News Flash! Your Dog Prefers Your Praise Over A Treat

Dogs have been our best friends for centuries, and their unwavering love and loyalty towards us has always been a source of joy. However, studies have shed light on a fascinating aspect of dogs – their preference for praise over treats and other food rewards! It’s a surprising discovery given most dog owners believe that their dog would rather have a treat over praise. These revealing studies challenges a long-held belief that dogs are mainly motivated by treats and highlights the depth of the strong bond we have with our dogs.

The Science Behind Praise vs. Food: A praiseworthy study conducted by neuroscientist Gregory Berns at Emory University explored the neural responses of dogs when presented with praise from their owners versus food rewards. Using a functional MRI (fMRI - a type of MRI scan that can track blood flow to “see” brain activity), Berns and his team observed that the majority of dogs showed stronger brain activity in response to verbal praise from their owners compared to when offered a treat. In a subsequent experiment, the dogs were given a choice between their owner and a bowl of food. Amazingly, the dogs showed a stronger neural response to praise in the fMRI scans and chose to go to their owners 80-90% of the time, when food was the other option. This finding suggests that the neural activity observed in the brain scans directly influenced the dogs' behavior, indicating a genuine preference for human praise over food.

The Power of Praise: Another study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, further highlighted the importance of praise in the human-dog relationship. When researchers compared the brain responses of 15 dogs, the results showed greater activation to praise vs food in 13 of 15 dogs. This study highlights the importance of praise in reinforcing the bond between you and your dog showing that your praise is far more valued than food.

What You Say (and How You Say It) Matters: Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary have also contributed to our understanding of how dogs process human communication. By imaging the brains of dogs trained to lie still in an MRI scanner, they discovered that different regions of the dog’s brains are activated when hearing positive-sounding voices and specific words of praise. This finding underscores the importance of both tone and word choice when communicating with our dogs. It suggests that dogs are attuned to the nuances of human speech and can differentiate between various forms of praise and encouragement. Cue the tail wagging!

Yummy Audible Treats: These incredible studies shed light on the profound connection between us and our dogs, revealing that our positive, affirming, and loving words are more important to our dogs than treats or food. When you ask, “Who’s a good dog?”, know that your dog is receiving a delicious audible treat that is appreciated more than a cookie (…although every once in a while, a cookie can make everyone happy too!).

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