Praise or treats: which reward do dogs prefer?

Rewards play a significant role in dog training because dogs want something in return if they cooperate well. According to a recent study, praise can work just as well, if not better, than a treat. What’s behind it?

Are dogs greedy and corruptible with a treat? Or can they also be motivated and educated by praise? US researchers are working with neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns and his colleague Dr. Peter Cook from Emory University in Atlanta.

Study on preferred rewards for dogs

The study consisted of two parts: In the first part, 15 dogs were trained to sit still in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, allowing the researchers to measure their brain activity. In addition, the four-legged friends were conditioned to associate either a treat, praise, or no reward at all with specific images. When they saw a picture of a pink toy truck, they associated it with food; when they saw a blue toy knight, they thought of praise from its owner, and the image of a brush represented neither. Each dog was examined 32 times with the MRI and the various photos.

All of the dogs responded significantly more strongly to the images that symbolized a reward than to the brush pictures, which signaled that the dog was not getting anything. Four of the 15 dogs showed increased brain activity at the thought of praising their owner, and two of the four-legged subjects preferred the treat. The nine other participants were equally pleased with both forms of reward.

In a second step, these findings were

The behavioral experiment was verified. The dogs were brought individually to a room where a fork in the road was recreated. One path led to a bowl of food, the other path to the owner, who sat with his back to his pet and rewarded it with praise when it found its way to him. The four-legged friends who reacted particularly strongly to the praise symbol in the MRI ran to their owner more often. The dogs that seemed to enjoy any reward alternated both options, and those that preferred the treat ran to the food bowl more often.

Praise or Treats: A Question of Upbringing?

However, it must be said that 15 dogs are still not enough for a representative result. The animals are too individual for that. It is also possible that the praise as a reward seemed more enticing to them, or at least as desirable as a treat because the dogs had previously trained extensively with their owners to learn the skills required for the experiments. This should have deepened the bond between humans and animals so that a friendly word from their favorite person sometimes seemed even more pleasant to the four-legged friends than a delicious treat.

From this, one could, in turn, conclude that dogs that are pretty greedy and tend to be overweight do not need to be motivated with treats to help with training. Labrador retrievers or beagles are considered to have sweet teeth. If the human-dog friendship and the communication with each other are correct, if you spend a lot of excellent time with your four-legged friend and deal with him, then praise is obviously at least as necessary as a treat.

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