A study conducted by researchers at Emory University found that many dogs actually respond more positively to verbal praise than to treats.
Before conducting their research, neuroscientist Gregory Berns and his team had to search for 15 dogs that were well behaved enough to stay put long enough for three MRI scans. Calmer breeds like Retrievers were used.
Each dog then spent 10 minutes in the ‘down‘ position throughout the three MRI scans (which happened separately), during which they were shown three objects — a toy car, toy horse, and a hair brush — that were associated with the respective reward methods. They were given a hot dog after the toy car, verbal praise after the toy horse, and nothing after the hairbrush.
The first round of tests showed positive feedback for food as a reward, 13 of the 15 dogs’ brains lit up the most for the food.
To ensure consistency, a second round of MRI scans was conducted. However, some of the dogs that were not praised during the second round (but were praised during the first round) were visibly unhappy. “The dogs who responded more strongly to praise in the first experiment were more disappointed for not getting praise,” Gregory explained.
So paw-rents, while it may seem that your greedy little fella only enjoys tasty treats as a reward, the truth is that he most likely adores receiving compliments too, and will be disappointed if he doesn’t get praised for his good behaviour.
In this case, words definitely speak louder than actions!
*This article was updated on 1 Sept 2020. It first appeared in PetsMagazine.com.sg on 15 Sept 2016.