There’s a reason why dogs are man’s best friend. Not only do they adore you, but they love you unconditionally, even when you’re shouting at them at the top of your lungs. Forget the fact that they can’t actually yell back, but what their humans don’t realize is that dogs are affected by trauma and stress too, especially when they are being treated badly by the person they love the most.
Much like your children, your dog feeds off of your energy whether good or bad. And because most pets are truly members of your family, they too can be affected, regardless of the mood within the house. This, along with a study that was conducted proving that they can get traumatized and stressed from being yelled at, should be enough for people to be more careful when interacting with their pets. Especially if you don’t want them to be traumatized for life.
Reported in Science Alert, the study was conducted by biologist at the University of Porto in Portugal, Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, who tested dogs and their responses during training. Her research used 42 dogs whose school utilizes rewards for training, and 50 dogs from a school that uses aversion training.
Each dog in the study was recorded during the first 15 minutes of three different training sessions, and what the research found was that dogs that were put through high levels of screaming, shouting and leash-jerking had ‘higher levels of cortisol in their saliva,’ which meant that their stress levels were elevated.
Researchers went on to say in their paper, which was published by preprint server for biology bioRxiv, “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.”
It added, “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.”
Notably, the dogs that underwent negative or aversion training were found to be stressed even after training, not just in the immediate aftermath. The stress was continuous, even after training was over for quite some time.
In another study done one month later, researchers trained dogs by having them associate a bowl with a sausage snack inside. On one side, the bowls always had a sausage snack, while on the other side, the bowl was left snack-less.
So when the bowls were switched around, researchers took note of how long it would take the dogs to figure out where the treats were located. While faster dogs were able to anticipate the snacks, slower dogs seemed much less hopeful or otherwise fatalistic when it came to the possibility of being able to find the treat.
Researchers shared that the dogs that had undergone aversive training were way more apprehensive when approaching the bowls than those that had positive training. Those with positive reinforcement were noted to be faster at figuring out which bowls had the snack.
Researchers explained, “Critically, our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.”
If this study teaches us anything, it’s that dogs thrive on positive and happy energy rather than mean or cruel treatment, especially when it comes to their overall behavior. Just because they are pets that are uncapable of verbalizing their emotions doesn’t give humans the right to treat them badly or get the brunt of their emotional pitfalls and horrible tempers, especially when these pets are misbehaving or not reacting in a way we want them to.
This goes for any dog owner when speaking or training their pets, be sure to do it out of love rather than a harsh hand. We might believe that yelling or hitting at our dogs will get them to behave better but in reality, we could be causing much more harm than good. If you don’t think that you can handle your dog’s mishaps in a loving manner, and you don’t want them to suffer emotional trauma and stress from the manner in which you treat them, then maybe you should rethink getting a pet at all.
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