If you had to choose between your favorite food or your favorite toy (we’re talking PlayStation or phone if your mind was in the gutter), which would you pick? If you said food, then you’re not alone in the animal kingdom – a new study has found that dogs show a preference for their favorite food over their favorite toy.
Dogs might love their toys, but researchers wanted to explore whether or not they were more inclined to choose them over food and as such, if they would make an effective training reward. The resulting study was the first of its kind. “I was surprised, but nobody’s looked at how dogs will work for toys versus food before,” said Nicole Dorey, study author, in a statement.
To answer their questions, the team recruited 10 pet dogs from the local area via social media advertisement and word-of-mouth. The dogs included a range of breeds and ages, from 11 months old all the way up to 8 years old.
The canine test subjects first had to pick their favorite food and toy. There were six of each on offer, with toys including a tennis ball, plastic bone, and stuffed animal. Food items included conventional treats, hotdogs, and cheese – “girl dinner”, anyone?
The favorites were then pitted against each other in a simulated training experience, in which either the food or toy item was offered as a reward. Out of the 10 dogs, nine responded more when food was the prize. They also found that, compared to a food reward, dogs gave up earlier when they were offered their favorite toy.
The results could be useful when it comes to training dogs. “Understanding a dog’s preferred reward can be essential for shaping behavior effectively,” stated the researchers in their conclusion. If you’d rather that preference be toward toys, they also suggest getting to grips with that during puppyhood.
“You can definitely train your dog with toys if you start really early,” Dorey said. “This is what’s done with search and rescue dogs, they start really early with toys as a reinforcer.”
The team also noted that another factor could be at play, with other studies having found that dogs might prefer human attention over food. “I think the next study should look at all three – attention, food, and toys – and what dogs really like best when training,” concluded Dorey.
In an equally scientific survey of the IFLScience team, only 40 percent of respondents said they’d choose their favorite food over their favorite toy, which included knitting needles and wool, phones, and gaming consoles.
What would you choose? Let us know in the comments.
The study is published in Animals.