Study Reveals Dogs Prefer Petting Over Praise

As we all know, dogs like petting. But do they like petting  better than praise? Erica Feuerbacher, a fellow and doctoral candidate from the University of Florida, Department of Psychology and Dr. Clive Wynnne, professor from Arizona State University teamed up to answer this question. The researchers set up three experimental groups of dogs and then measured their reaction to various combinations of petting and/or vocal praise during eight, 3-minute sessions. The first group contained shelter dogs interacting with strangers. Owned dogs interacting with strangers made up the second group. The third group contained owned dogs interacting with their owners.

Although the characteristics of each group were different, the results were always the same. All of them preferred petting over praise. And what was really interesting, is that they never seemed to get enough petting. The researchers stated, “dogs did not show any sign of satiation with petting across all eight sessions.” My own uncontrolled study with my dog confirmed this result. He always wanted more, especially when I was scratching the area in front of his tail.

Now, how do we apply this information to our own dogs? When you want to reward your dog, pet them. During obedience training, I have heard trainers tell handlers to praise their dogs for good behavior. Petting was discouraged as it ” made the dog needy.” In my experience, dogs trained under this praise method do not learn as quickly as dogs who receive petting and an occasion treat. Instead of making the praise the reward, use it as a bridge to petting. Think clicker training. Remember, dogs are like humans. Positive reinforcement is better than negative.

If you would like to learn more about how dogs think, check out the Canine Cognition Lab at Florida State University. Here’s the link:


Feuerbacker EN & Wynne CD. Shut up and pet me! Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) prefer petting to vocal praise in concurrent and single-alternative choice procedures. Behav Processes, 2014 Aug 27.


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.