29 August 2012

Late Summer

CAPB is on vacation:

A rottie and three chihuahuas on the beach in summer
Photo: Shutterstock

If you want to catch up on any posts you've missed, there's the series on dog training (you can start at the beginning or skip to the end), read about the long-term effects of puppy mills on breeding dogs, or find out why some owners don't walk their dogs. If you're more of a cat person, you might enjoy the cat at the window or these reasons why two kittens is better than one. And if you like both cats and dogs, which should you get first?

Back next week!

22 August 2012

An Ancient Egyptian Mummified Cat

Italian scientists have conducted a radiological examination of a mummified cat.

In Ancient Egypt, cats were revered. It is thought that cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 10,000 years ago. The first mummified cats were buried with their owners. Over time customs changed, and mummified cats were made as offerings to the feline goddess, Bastet. From 332BC to 30BC, cats were bred specifically to be used as offerings, and cat mummies were available at different price points, ranging from ones containing a few bones, to more elaborate mummies containing the entire cat.

Engraving of a cat on the outer walls of an ancient temple at Edfu
Engraving of a cat on the outer walls of an ancient temple at Edfu, Egypt
Photo: BasPhoto / Shutterstock

A team of Italian scientists led by Giacomo Gnudi at the University of Parma, in Italy, recently performed a radiological examination of a cat mummy. The mummy is part of the University’s Ancient Egyptian collection, and was bought in the 19th century. Apparently cat mummies were so abundant at this time that 180,000 were shipped to Liverpool in the UK to be turned into fertilizer.

The wrappings were decorated with geometric patterns and with depictions of eyes in black ink. The mummy was found to have the entire skeleton of a cat, with open growth plates on the bones suggesting that it was between 4-6 months old. This means it was probably bred specifically to be used as a mummy. A bone had been broken so that the tail could be positioned close to the body. The cat was in a sitting position, and the chest had also been compressed. This meant the body took up as small a space as possible. It is likely that a substance called natron was applied to promote the drying out process, and then the cat was put into a seating position; the compression of the chest could have been caused by the bandages. 

There was also a hole in the skull and partial dislocation of some of the skull bones. It is not known if this resulted from the way the cat was killed, or if it was part of the mummification process. 

The radiological examination showed that this is an important artefact, since it is of a full cat in elaborate wrappings. The mummy was an offering to Bastet.

The British Museum Highlights Mummy of a Cat
Gnudi, G., Volta, A., Manfredi, S., Ferri, F., & Conversi, R. (2012). Radiological investigation of an over 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy of a cat Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 14 (4), 292-294 DOI: 10.1177/1098612X11432237

15 August 2012

Positive Reinforcement and Dog Training VII: Summary and Conclusions

The best way to train a dog is by using rewards, but many owners continue to use aversive techniques.

The science of dog training, illustrated by a white GSD in the water

This is the final part of the series on the scientific research on dog training methods used by ordinary dog owners in ordinary situations. Over the last few weeks, we have looked at five separate studies. The conclusion of all of them is that reward-based training is best.

Two separate questionnaire studies by Hiby et al and Blackwell et al found that dogs trained using only positive reinforcement are more obedient than dogs trained with punishment. Dogs whose owners used punishment were more likely to have behaviour problems such as fear and aggression.

A study of training small dogs versus large dogs by Arhant et al confirmed that greater frequency of punishment is linked to aggression and excitability. These problems are even worse in small dogs, which are trained with less consistency and respond more negatively to punishment.

These studies relied on owner reports of their dog’s behaviour. Is it possible that they are biased somehow; for example that people are more inclined to say their dogs have a problem in order to justify the use of punishment?

It’s unlikely there is a systematic bias, since the questions were different in each study. Nonetheless, a study by Rooney and Cowan got independent assessments of behaviour by videotaping interactions between owners and their dog, including a training session on a novel task. The reported training history affected the dog’s ability to learn the new task – dogs that had previously been taught using more rewards were better at learning. In addition, owners who used more rewards during the training session itself were more successful at training their dog. 

Sometimes people make an argument that reward-based training is okay for dogs that are pretty good, but just won’t work for dogs with problems. Bad dogs, the reasoning goes, need to be shown - via punishment - that what they are doing is wrong.

However, Herron et al’s study of dogs that had been referred to a behaviourist found that the use of punishment often led to an aggressive response. In other words, using punishment can have unintended – and unsafe – consequences. 

Another thing I sometimes hear is that reward-based or clicker training is okay for in the house, but not the real world. However, this is simply untrue. All of the studies here looked at ordinary dog-training and the way the dogs behaved in everyday life, and they all show that reward-based training works the best.

Also, some people say “it’s more balanced to use both rewards and punishments.”  I don’t know what balanced is supposed to mean in this context. In fact, in the study by Blackwell, the use of both rewards and punishment led to the most aggressive dogs. An aggressive dog isn’t very balanced.

Why does punishment have this effect? Punishment is stressful for the dog, causing a rise in stress hormones. This can cause a dog to become fearful or aggressive. It is also possible that stress hormones interfere with learning. In contrast, with positive reinforcement, the anticipation of a reward motivates a dog to learn and helps to build a better relationship between dog and owner.

Little white dog in a pink hat and scarf, happy because of science on positive reinforcement and dog training

It is important to note that punishment is something aversive from the dog’s perspective. Sometimes people talk about discipline or corrections rather than punishment. We have to ask ourselves how it feels to the dog. So a yank on the leash or a bop on the nose is a punishment even if the owner prefers to call it a ‘correction’. 

Along the way, we have found out about two other important characteristics of a training programme: patience and consistency. Owners who were patient with their dog performed much better at teaching the dog a novel task. Owners who were inconsistent with their dogs, and sometimes let them get away with things that were meant to be forbidden, had less obedient dogs. 

In conclusion, these studies show that the use of positive reinforcement only is the best way to train a dog. Sadly, this research also shows that just 16-20% of owners take this approach. Most dog owners continue to use punishment, with about 50% using punishment more often than rewards.

In fact, a new 2017 literature review (that includes the studies discussed in this series) also concludes that reward-based training is the best approach.

Please spread the word: reward-based dog training is the way to go, and it’s not too late to learn.

What kind of reward motivates your dog the best?

You might also like: The ultimate dog training tiphow to choose a dog trainer, and why don't more people use positive reinforcement to train dogs?

Arhant, C., H, Bubbna-Lititz, A. Bartels, A. Futschik and J. Troxler (2010) Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 123:131-142.
Blackwell, E.J., Twells, C., Seawright, A. and Casey, R.A. (2008) The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 3:207-217.
Herron, M.E., F.S.Shofer and I.R. Reisner (2009) Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesirable behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117:47-54.
Hiby, E.F., N.J. Rooney and J.W.S. Bradshaw (2004) Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13, 63-69.
Rooney, N.J. and S. Cowan (2011) Training methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132:169-177. 
Photo: Aneta Pics (top) and Leah-Anne Thompson (Shutterstock.com)

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

08 August 2012

Part VI of Positive Reinforcement and Dog Training: Learning New Behaviours

A past history of rewards-based training leads to more success in future training sessions.

A cute puppy chews on a ball, as we think about the science of dog training

So far in the series on positive reinforcement in dog training, we have found an association between the use of punishment in dog training and unwanted behavioural issues such as aggression. The use of positive methods only is also more effective than using a combination of rewards and punishment, or punishment alone.

However, all of the studies have relied on owner’s reports of their own dog’s behaviour. What if the behaviour is assessed by someone else? Does the training technique used in the past affect a dog’s performance at learning something new? That’s exactly what Nicola Rooney and Sarah Cowan set out to investigate.

In this study, 53 dog owners were asked how they had trained their dog in the same seven everyday situations that were used in the study by Hiby, discussed earlier in the series.

They were filmed interacting with their dog at home in several scenarios that included ignoring the dog, an obedience test of ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’, and a play session.

Finally, the owner was given a ball and a bag of treats that they could use or not as they wished, and given five minutes to try and train their dog to touch one of two spoons on command. This was a novel task the dogs would not have learnt before, and so it evaluated their ability to perform something new. 

The video and questionnaire data was then analyzed by the researchers. Training techniques were classified as reward-based, punishment-based, or miscellaneous. All of the participants in this study used both rewards and punishment; 38% of them used rewards more often, and 49% used punishment more often.

The dogs of owners who used more punishment were less playful with their owner and less interactive with the experimenter. The dogs whose owners had previously used more rewards in training were better at learning the novel task. When researchers looked at the novel training session only, dogs performed better if their owners were patient and if they used more rewards.

The authors say that “a past history of rewards-based training increases a dog-owner partnership’s success in future training; possibly by increasing the dog’s motivation and aptitude to learn, because it learns to anticipate rewards.” 

One of the important findings of this study is that the earlier training affected the dog’s performance on the new training task, as did the owner’s behaviour during the task itself. Thus, although the result is a correlation and does not prove causation, there has been a time-lapse between earlier training and the new task. Also, while the study of small dogs vs large dogs showed that consistency plays a role, this study shows that another aspect of owner behaviour is also important: Patience.

How do you like to train your dogs on a new task?

Come back next week for the conclusion to the series on positive reinforcement and dog training.

Rooney, N.J., & Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132, 169-177 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007
Photo: matabum (Shutterstock)
You might also like:
Describing dog training: Weasel words or clear descriptions?

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

01 August 2012

Part V of Positive Reinforcement and Dog Training: Dogs with Behaviour Problems

For dogs with problem behaviours, the use of aversive techniques can lead to an aggressive response.

A bulldog stares morosely at a treat; science shows rewards are the best way to train

In this week’s edition of the series, we take another look at the use of punishment. However, while previous posts have looked at ordinary dog owners, this week the focus is on people who are having problems with their dogs. This is from a study by Meghan Herron and colleagues in the US.

People who had a referral to an animal behaviourist were asked to complete a questionnaire. It asked about dog training techniques, whether the technique had worked, who had suggested it, and whether any aggressive behaviour resulted.

The questionnaire was completed prior to the first meeting with the behaviourist, and the dog owners were there for a range of problems including aggression to people or other animals, house-soiling, separation anxiety, and other common problems. In total, 140 people took part.

The results showed that aversive training techniques elicited an aggressive response in many cases.

At least 25% of the dogs gave an aggressive response to the following: alpha roll (rolling the dog over on its back and holding it down), dominance down (forcing the dog onto its side and holding it there), muzzling the dog, using force to take something from the dog’s mouth, hitting or kicking the dog, and grabbing the dog’s jowls.

Use of a choke or prong collar got an aggressive response from 11% of the dogs, and use of a shock collar got an aggressive response from 7% of the dogs. Less aversive techniques such as growling at the dog, staring it down, or yelling no, also sometimes got an aggressive response (from 41%, 30% and 15% respectively). Yes you read it right – some owners growl at their dog.

The training techniques were not all negative. Most of the owners also said they did some reward-based training, and these techniques were rated as successful. For example, the use of food rewards was rated as having a positive effect on behaviour by 86% of the dog owners, making it the most successful of the techniques studied. In addition, reward-based methods did not lead to aggressive responses from the dog. 

You might be thinking that these were aggressive dogs, so it’s no wonder they sometimes responded aggressively, but remember they were attending the behaviourist for a range of problems, not just aggression. When the researchers looked just at the dogs that were there because they were aggressive to people they knew, they found they were much more likely to have an aggressive response to an alpha roll, and to yelling no, than the other dogs in the study.

The idea to use these techniques was most often reported as coming from the owner themselves, or from a trainer. Most of the owners reported that the techniques had either a positive or no effect. Surprisingly, even when they said their dogs were aggressive in response, a subset of owners did not indicate this was a negative effect.  

The main conclusion from this study is that the use of punishment in dog training can lead to unwanted, even dangerous, consequences. The authors say that “ultimately, reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog, and, hence, safer for the owner.” Whereas the studies we looked at earlier in the series focussed more on effectiveness and obedience, this one focussed specifically on the risks to the owner.

When it comes to aversive methods, it seems that ‘don’t try this at home’ is very sensible advice.

Next week, we'll look at another study of training methods and the effects on future training sessions.

Where do you get dog training advice from?

Reference Herron, M.E., Shofer, F.S., & Reisner, I.R. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesirable behaviors Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117, 47-54 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011
Photo: SipaPhoto (Shutterstock).

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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