Does Your Pup Prefer Praise or Treat?

April 14, 2017 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

Dogs have long been thought to be motivated by food and treats. However, a new study reveals that when giving the option between receiving praise and receiving a treat, they preferred praise or liked both equally. Researchers from Emory University analyzed behavior and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 15 dogs through a couple of experiments.


First, the dogs learned to associate a pink toy truck with a food reward, a blue toy knight with verbal praise from their owner and a hairbrush with no reward (the control). Four dogs showed strong neural activation for the praise reward while nine had similar activation for both praise and food. Only two of the canines demonstrated preference of food over praise.


In the second experiment, the pups went through a Y-shaped maze several times. At one end was a bowl of food, while each dog’s owner waited at the other end and showered their pet with praise when they emerged. The results lined up with the first test where the dogs preferred the praise or chose both equally. Only one dog, a terrier mix, chose food over praise every time.


Increasing research, including this study, suggests dogs are emotionally intelligent, responsive beings and deserve to be treated as such. If you would like to learn more about your pet’s intellect and motivations, try the online assessment Dognition. The more you understand about your dog, the deeper and more rewarding your relationship can be.


Source: Cook P, Prichard A, Spivak M, Berns G. Awake canine fMRI predicts dogs’ preference for praise vs food. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 2016; 11(12): 1853-1862.

Print Friendly