New Study Shows Dogs Choose Love Over Treats

Lead researcher says the results provide evidence “that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”


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New research suggests that most dogs prefer praise and human affection to snacks. In the first part of the study conducted by Emory University neuroscientists, researchers trained 13 dogs to associate one toy with food, another toy with praise from their owner, and a hairbrush with no reward. Then they measured the neural activity in the reward center of the dogs’ brains using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Four of the dogs had the strongest neural activation to the toy signaling praise, nine showed similar responses to praise and food, and only two consistently responded more strongly to the food-associated toy. In the second experiment, dogs were trained to run a simple Y-shaped maze with one path leading to their guardian and the other to food. Dogs went to their guardians 80 to 90 percent of the time, which correlated with the fMRI data. “One theory about dogs is that they are primarily Pavlovian machines,” lead research author Gregory Berns said. “They just want food, and their owners are simply the means to get it. Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”