Skip to main content

Dog training is an important part of being a responsible pet parent. Our dogs need to be given the tools they need to adapt and respond to any circumstance they are introduced to.

While everyone can agree that dogs need to be trained, there’s a tense debate about the best way to train dogs. On one side of the argument, you have positive reinforcement trainers that believe that dogs learn more effectively using only positive rewards for successful behaviors.

On the other side of the argument, you have trainers that believe discipline is needed to effectively train a dog. They believe that a mixture of punishment and reward are needed to teach dogs how to properly behave.

While discipline-based training has a long history of use, positive reinforcement training has become increasingly supported by ongoing research. As the public debate about which training methods are more effective rages on, a new study examined a different aspect of these training methods.

Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro and a team of researchers at the University of Porto in Portugal recently published a study that examined how the different training methods affect a dog’s emotional attachment to their owner.

The study examined 34 dogs from six different dog training schools. Three of the dogs schools only used positive reinforcement methods, while the other three used various discipline methods of training.

To test the dog’s attachment to their owners, the study put each dog through a variation of what is known as the Strange Situation Test. The study explains, “The presence and absence of the owner and a stranger in a room with the dog was manipulated over different episodes. Dogs’ behavior was then analyzed for attachment-related behaviors: contact-maintenance, separation-distress and secure-base effect, as well as following upon separation and greeting upon reunion.”

The study found that dogs trained using positive reinforcement only methods had a more secure attachment to their owner. They also found that dogs trained with reward-based methods were more playful in the presence of their owner than the stranger and that they greeted their owner more enthusiastically than the stranger.

In an Psychology Today article about the study, Dr. Stanley Coren, PhD, DSc, FRSC, explains that these dog training methods create a form of classical conditioning, where “A few repetitions of ‘stimulus — event — emotion’ and we end up with a situation where the stimulus itself triggers the emotion.”

So when discipline-based training is used, Dr. Cohen explains, “The sight of you, or your hand, or the training leash and collar immediately followed by pain or discomfort will ultimately come to be associated with negative feelings and avoidance.”

So if you are hoping to build a strong and loyal bond between you and your dog, it might be best to stick with reward-based training methods.

Featured Image:

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?