A new study has shown that dogs experience greater levels of happiness when they earn a reward in exchange for performing a task, compared to when they are simply handed a treat.
The study was undertaken by the team at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Sweden. The team used six matched pairs of beagles and put them through a series of tests. Each of the twelve dogs was trained to use three out of six different pieces of equipment, with their corresponding ‘match’ using the other three to the first.
The dogs were then taken to a space that contained all six pieces of equipment. One of the matched pair would go and complete a task on the equipment they’d been trained to use, and given a treat once they had completed the task. The other of their pair was given a treat when their partner completed the task, irrespective of how they, themselves, had completed the task.
The researchers noted that the first group of dogs (experimental group), who completed the task before being rewarded, were much more excited about doing the task and about the prospect of doing the task itself, than the ones who were rewarded regardless.
The dogs who were rewarded regardless (the control group) showed actual reluctance to collect their treat without having completed their task.
Whilst the experimental dogs showed signs of excitement, the control group showed frustration in response to the unpredictability of the situation. They observed control dogs chewing the equipment and pawing at it, not understanding the connection between the task and the reward.
The results of the study suggest that dogs enjoy problem solving as much as we humans do. They would rather be rewarded in exchange for solving a problem than be rewarded for no reason. The team attributed the excitement in the performing dogs to the opportunity they had to control access to their reward.
As a result of these findings, we wonder how we can apply more problem-solving to our own dogs’ lives.
There are a lot of games you can play with a dog that involve them having to work in exchange for treats. Even a simple game of fetch provides dogs with the opportunity for reward in exchange for work.
There are also toys on the market that require your dog to work for his treat. These include hollow cone-shaped rubber toys that can be filled with treats, such as peanut butter. The dog then has to learn what ways work for getting the treat from inside.
Training your dog to perform various actions in exchange for treats is an excellent way to give them the challenge they crave.
In addition to all the fun they have, and the pleasure in rewards they earn, this kind of activity is good for dogs’ health. Keeping the brain active promotes good brain health into old age, and prevents loss of cognitive function over time.
The bottom line: if you really want to treat your dog, make them work for it.