New research shows that most dogs actually prefer affection over food. Affection included both verbal affirmation and physical touch like petting or a belly rub. This research is particularly interesting in light of the multitude of traits shared by canines and humans.

As published by Science of Us, a study in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal reports on the results of fMRI brain scans of 15 dogs being praised by their owners or fed a piece of hot dog. A total of 13 of the 15 dogs (87%) showed activity in the area of the brain responsible for reward and decision-making equal to or greater when praised as opposed to being fed. In a second experiment the dogs were sent through a simple maze with their owners at one end and a bowl of food at the other. Most of the dogs chose their owners. The two dogs that selected the food over their owners were the same ones whose brain scans indicated a preference for food in the first test.

In addition to underscoring how much dogs value social interaction, the study also points out the practical implications beyond aiding owners understanding relative to training their pets. The team of research scientists involved in the study posits that using brain scans in determining preference could improve the methodology of assigning service jobs to working dogs. For example, therapy jobs that entail close human contact might be a better fit for dogs that respond best to praise. Dogs motivated by receiving a treat upon job completion might be better suited for independent jobs like search and rescue.