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Praise or treat: Which reward do dogs prefer?


Reward plays a major role in dog training because dogs want to get something for it if they cooperate well. According to a recent study, praise can work just as well, if not better, than a treat. What's behind it? The English Bulldog and the Beagle are waiting for their reward. Do you prefer praise or a treat? - Shutterstock / Lunja

Are dogs eaten and bribed by a treat? Or can they also be motivated and educated by praise? This is the question of the optimal reward for the four-legged friends. American researchers around the neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns and his colleague Dr. Peter Cook from Emory University in Atlanta.

Preferred reward study for dogs

The study consisted of two parts: In the first part, 15 dogs were trained to sit still in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI) so that the researchers could measure their brain activity. In addition, the four-legged friends were conditioned to associate certain treats with either a treat, praise or no reward at all. If they saw the picture of a pink toy truck, they associated it with food, with a blue toy knight they thought of praise of their holder and the picture of a brush did not stand for either. Each dog was examined 32 times with the MRI and the various images.

All dogs reacted much more strongly to the pictures that symbolized a reward than to the pictures of the brush that signaled that the dog was getting nothing. Four of the 15 dogs showed increased brain activity when thinking of praise from their owner, two of the four-legged subjects preferred the treat. The nine other participants were equally happy with both forms of reward.

In the second step, these findings were checked by a behavioral experiment. The dogs were brought individually into a room in which a fork in the road was built. One path led to a bowl of food, the other path to the owner, who sat with his back to his pet, and rewarded him with praise when he found his way to him. The four-legged friends, who reacted particularly strongly to the praise symbol on the MRI, actually ran to their owner more often. The dogs, who seemed to be happy about every kind of reward, alternated both options, and those who preferred the treat often ran to the food bowl.

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Praise or treats: a question of education?

However, it must be said that 15 dogs are still not enough for a representative result. The animals are simply too different for that. It is also possible that the praise as a reward was more tempting or at least as desirable as the treat because the dogs had previously trained a lot with their owners to learn the skills required for the experiments. This may have deepened the bond between humans and animals, so that a friendly word from the favorite person sometimes seemed even nicer to the four-legged friend than a delicious treat.

From this it could be concluded that dogs that are quite eaten and / or tend to be overweight do not have to be motivated with treats to work with the upbringing. Labrador retrievers or beagles are considered to be big mouths. If the friendship between humans and dogs and the communication with one another, if you spend a lot of good time with the four-legged friend and deal with him, then praise is obviously just as important as a treat.