Petting and praising dogs helps them learn, according to new study · The Wildest

Petting and praising dogs helps them learn, according to new study · The Wildest

When it comes to training your puppy, you probably already know that treats are one of the most effective ways to tell him that he did a good job (and that he should do what he just did again). But if you want your puppy to learn in the most effective way, treats alone are not the solution. A new study Posted in Scientific reports discovers that as much as your puppy wants a snack, he still appreciates your positive emotional reinforcement.

Recently, researchers began measuring how emotions affect learning in puppies and found that dogs who received pets and praise in addition to treats performed better than puppies who received treats and light scolding. In other words, keep getting treats, but if you want your dog to be stress-free and at peak performance, he’ll also need tons of chin scratches and “good dog” affirmations.

The experiment

During the experiment, the trainers taught the puppies new tips for tricks they already knew; instead of receiving signals in Hungarian, the language their parents speak, the dogs received signals in English. Each puppy was assigned two different training styles: “permissive” and “controlling”.

During the permissive training sessions, successful dogs received praise, pets and treats. During control sessions, successful dogs were given treats (without praise or pets), and failing dogs were gently reprimanded with phrases such as “No” or “That’s not okay,” in a firm, but not threatening.

After each separate training session, the dogs took a nap in a laboratory, where they underwent EEG scans to analyze their memory functions. Performance was tested again after sleep.

The researchers found that the control training method caused stress in the puppies and increased the amount of sleep. In particular, dogs who were scolded showed the stress-related behavior of seeking closeness to their pet parent. Previous studies have found that stress can have a negative impact on a dog’s ability to learn.

All dogs performed better during the first training session than the second, regardless of the method applied. “The reason for the order effect may be the well-known phenomenon in the literature that information learned first is often easier to remember than information learned later in a similar context.” according to Phys.org.

There was one difference, though: dogs that had first been exposed to control sessions and subsequently exposed to permissive sessions showed much greater improvements before and after sleep during the second sessions. The researchers speculate that this may be because the puppies experienced a more positive training environment than they expected.

“Our findings indicate a central role of positive reinforcement in both improving their performance and well-being,” wrote the study’s lead author, Vivien Reicher. More research is needed to delve deeper into the impact of positive reinforcement on learning, but these findings suggest that giving pets and praising puppies can significantly reduce stress and potentially improve their memory, so there’s no need to do the stoic trainer. Go ahead and smother your puppy in pets; it’s good for everyone.

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