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Dogs Prefer Petting to Being Praised

A recent study ranks dogs' preference of petting over praise. By Claudia Bensimoun

Are we connecting with our dogs in the right way? In a recent study, Dr. Erica N. Feuerbacher from University of Florida and Dr. Clive Wynne from the Arizona State University, two canine cognition behaviorists and experts, examined what our furry best friends preferred most: petting or verbal praise. They also studied whether a stranger's touch had the same effect on dogs as being petted by their owners. In this study, shelter dogs, owned dogs with strangers, and owned dogs with their owners were tested during numerous sessions together. This study is published in Behavioral Processes. (

The two behaviorists worked at the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University to study 42 dogs of different breeds and mixes, as well as rescue dogs, to determine if the dogs prefer petting or praise. They also examined whether dogs preferred being petted by their owner or by strangers. 

Ember enjoys being petted by a Girl Scout Troop. Photo courtesy of Cindy Deak.

In the first part of the testing, both the researchers studied how individual dogs got along with two people in a room. The dog was petted by one person while another person praised the dog verbally. Both the researchers then compared the amount of time that each dog spent with each person.

In the other half of the study, 72 rescue and pet dogs were used to research petting and verbal praise response. In this case, one dog was walked into a room with one person inside. The rescue dogs had a stranger and the dogs' owners with them in the room. Here interactions between both the dog and person were studied and then recorded. This took place during three-minute increments, and took place over eight times.

Kitty loves being petted by Adam Keys. Photos courtesy of Courtney Keys.


The researchers found that dogs enjoyed being touched and petted much more than being praised verbally. Dr. Wynne, well known for his work on canine cognition at Arizona State University says that dogs seem to show more interest in the person touching them than in the person verbally praising or talking to them. Results demonstrate that dogs enjoy being petted regardless of who is doing the petting. Dr. Feuerbacher also mentioned in her research that dogs have a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure when petted. Nonetheless, research from a previous study does show that there is one thing that dogs do prefer: eating.

Kaimen Miller and Rucca share a hug. Photo courtesy of Kaimen Miller.

So next time you're thinking of rewarding your dog, try giving him a nice pat and treat instead of a "Good dog!"


Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer in West Palm Beach. 


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