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Even Dogs Appreciate a Good Challenge!

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

You know that satisfying feeling you get when you complete a challenge–like a tough Sudoku, the Sunday crossword, or crossing the finish line?

Turns out, our dogs get that same feeling when they solve a problem.

Researchers in Sweden tested 12 beagles on their problem-solving prowess. They were taught how to solve three out of six different problems, earning rewards along the way. Then, they were put to the test on the problems they weren’t taught to solve.

As an aside for the curious, the rewards were food, socialization with a human, and socialization with other dogs… and the dogs showed preference for the rewards in that order, demonstrating again how powerful of a motivator food is for dogs!

What did the researchers discover?

While the dogs showed some frustration trying to figure out the problems they weren’t taught, the dogs were jazzed when they solved any of the problems and earned a reward.

Here’s the interesting piece: Even if they didn’t solve the problem, they would still earn a reward. The dogs showed–via painstaking counting of footsteps and tail wags–that they were more positive when they earned the reward for solving the problem rather than simply getting a freebie. The researchers liken this to the dogs’ own “Eureka!”

Victoria Stilwell covered the study on her blog and reported: “Solving a problem in order to achieve a reward seemed to make the dog feel better than solely the reward itself.”

You can read an in-depth analysis about the research in Psychology Today’s article, Do Dogs Have a “Eureka” Feeling When Solving Problems?


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