Dogs Prefer Praise to Treats
Whether it's treats, praise, or belly rubs, most dog owners would probably say they know the best way to motivate their dog to behave. Scientists put that to a test for a 2016 study in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience that looked at what happened in dogs' brains when they were praised versus when they got food rewards. The researchers put 15 dogs in an fMRI device designed to scan the brain for areas of increased blood flow, then began their experiment. They presented each dog with a toy car and then had their owners praise them. In other tests, the dogs saw a toy horse and then received a juicy piece of hot dog. In 13 of the 15 dogs, activity in the brain's reward center during praise was equal or greater than activity when they received the food treat. To test how reliable the brain scans had been, a subsequent experiment had the dogs run down a Y-shaped maze that had their owner on one side and a bowl of treats on the other. Sure enough, the dogs that preferred their owners' praise were more likely to head toward their owner, whereas the few dogs that preferred the treat consistently chose the food. Though these kinds of tests might have obvious results for everyday dog owners, they could mean big things for service dogs. Jobs that involve close human contact might be better for those who show a preference for praise, while more independent jobs such as search and rescue might be best for dogs motivated by treats. Explore dog psychology with the videos below.