and
2. Dogs in the reward-based training group greeted and followed their owners more than they did stranger.

There were no differences in: 
1. Contact maintenance (as in how clingy the dogs were to their owners); or 
2. Separation distress

What does it mean?

  1. The sample size was tiny, so this definitely needs to be reproduced before we go and shout whatever conclusions on the roofs
  2. Less play may mean more inhibition in the presence of the owner. And, play is an indicator of positive animal welfare (as in: a happy dog). So that is a little worrying. 
  3. Showing no difference in greeting stranger/owner: this does not fit with what is known of aversive teaching methods in children, so even more caution should be exercised. 
  4. Neither extreme of dog training appears to be associated with an increased risk of separation distress. Again, with such small sample sizes, this needs to be reproduced.

Take home point

Either way, OhMyDog’s position on the issue of aversives is ethical, rather than scientific. Even if a million of the most convincing systematic review studies came out in support of the superior efficacy of aversive-based methods, that’s just not now we treat family members here at OhMyDog!

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