Whenever your family dog completes a task or follows a command, it’s important for pet owners to offer positive reinforcement to ensure future good behavior. Canines learn best when treated nicely with a scratch between the ears, delicious treat or simple “Good boy!” But one of these might be more effective than the others.
New research from the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University showed that pooches prefer petting over verbal praise and treats. Led by ASU professor Clive Wynne, Ph.D., the study focused on dogs’ responses to various forms of rewards.
“I spend half my day talking to my dog,” said Wynne, quoted by The Huffington Post. “She always looks like it’s valuable to her. It’s quite a shock to discover that what we say to dogs doesn’t seem to be rewarding to them after all.”
Published online in the journal Behavioral Processes, one part of the study had researchers observe 42 shelter and pet dogs as they interacted with two people in a room. One individual petted the dog, while the other use verbal praise. Wynne and his colleagues measured how much time canines chose to spend with each person they interacted with. The second half of the study involved 72 shelter and pet dogs placed individually in a room with a single person.
Shelter pooches were partnered with a stranger, while pet canines interacted with their owners. These interactions were recorded over eight three-minute sessions, and each meeting varied between petting, praising or both, as well as zero interaction with the dog. The ASU researchers found that canines showed more interest in people who petted them compared to praise. More surprisingly, the dogs showed no more interest in vocal praise than in having no interaction at all.
According to study co-author Erica Feuerbacher, M.S., assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, previous studies showed that dogs’ heart rates and blood pressure drop during petting. However, a combination of talking and petting can still benefit owners and canines alike during training sessions.
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Vetstreet explained that the way owners pet a dog can make all the difference in their interactions. Some petting tactics can send dogs running, while others will get their tails wagging and heads drooped in your lap. This is especially important when approaching a new dog that you might be adopting into your home.
First, potential parents should start by waiting for the dog to initiate contact. If the pooch is lying down or running around, it’s best if you wait until he or she approaches you before trying to engage in petting. Instead of reaching out, coax the canine into making the first contact by squatting down to his or her level.
When dogs seem fearful or reserved, you should turn your body to the side to make yourself seem less threatening. This makes humans appear more inviting to interacting with the dog.
Friendly dogs will approach you with their ears slightly head back and tails out at a medium height with a wide, sweeping wag. If he or she initiates eye contact, it’s mostly an indication of friendliness and you can start reaching to pet the canine. It’s best to start slowly in areas that the dog is comfortable with, such as the shoulders or the base of the neck.
Where petting and verbal praise may fall short in improving your dog’s mood and attitude, there are certain dog food supplements that can be used to bolster their health – physical and mental. With a membership to PetPlus, canine parents have access to discounted medications and treatments that fortify their pooches’ well-being and enhances their personalities.