Your dog probably prefers food to toys

In a head-to-head experiment simulating a training experience, most dogs responded more strongly to an edible reward over a toy. (Credit: Getty Images)

Dogs prefer food over toys, according to a new study that suggests man’s best friend is as treat-obsessed as we all thought.

As reported in the study in the journal Animals, nine out of 10 dogs chose food over toys. The study allowed dogs to pick their favorite snack and favorite toy, then put them head to head in an experiment simulating a training experience. Most dogs responded more strongly to the edible reward.

“I was surprised, but nobody’s looked at how dogs will work for toys versus food before,” says Nicole Dorey, a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Florida.

The researchers recruited 10 pet dogs from the local area. Each dog was shown six food items—including treats, cheese, carrots, and hot dogs—and six toys, such as a tennis ball, a squeak toy, a plastic bone, or a stuffed animal. Each dog then had a chance to choose their favorite snack and favorite toy.

In another set of experiments, the dogs had to work harder and harder for their reward. Most dogs gave up earlier when offered a preferred toy reward than when given their favorite treat.

Other studies have shown that dogs might prefer human attention to food.

“I think the next study should look at all three—attention, food, and toys—and what dogs really like best when training,” Dorey says.

Some dog trainers suggest using toys instead of food in training to avoid excess calories and to make the experience more fun for the dog. If dog owners want to follow this advice, the key is to not have toys competing with food, the researchers say.

“You can definitely train your dog with toys if you start really early,” Dorey says. “This is what’s done with search and rescue dogs, they start really early with toys as a reinforcer.”

Additional coauthors are from Johns Hopkins University, and the Florida Institute of Technology.

Source: University of Florida