New Literature Review Recommends Reward-Based Training by Zazie Todd, Ph.D.

New Literature Review Recommends Reward-Based Training

A review of 17 papers concludes that reward-based dog training has fewer risks and may even work better than aversive methods.
The review, by Dr. Gal Ziv (The Zinman College of Physical Education and Sport Sciences) looks at the scientific literature on dog training methods. Seventeen studies were identified that include surveys of dog owners, intervention studies, and reports from veterinarians.

The paper identifies some methodological issues with the literature, but the conclusion is that people should use reward-based methods to train their dogs.

Ziv writes,

“Despite the methodological concerns, it appears that aversive training methods have undesirable unintended outcomes and that using them puts dogs’ welfare at risk. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that aversive training methods are more effective than reward-based training methods. At least 3 studies in this review suggest that the opposite might be true in both pets and working dogs. Because this appears to be the case, it is recommended that the dog training community embrace reward-based training and avoid, as much as possible, training methods that include aversion.”

Ziv also writes,

“it is perhaps time to pursue a different focus and approach of research. This new line of research will examine how humane, reward-based methods can be improved to facilitate better communication between humans and dogs.”

The review considers four different areas of research, starting with comparisons. Five surveys that compare different training methods found that people who use aversive techniques (positive punishment and negative reinforcement) report more behaviour problems including fear and aggression. One of these studies found that inconsistent use of different methods was linked to aggression. Although these studies rely on owner reports, three other studies that directly observed dogs also found that canine welfare and behaviour may be affected by the use of aversive techniques.

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