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Study heralds critical warning of how yelling at a dog can damage its health

Small dog looks nervous dog-serious
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A harrowing study of dog behaviour warns of how human anger can affect a dog’s health. The research also tells of the positive outcomes of calm, reward-based training.

By Nick Whittle , 9 Nov 2019

It is often the case that our dogs infuriate us! They are not particularly skilled learners, after all. They can easily forget the rules of the house or how to walk properly, and they are not readily able to tell us how they feel.

Generally speaking, we accept these limitations. If a conscientious owner comes home to a soiled carpet or a chewed sofa they may be angry, but they will also take into account the fact that the dog may be unwell or stressed.

In contrast the poorly adjusted owner will more than likely yell at the dog for what it has done. But fresh research on the topic confirms what is already known by the good owner: yelling and shouting at a dog will only make matters worse.


The study carried out by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro et al. from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal confirms the theory that aversive treatment of a dog will only make it more stressed and scared. Long-term, animals that bear the brunt of aggressive human behaviour become more timid and “depressed”.

Published by bioRxiv, Ms Castro’s research included the study of 92 companion-type dogs. The subjects were split into two groups, one trained by aversive techniques and the other by reward.

Castro discovered that aversive treatment of the dogs caused the animals to become stressed and unhappy.

In her summary of the bioRxiv study Castro writes: “Dogs from Group Aversive displayed more stress-related behaviors, spent more time in tense and low behavioral states and more time panting during the training sessions, showed higher elevations in cortisol levels after training and were more ‘pessimistic’ in the cognitive bias task than dogs from Group Reward.


It may not come as a surprise to most of us that a dog subjected to anger and hatred will be one that recoils. But unfortunately that knowledge is not universal, and there are many owners who would do well to take note of the long-term effects of aversive conduct.