Dogs Want Social Rewards and Praise Than Food
To explore canine preferences, a neuroscientist at Emory University conducted research to find out what dominates in a dog-human bond, whether it’s mainly about food or about the relationship itself.
The study has come up with interesting findings. The study suggests that if given the choice, many dogs prefer praise from their owners over food.
Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the research said, “Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”
This study is considered one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore canine reward preferences.
Previous Experiments vs Current View
In Ivan Pavlov’s theory on classical conditioning, dogs are trained to associate a particular stimulus with food. The animals salivate in the mere presence of the stimulus, in anticipation of the food. This simply explains that dogs are like the Pavlovian machines. Dogs only want food and nothing else.
However, the current view is more than the dog’s desire for food. Now dogs are known to value human contact.
This was confirmed by Dr. Berns, who said, “Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”
The Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology which is headed by Dr. Berns, trained dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.
A previous experiment showed that one region of a dog’s brain responds more dominantly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans.
In the current experiment, the researchers found that dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus.
Results of the Behavioral Experiment
The project conducted behavioral experiment on the 13 dogs. Each dog was familiarized with a room that contained a simple Y-shaped maze constructed from baby gates. One path of the maze led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner. The dog was then repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths. If they came to the owner, the owner praised them.
The results revealed that most of the dogs alternated between food and owner. Interestingly, dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. Indeed, the result shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs.