Dogs score high in study regarding human praise vs. receiving treats
Dogs score high on tests involving human interaction vs. treats

We all know that our dogs are master manipulators that can almost always get what they want from us. It doesn’t take much. A simple nudge to the thigh while we’re trying to zone out behind a newspaper or get lost in front of the boob tube, a pitiful sigh as they rest their chins on our knees and look up at us adoringly with those big puppy-dog eyes imploring us to pay attention. A lot of times when this happens we can usually distract them for a while with a treat of some sort, but it’s not long before they’re back begging for attention. That’s because what they really want is just that, our undivided attention. This isn’t rocket science, and recently a team of researchers has verified what most dog owners have known all along.

What Dogs (Really, Really) Want

According to a new study referenced by Science magazine and recently released in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers scanned the brains of 15 dogs while the animals were awake to see where their true affections lie in a series of experiments. In the first, they showed the participating canines different objects that would be associated with praise from their owners or associated with a treat in the form of a piece of hot dog. An example of this would be displaying a toy car and then giving them a piece of hot dog. The animals were also shown a toy car and then their owners would reward them with praise. The next step included setting up a branching maze shaped like a Y with the dog having to choose between its owner for praise at one end and a bowl of treats at the other.

Studies show dogs crave praise and affection more than treats
Studies show dogs crave praise & affection over treats

Dogs Crave Affection

The results of the test may or may not surprise you, depending on how greedy your pup happens to be. But, according to scanner results, the areas of the brain associated with decision-making and the ability to recognize or anticipate a reward became more active when they were shown objects previously associated with praise in the study, rather than objects previously associated with treats. These results were confirmed in 13 out of 15 of the dogs. In other words, 13 of the dogs were inclined to go toward their owners during the maze portion of the experiment rather than pursuing the treats at the other end. Interestingly, those gluttonous traitors whose brains showed more activity for treats in the first experiment also made a beeline for the treats in the second leg of the experiment.

Animal Studies

While the new study was relatively small in size and scope, it does give us an idea of where we stand with our canine pals — at least most of them, anyway. Given our own observations and life experiences, the results aren’t really all that surprising. These results are also backed up by research conducted last year noting that dogs also produce the so-called love hormone oxytocin. Through a series of tests it was determined that when our dogs spend time with and/or interact with us their bodies release the chemical by as much as 57.2 percent. The results are pretty impressive, considering that as humans our levels rise by roughly 60 percent when we view or come into contact with someone we love.

Dogs crave affection and praise over treats
What a dog really, really wants

Canine Test Results & Implications

Besides figuring out where our dogs’ hearts truly rest, this latest information gathered is being considered for use when selecting animals for jobs. The hope is that data like this can be used when attempting to assign service jobs to what are commonly known as working dogs. For instance, canines that respond first and foremost to praise might be better candidates for, say, therapy or service dogs, whereas dogs inclined to treats before verbal or physical rewards might be better off suited for search and rescue operations. It will be interesting to see how the data plays out in this regard and if there’s anything to it as far as a determiner for suitability.  

Which group do you think your dog falls into? Tell us in the comment section below and why you believe you’re right.