Dogs definitely love a tasty treat, but is your praise more satisfying?Have you ever wondered whether your pooch loves your praise or that tasty treat more? Well
a recent study seems to suggest that it may be a soothing voice that your dog really wants.

But is that all? Let’s take a look at what the study has to say.  

The Study: Dogs May Like Praise A Bit More Than “Treats”

Emory University conducted a study dubbed “The Dog Project,” in which MRIs were used to monitor the dog’s brain functions. Researchers gave dogs different rewards after being presented with toys. The rewards were either:

  • Praise from their owner
  • A big hot dog
  • No treat or praise (control group)

The MRIs showed that dog’s brains were just as stimulated by praise as they were by food. In some cases, praise stimulated them more. They also showed that dogs who responded more strongly to praise were more disappointed when they didn’t receive encouragement.

Treats and praise can be equal motivators for dogs, and sometimes praise is better! Dogs also ran mazes where they had to choose between a treat and receiving praise from their owner at the end of the puzzle. Here too, it seems that dogs were more likely to go for the praise than the edible treats.

We know that dogs usually love hearing “good boy,” and “good girl,” just as much as a meaty treat, but there’s more to it than that. “Treats” can be almost anything your dog loves! Here’s what a life spent with dogs has taught us at the Ranch.

The Reality: Every Dog Is Different

We see this every day on the Ranch. We have to adjust to each dog’s needs and preferences to maximize their happiness and the effectiveness of reward-based training. Dogs have many different motivators they might favor, such as:

And the list goes on. You have to spend time with dogs and understand what makes them excited. It may not just be verbal praise for your dog. Mix it up and find what drives them. However, don’t just stick to what they like best.

Once you find what drives your dog, whether treats or praise, they'll love it! It is absolutely recommended that you vary your rewards when training. We call this the “slot machine” method. Your dog never knows what they’re going to get, but they’re pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

When teaching something crucial like recall, you can give a giant “jackpot” (like half a rotisserie chicken for a larger dog!) to reward positive behavior. Your dog will be excited and eager to work with you, always wondering when that next “jackpot” is coming their way.

If you give them treats every time, or the same treat too often, dogs may become demanding or disengaged. They care less because they know they’re going to be treated, and they know which treat they’re getting, to boot.

If you have questions about how to treat your dog, or about reward-based training in general, contact us today! We love talking about what gets your dog excited, happy, and ready to learn.




Image Permissions

Pumpkin Treats by Lindsay Attaway

Happy Dog by Mikkel Zibrandtsen 

Backyard Treat by Michael Gil