A recent study suggests that your dog may appreciate your praise more than a delicious treat.
Lead author of the study Gregory Berns, who is a researcher with Emory University in Atlanta, explained that his team sought to better understand the tight bond between dog owners and their pets.
Researchers mixed brain-imaging and behavioral observations to get a clear picture of that bond and dog’s reward preferences. Study authors were especially interested in finding out whether the bond is based on food rewards or the relationship itself.
The team monitored 13 dogs, of which 11 clearly preferred praise over treats or enjoyed them both. Just two canines were more into food than emotional rewards. The latest experiments were conducted at the famous facility where Dr. Ivan Pavlov came up with his famous hypothesis.
In the early 1900s, Dr. Pavlov proved that dogs can be trained to identify a stimulus as being correlated to food. As a result, the doctor’s dogs salivated whenever they saw the stimulus which brought them food.
But Berns’ team planned to test that theory. The researchers explained that the majority of past studies have viewed dogs as Pavlovian machines, which means that dogs simply want to get food and nothing more.
However, the recent experiments revealed that dogs can appreciate human contact even more than food. Berns is a senior researcher involved in Emory’s Dog Project, a program designed to better understand dogs and their relationship with their human owners.
One of the project’s major milestones was to train dogs to voluntarily place themselves into MRI machines and stand still during the scanning process without restraint.
The project also revealed that the reward center in a dog’s brain gets more active when the animal senses its owner’s scent than that of strangers or even of familiar dogs.
In the latest series of experiments, scientists trained dogs to associate a pink toy car with a food reward, a blue action figure with verbal praise from their masters, and a hairbrush with no reward.
Researchers monitored the dogs’ neural activity while they interacted with the three stimuli. Each dog was tested 32 times and had its brain scanned.
The experiment showed that brain activity in four dogs got more intense when exposed to the blue action figure, which meant praise form their owners. Nine dogs had strong brain activation in both food-related and praise-related stimuli, while only four dogs seemed only interested in food rewards.
The findings were reported this week in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
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