Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team's performances

Anouck Haverbeke, Bérengère Laporte, Eric Depiereux, Jean-Marie Giffroy (Editor), Claire Diederich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

While only a few studies have analysed training methods used on working dogs, a recent survey in 303 Belgian military handlers revealed the use of harsh training methods on military working dogs (MWD). The present work aimed to confirm these results by analysing the training methods used on Belgian MWD and the behaviour of handlers in view to objectify the performances of the Dog Handlers teams (DH-teams) and the welfare of the animals.A standardized evaluation, including obedience and protection work exercises, was conducted on DH teams (n=33). Every evaluation was done twice to assess the reliability of the observation methods. The behaviours of MWD and handlers were recorded on videotape and subsequently analysed. Results showed that handlers rewarded or punished their dogs intermittently. Stroking and patting the dogs were the most frequently used rewards. Pulling on the leash and hanging dogs by their collar were the most used aversive stimuli.The team's performance is influenced by the training method and by the dog's concentration: (1) low performance dogs received more aversive stimuli than high performance dogs; (2) dog's distraction influenced the performance: distracted dogs performed less well. Handlers punished more and rewarded less at the second evaluation than at the first one. This suggests that handlers modified their usual behaviour at the first evaluation in view to present themselves in a positive light. During the second evaluation the dogs reacted to this higher frequency of punishments as they exhibited a lower posture after punishment. The authors cannot prove that the welfare of these dogs had been hampered, but there is an indication that it was under threat. Low obedience and protection work performances (respectively 65% and 39%) suggest that handlers and dogs should train more regularly and underlie the usefulness of setting a new training system that would rely on: the use of more positive training methods, an increased training
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-122
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume113
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Keywords

  • training
  • Working dogs
  • distraction
  • human-animal interaction
  • operant conditioning

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