Yelling at your dog can cause long-term psychological damage

Your pooch needs to be trained with love and compassion.

Photo Credit: Matthew Foulds / Unsplash
  • New research suggests that adversely training, e.g. yelling at, your dog could cause long-term psychological harm.
  • Dogs that had undergone adverse training methods were found to have higher cortisol levels in their saliva and displayed more stress behaviors.
  • A few months after receiving training, it was found that the pups who had received adverse training had more pessimistic outlooks on whether they would be receiving a reward.

Owning and training a dog can seriously test a person's patience. When your pup won't stop yelping, pees on your carpet, or knocks over the garbage can and eats the trash again you might understandably feel the urge to shout. But, regardless of your dog's failure to conform to household rules, try to restrain yourself. New research suggests that by yelling, or otherwise adversely training your dog, you could be causing some serious psychological harm.

A new study shows negative consequences of adverse training

Number of occurrences of each stress-related behavior in the dogs averaged across the three training sessions for Group Reward (filled bars) and Group Aversive (empty bars).

Source: biorxiv

Science Alert reports that a new, preprinted study conducted by researchers at the Universidade do Porto in Portugal discovered that aversive training methods can have long-term negative effects on your dog's mental state. Adverse methods include positive punishment, such as yelling or hitting, and negative reinforcement, like jerking your dog's leash or pushing her to sit down.

"Our results show that companion dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level," the researchers write in their paper. "Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviors and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more 'pessimistic' in a cognitive bias task."

This study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, isn't the first of its kind. Previous research has also found that adverse training has long-term negative effects. However, those studies tended to focus on shock collars used on police and laboratory dogs. For this new study, the international team of researchers looked at nearly 100 companion dogs selected from training schools in Porto. This included 42 that had attended schools that used reward-based training, like treats or toys, and 50 that were trained using aversive methods previously described.

Saliva samples were obtained from each dog to assess how anxious they became from training. Additionally, the researchers observed the dogs' behavior during training, looking for indicators that the dogs were feeling stress, e.g. yawing, lip-licking, paw-raising, and yelping. Predictably, the dogs in the aversive training groups displayed heightened anxiety behaviors, and their saliva, which researchers had obtained before and after their training sessions, had significantly elevated levels of cortisol compared to when they were chilling out at home. The pups who were trained with positive reinforcement were observably more relaxed, displaying fewer stress signals, and had lower cortisol levels in their saliva.

Long-term Effects

Photo Credit: Matthew Henry / Unsplash

Researchers also wanted to know the long-term effects of training stress. A month after the dogs had been assessed during their training, 79 dogs were then conditioned to associate a bowl on a certain side of a room with a sausage. If the bowl was on that particular side, it always held the savory snack. But if it was located on the other side of the room, the bowl never had the treat. (Each bowl was smothered in sausage so that the smell wouldn't give the game away.) Next, researchers shifted the bowls around the room to random locations to see how quickly the dogs would come over in search of the sausage. If the dog scampered over to the bowl quickly, the researchers interpreted that to mean that he or she was expecting to find a delicious treat. Slower speeds indicated that the dog was more pessimistic about the bowl's contents.

"Sure enough, the more aversive training a dog had received, the more slowly it approached the bowl," reports Science Alert.

Another interesting finding was that dogs that had received reward-based training were quicker to learn where the bowl's location was as compared to dogs exposed to aversive-training methods. This could either suggest that the reward-based training had actually been more effective in training the dogs. Or it could just mean that dogs who had received treats as part of their reward training were already skilled in the task of finding treats.

Implications

The results imply that aversive training doesn't have an edge over reward training, and, more obviously, that reward training is much better for your dog's happiness.

"Critically," the researchers said, "our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk." So, assuming that most dog owners would rather not traumatize their pup, be kind when training your dog.

The research article can be accessed on bioRxiv.

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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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