Have you ever pondered the true impact of your petting on your furry friend? Wondered if your dog distinguishes your affection from that of a stranger? And what about praise – is it a sought-after reward for dogs? Prepare to be surprised.
In a study conducted by Erica N. Feuerbacher and Clive D. L. Wynne of the University of Florida, the researchers explored the dynamics of reinforcement in dogs from various breeds, including those in shelters and home environments (source: Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior). The findings were intriguing – petting emerged as a universal reinforcer for all dogs, and remarkably, they did not exhibit satiation from prolonged petting sessions.
Contrary to expectations, dogs with owners did not display a preference for their owner’s attention over that of a complete stranger when it came to petting. A somewhat heart-breaking revelation, isn’t it? 🙁
Another noteworthy discovery was that shelter dogs, often presumed to be more deprived of reinforcers, did not universally consider positive interactions, such as verbal praise, as a significant reinforcer. Surprisingly, verbal praise was deemed “equal in value” to no social interaction at all.
Why do these findings matter? They challenge assumptions and highlight the nuanced preferences dogs have in their interactions with us.
Practically speaking, recognizing that dogs, in general, may not find verbal praise as reinforcing as tactile contact can guide us in delivering what our dogs truly desire. While the study suggests verbal praise might be perceived as mere “noise” by dogs, it doesn’t negate the possibility of them learning to enjoy it. The key lies in associating verbal praise with a primary reinforcer, such as food or play, in a carefully timed manner.
Understanding your dog’s unique set of reinforcers is crucial. The more diverse the options, the easier it becomes to motivate your dog appropriately. For instance, if a dog isn’t inclined towards toys, fostering an enjoyment of play can offer an alternative motivator when food isn’t available or in specific situations.
Considering petting as a reinforcer also demands an acknowledgment of a dog’s past experiences. A dog not socialized with human contact early on may not find it inherently reinforcing and could even perceive it as aversive. A general rule of thumb is to respect a dog’s boundaries – only petting if the dog initiates contact and shows no signs of discomfort.
In conclusion, the study suggests incorporating petting more intentionally as a reinforcer for our own dogs and, when appropriate, for clients’ dogs. This, coupled with an understanding of varied motivators, ensures a positive and enriching relationship with our four-legged companions.