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Study Finds Dogs Prefer Physical Contact Over Verbal Praise

Ever wonder what kind of praise is most important to your dog? All dogs are different, some adore being petted and others will do anything for a bit of food. A recent study has compared dog’s reactions to both verbal and physical praise to see which one has more of an impact.


According to a recent research study, dogs may prefer being petted over verbal praise. The study was conducted by the University of Florida and looked at 42 dogs including a variety of rescue dogs and pet dogs. In the experiment these dogs were allowed to interact with two people at once, one giving physical contact as a reward and the other verbal praise. It was discovered during the study that this group of dogs clearly enjoyed physical contact more than verbal praise.


The study also found that dogs are only responsive to verbal praise once they are familiar with someones voice, in most cases, their owner. Co-author Dr Clive Wynne said ‘I spend half my day talking to my dog. 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.’


They included dogs with their owners and dogs with strangers in the experiment to see if there was a difference between the two, understandably, there was. They would not always respond to a strangers voice but they would be receptive to physical contact. Of course it is important to consider that these dogs are likely to have been selected because they were friendly and good with people.


The dogs in the experiment wanted to be closer to the experimenter when they were being petted. Whereas when they were given verbal praise, being close to the person in the room didn’t appear to be necessary. Another finding was that the dogs in the study didn’t seem to tire of being petted and having physical contact with the experimenter.


We have always known that stroking dogs increases the bond between a dog and their owner. It has benefits for both parties. For example, a dogs heart rate and blood pressure can be lowered when being stroked by a human. This has been demonstrated in previous studies and the results from this experiment examine the impact of physical contact on another level. The researchers claim, ‘Overall, petting seems to be an important interaction between dogs and humans that might maintain inter-specific social behavior but vocal praise likely has to be specifically conditioned.’

Other studies have been conducted testing whether dogs prefer to be petted or given food as a reward. It’s no surprise that most dogs prefer food. However, when only given the option of verbal praise or physical contact, and no option for a treat, dogs may prefer physical contact. It’s an interesting development and one that should be looked into further to determine its validity. These fascinating experiments help us to understand our canine companions better. Watch this space for more experiments looking at petting versus verbal praise.


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