Science project

Praise Versus Food

The purpose of this experiment is to see if rewarding wanted behaviors is best achieved through praise or a food reward. Most dogs want to please the humans in their lives and this experiment is designed to determine whether this instinct is as strong or stronger than the desire to receive a food reward.

Research Questions:

  • What are some of the modern theories on animal training?
  • Why do dogs desire to please their human companions?
  • What aspect of wolf behavior does this desire to please stem from?
  • How was clicker training developed?

In the past, performing animals were trained through food rewards that reinforced desirable behaviors and physical punishment that dissuaded an animal from performing undesirable ones. Though there are still many people who train their animals in this way, studies have shown that there are more effective ways to teach an animal which behaviors we want them to show. While food rewards are still commonly used, many trainers have switched to “clicker-training” because too many food rewards can lead to obesity in animals. The animal learns to associate a click from a clicker with having a positive experience (such as receiving either food or praise) and begins to repeat actions for which it has received a click. Dogs are particularly responsive to human praise and can be trained using only this. If the animal’s instinct to please is as high as we believe it to be, praise may be as effective a training tool as food rewards or clicker training


  • 2 or 4 dogs—these could be your own or a friend’s. If you are experimenting with your friends’ pets, make sure your friend is present to help you observe the animals’ behaviors.
  • Dog treats

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Select dogs that are adults and that have received little training.
  2. Choose a simple trick or skill to begin with that none of your experiment dogs know. While “sit” is an obvious first choice, many dogs will already know this command. “Lie down,” “Speak,” and “Shake” are good places to begin.
  3. Train each of the dogs separately.
  4. With the first dog, dog A, teach the simple trick and give the dog a food reward when it successfully completes the task.
  5. Stop after 15 minutes and take a 30 minute break.
  6. Make some observation notes, including the number of times you asked the dog to perform the trick and the number of times it performed it successfully. Remember that it often takes at least a few training sessions to teach a new skill.
  7. With the second dog, dog B, teach the simple trick and praise the dog by petting it and telling it that it is a good dog.
  8. Stop after 15 minutes and take a 30 minute break.
  9. Make some observation notes, including the number of times you asked the dog to perform the trick and the number of times it performed it successfully.
  10. You can complete a second training session for each dog after the 30 minute break. Use the same method you did the previous time for each dog.
  11. Record observation notes as before.
  12. Stop for the day after 3 sessions.
  13. Repeat training sessions as needed until both dogs perform the skill whenever asked.
  14. If you are experimenting with four dogs, train dogs C and D as A and B, with one receiving a food reward and one receiving praise.
  15. Use a chart to compare the results of training.
  16. Teach a second simple skill to the dogs but this time reverse which animal receives a food reward and which receives praise. This way, you can control for the individual animals’ differing intelligences.
  17. Fill out a second chart to compare the results. 

Note: the more tests you perform the more accurate your results will be. If you have time, and you have taught a few simple tricks, you can more on to more complex behaviors such and “Roll over,” “Stay,” and “Play Dead.”

Session 1
# of requests
# of successes
Time in training
Dog A (food)
Dog B
Session 2
# of requests
# of successes
Time in training
Dog A (food)
Dog B

Terms/Concepts: Conditioning; Animal behavior; Training; Clicker training;Reward


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