Relative efficacy of human social interaction and food as reinforcers for domestic dogs and hand-reared wolves

J Exp Anal Behav. 2012 Jul;98(1):105-29. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2012.98-105.


Despite the intimate relationship dogs share with humans in Western society, we know relatively little about the variables that produce and maintain dog social behavior towards humans. One possibility is that human social interaction is itself a reinforcer for dog behavior. As an initial assessment of the variables that might maintain dog social behavior, we compared the relative efficacy of brief human social interaction to a small piece of food as a reinforcer for an arbitrary response (nose touch). We investigated this in three populations of canids: shelter dogs, owned dogs, and hand-reared wolves. Across all three canid populations, brief social interaction was a relatively ineffective reinforcer compared to food for most canids, producing lower responding and longer latencies than food.

Keywords: Canis lupus; dogs; food reinforcement; social reinforcement; wolves.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Female
  • Human-Animal Bond
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior*
  • Wolves / psychology*