There was a time when behavioral science mainly focused on primates, wolves, and rodents. Nowadays, our home canine companions are increasingly viewed as valid subjects for studies aimed at improving the quality of life of dogs and their humans. Some of these studies were presented at the sixth international veterinary behavior meeting in Riccione, Italy in June 2007 and published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior No. 2, point 3. There are two particularly noteworthy that deal with the relationship between training methods and problem behavior.
The first study, “The Importance of Consistency in Dog Training,” was conducted by scientists from the University of Southampton in the UK and the University of Life Sciences in Norway. In this study, punishment was assessed as a contribution to behavior problems and the effects of reward, punishment, and rule structure (permissibility / rigor and persistence) on training and behavior problems. Information was collected through questionnaires from 217 dog guards. Those who used strong and / or frequent punishment had significantly higher levels of training problems and lower levels of obedience in their dogs. The study found that rule structure is important in achieving a well-behaved dog, but apparently relies on a low punishment in the training program.
A similar study, “The Relationship Between Training Techniques and the Incidence of Behavioral Problems in a Population of Domestic Dogs,” was conducted at the University of Bristol in the UK. This study was designed to examine the relationship between the occurrence of behavioral problems and the type of training course attended and the methods used. While the results indicated that attending a training class was likely to reduce the number of behavior problems in dogs, the study also found that dogs that were only trained with positive reinforcement exhibited less problematic behavior. Dogs whose owners used punishment in training were also significantly more likely to have a fear response to other dogs.
These results come as no surprise to positive trainers around the world, but it is always good when our personal and professional experiences and training philosophies are confirmed by science.