If you're used to presenting your dog with tasty treats as a reward for good behavior, you may want to pay special attention to this article.
According to a study, which will be presented in a journal named Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, many dogs faced with the choice of food or kind words from a pet parent will choose the latter. Of the fifteen dogs studied, thirteen showed greater activity in the corner of the brain that controls reward and decision-making when offered praise, compared to two that showed a similar result in the face of food. During the second part of the experiment, dogs were placed in a maze with their pet parent or a bowl of food at the end; again, thirteen dogs chose to head straight to their human rather than the tasty treat.
What does this study tell us, and what does it mean for pet parents and their dogs? The researchers determined that dogs value social interaction – a fact that many pet parents could readily tell you anyway. However, this study has underlined just how reliant dogs are on words of praise and signs of affection. Indeed, the study proposed a new way to train and reward service dogs: "Therapy jobs with close human contact might better suit dogs that have a higher preference for praise, whereas dogs that prefer food could succeed in more independent roles like search and rescue, where receiving a treat after a job well done would keep them motivated."
The next time Fido completes a trick, does as he's told, or shows you a little affection, remember that a kind word may be all it takes to show your appreciation.