Do Dogs Prefer Our Praise or Food?

Photo by HTeam / Shutterstock.com

If you’ve been spoiling your dog with treats, you might be wasting money.

Many dogs enjoy praise from their humans more than or as much as food, according to new research out of Emory University in Atlanta.

Of the 13 dogs that completed the study, only two showed a strong preference for food as a reward. Most of the dogs preferred praise more than food, or preferred praise and food equally.

The study — published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience — is among the first to explore dogs’ reward preferences by combining brain imaging and behavioral experiments, according to Emory.

Lead researcher Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and author of the book “How Dogs Love Us,” explains:

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself.”

For one experiment in the study, researchers trained dogs to associate three objects with a different outcome — food, praise from their owner or no reward (as a control). Then the dogs were shown the objects associated with each reward outcome while a functional MRI machine recorded their brain activity.

Another experiment involved a Y-shaped maze formed with baby gates. The dogs were repeatedly allowed to choose between two paths: one that led to a bowl of food and one that led to the dog’s owner, who was facing away from the dog.

The researchers found the dogs’ responses in the first experiment correlated to their responses in the second experiment.

Berns explains:

“Dogs are individuals and their neurological profiles fit the behavioral choices they make. Most of the dogs alternated between food and owner, but the dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

What’s your take on these findings? What do you think your dog would choose in a similar situation? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

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