Your dog doesn’t want you to just give him that treat, he wants to work for it. That’s the conclusion of a Swedish study that sought to discover which dogs like better—a reward freely given or one earned. The study was adapted from one that sought the same answer from cattle—and found they, too, seemed happier to earn their reward, reports Companion Animal Psychology, which explains how researchers figured this out. A dozen beagles were paired off, with one dog trained on how to manipulate three of six pieces of equipment (for instance, a dog piano they had to press to hear a note) and its partner dog trained on the other three. Then came the experiment. Every dog served, alternately, as both an experimental dog and a control.
When acting as the experimental dog, the beagle had to manipulate its equipment correctly to get to the gate to open—beyond which was one of three rewards: food, a human who would pet it, or another dog. When operating as a control, the gate automatically opened after the amount of time had passed that it took its partner dog to solve its puzzle. The researchers found that dogs who solved a puzzle to get a reward seemed happier, as evidenced by wagging tail, excitability, and eagerness. Also, the control dogs "grew reluctant" to enter the test room after two or three test runs. Peripheral find: The dogs desired the food over the other rewards. The conclusion? "Opportunities to solve problems, make decisions, and exercise cognitive skills are important to an animal’s emotional experiences and ultimately, its welfare." (Another recent study found that cat people and dog people really are different.)