Man’s Best Friend : Do dogs prefer treats or praising?

A recent study posted in the journal of Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has created controversy for pet owners. It is the first study that has covered brain-imaging data and behavioral experiments on our canine friends, to uncover praising references. In other words, Dog treat, or No dog treat?
Neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of ‘Awake Canine fMRI Predicts Dogs’ Preference for Praise Versus Food’ Gregory Berns stated “We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself.” The dog, also known as ‘Man’s best friend’ is a very hyper-social species. However, the proximal neural mechanisms that drive the dogs to be this way are still unknown.
“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.” Says Gregory Berns. In the Early 1900s, Ivan Pavlov conducted one of today’s most famous experiments of classical conditioning, focusing on canines, and their perception on food. During this research, he showed that if dogs are trained to associate a particular stimulus with food, the animals salivate in the presence of the stimulus, in anticipation of the food.
During the Training, the dogs were conditioned to the association of outcome with the three object stimuli used: a toy car, a toy horse, and a hair brush. Along with the toys, they were also associated with verbal praise, food reward, and nothing respectively. “We found that the caudate response of each dog in the first experiment correlated with their choices in the second experiment,” Berns says. “Dogs are individuals and their neurological profiles fit the behavioral choices they make. Most of the dogs alternated between food and owner, but the dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”
Though this research broke new grounds, it left many questions unanswered. The Berns’ Lab is currently undergoing research with a canine’s ability to understand Human Language.