Why Dogs Prefer To Earn Treats?

Most people who newly welcome a dog into their home, tend to train it using treats. If the dog obeys the given orders and behaves, it gets treats and therefore, is more eager to listen to what it’s being told to do. However, treats are not just given in the phase of training a dog and then cut off. Dogs are like children, they constantly want to be reminded that they are loved and thought of, and giving them a treat every once in a while not only makes them feel your affection and appreciation, but it also makes them feel proud and good about themselves.

The fact is, a Swedish study has come to the conclusion that dogs much prefer to earn their treats, rather them being handed over as a given. If you happen to just gift your dog a treat or two, you might want to consider having it do a trick or give a handshake before handing the goods over to it.

How the research was performed

The study was led by Dr. Ragen Mcgowan and some colleagues at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden.

The team paired 12 dogs into 6 different groups. Each group consisted of two dogs, all dogs who took part in the experiment were the same breed; Beagles. Each pair had one dog who learned how to use three tools and another who learned three different tools. Those included a variety of activities like pressing a piano key, ringing a bell, pushing a doorknob, etc.

A week after dividing the groups and teaching each dog their own tasks, the team brought in one of the experimental dogs and presented them with the three tasks they have learned. The dog had to complete the given tasks within the timespan of five minutes and was then presented with three different rewards to choose from: a treat, human contact or some play time with another dog.

That’s when the control dog plays its part in the experiment. It has not been trained on those particular tasks, but enters the room regardless and therefore, could not successfully complete any of the given tasks. However, they were still given a reward regardless of how they performed.

The researchers repeated the process several times. After observing the repeated actions several times, the team came to the conclusion that the experimental dogs who were able to successfully complete their tasks showed more excitement to return to the room than those who simply received their treat without exerting much effort.


Like little kids who start being able to put their hair up in a ponytail, or manage to color a page in a sketchbook without crossing the lines of a drawing, dogs too tend to feel pride over their small accomplishments. They are positively affected by the satisfactory feeling of having achieved a task or solved a problem.

Another key as to why the dogs seem to enjoy earning their rewards is control. They do, after all, descend from the mighty wolves, and being able to get their awards because they worked for them is that they can control their access to said rewards. The study concluded that these loving creatures enjoy making decisions and solving problems just as much as we humans do.

How to apply the research results in your dog’s routine

A fun idea to boost your dog’s sense of pride and make them all the more euphoric about getting a treat would be placing the treat in a food dispenser. That way, they’ll have to do a little trick to receive it and therefore, be all the happier when they actually get to munch on it.

We’ve talked about the extreme importance of including mental stimulation to your dog’s everyday activities in previous articles. The reason this subject keeps coming up time and again is the fact that dogs were domesticated long ago to work alongside us and help us. Being a pet dog means you don’t have to worry about finding a shelter, love or attention nor, of course, getting regular meals.

Through that, they no longer use their natural food searching abilities, like scavenging or hunting. They might bark every once in a while to alarm us from “danger,” but their natural wilderness survival senses don’t often get a chance to be used. Allowing your dog to work for their food or their treats or their playtime is basically enriching their minds, keeping them busy and giving them the opportunity to solve a problem and thereby boosting their intelligence.