Dogs Just Want to Be Pet! No Praise Required
Have you ever caught yourself praising your dog in an overly sweet voice, just to realize that he is blankly staring at you? Then, you reach out to pet him and suddenly you're the greatest thing on God's green Earth. New research has revealed that dogs really do prefer petting over praise, and experts explain why this is.
According to a study recently published in the journal Behavioral Process, researchers Erica Feuerbacher from the University of Florida and Clive Wynne from Arizona State University determined that, "without specific conditioning, human vocalizations are as meaningless for dogs as for cats."
That's right cat lovers. You too have been wasting your breath... sort of. In a past study, published in the journal Animal Cognition back in 2013, another pair of researchers found that while cats can recognize their owners based on voice patterns, they don't care if an owner is praising or scolding. Without positive or negative reinforcement tied to changes in an owner's voice, it is basically just noise.
For the recent canine study, Feuerbacher and Wynne ran two experiments involving shelter and owned dogs, which forced a total of 114 domesticated canines to choose between petting and praise. (Scroll to read on...)
For the first experiment, the dogs were simply offered to go to one of two people, both of whom were strangers to the animal. One person was offered the dog silent petting while the other offered vocal praise. After five minutes, the human participants swapped roles, or an owner was given a role. Amazingly, even when it was the owner offering the vocal praise, the dogs almost always preferred to spend time with the petter.
In the second expeiment, each dog was isolated in a room and then introduced to a stranger. In one scenario, the stranger alternated between petting and praising the dog, and in another scenario the stranger either pet or ignored the dog. The researchers wanted to see if the dogs learned to prefer these praisers, even when both strangers became associated with an equal amount of petting. This, however, didn't appeared to be the case.
The researchers explained to Companion Animal Psychology that petting is so important to dogs because it supports social behaviors they understand. However, in the case of praise, it is only liked by dogs after they learn to associate it with treats or even petting. In this way, domesticated canines are no different than cats.
However, as a cat owner myself, I will personally recommend NOT petting a feline for as long as you like. While the animals of the canine study (all selected as "social") seemed to NEVER get enough petting, cats are far more temperamental - suggesting that petting could have a different kind of social significance.
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