The University of Florida has carried out a study that found that pooches prefer a pat on the head rather than verbal praise.

For some time it has been known that dogs respond to the human voice and like to be stroked and patted. Any owner will tell you that their pet responds with pleasure to both, which they can tell from their body language. However, researchers at the university wanted to know more about how canines interact with humans, so they set up a study to determine the form of interaction that dogs preferred.

Dr Erica Feuerbacher led the study, with Dr Clive Wynne of Arizona State University co-authoring. Shelter dogs, as well as pets, were included in the study, with mutts of all ages taking part, including puppies. Owners and people who were complete strangers to the dogs were asked to interact with canines from a number of groups in a controlled way.

Across all sample groups, the preference was for petting. Interestingly, it did not matter whether the person petting them was their owner or a stranger.

When it came to vocal praise, the dogs did distinguish between their owner and a stranger. Spoken approval from an owner did produce a positive response in most pooches, but when a stranger praised them vocally most dogs did not respond positively.

When both forms of praise were made available to the hound, they usually turned to the person who petted them. They sought out that individual and spent more time in close proximity to them, which was not the case when only vocal interaction was offered.