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

Erica N. Feuerbacher, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-129
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012
Externally publishedYes



  • Canis lupus
  • Dogs
  • Food reinforcement
  • Social reinforcement
  • Wolves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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