Dogs Respond More to Affection Than to Treats!
16 August, 2016
dog likes affection

We all know how much our dogs love treats and we have been using them for years as a reward for training.  Of course, the treats are always followed by a tummy rub or just a nice rub down for getting the job done.  Or even, simply, a few words of praise and a pat on the head.   Therefore, is it the treats or the affection that is getting the behavior we want? Apparently affection beats out food in a current study!

A new study shows that the old Pavlov response is not the only one dogs respond to

In a ground-breaking study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, it appears that dogs respond to affection even more than treats.  This puts another study by Pavlov in the early 1900’s that dogs have an inherent Pavlovian response which is a learned behavior from receiving treats or food as “old news”.

The study started by handing dogs different toys to receive as a reward

Berns, from Emory University, and his colleagues began their experiment by training dogs to associated three objects with three different rewards: a pink toy truck with food; a blue toy knight with verbal praise; and a hairbrush with the absence of a reward.  Over the course of 32 trials, the 13 participant dogs were presented with the three objects. The dogs’ neural responses to each stimulus were measured using an fMRI machine.

All dogs preferred a reward to none at all. Four dogs showed a particularly strong response to the blue toy knight, while nine dogs responded equally to the two types of reward. Only two dogs were consistently more excited about the pink toy truck and the food reward.

The second experiment allowed dogs to follow to paths – one to food, one to owner

In a second experiment, researchers allowed dogs to follow one of two simple maze paths: one leading to their owner, the other to a bowl of food. Owners sat with their backs turned and praised their dog when he or she arrived.

“We found that the caudate response of each dog in the first experiment correlated with their choices in the second experiment,” Berns said. “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,” Berns continued. “It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.

Next time you try a training exercise, see if a belly rub or just plain out right affection will do the trick, so to speak!

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