Preference Assessments: How To Easily Find Out Your Dog's Biggest Food Motivators

Contrary to popular belief, many of us know first hand that our dogs won't eat everything. In fact, some of our dogs can be ridiculously picky... Unless of course you own a LAB! (And who doesn't love a lab?!).



All jokes aside, figuring out our dog's biggest food motivators can be a huge help for training and enrichment, which is why I'm going to teach you how to give your dogs a Preference Assessment. But first, let's cover a few basics as to what these are, and how we can benefit from them!


What is a Preference Assessment?


To put it simply, a preference assessment is an activity, observation, or evaluation that allows us to determine a preference hierarchy. A preference hierarchy tells us what items or ingredients are the most preferred, moderately preferred, or least preferred. The highest valued or "most preferred" items can then be used as a positive reinforcer for the individual partaking in the assessment.


Effective use of preference assessment can promote an individual’s quality of life and self-determination, and identify positive reinforcers for use in teaching situations.

University of Manitoba.


To sum it all up, using preference assessments helps us learn what motivates our dogs, and teaches us what items bring them joy. In Reimer et al's study on reinforcers, they discovered that during training, dogs ran significantly faster for the higher quality food that they preferred. This suggests that ingredients and reinforcer preference can make a difference in both training and enrichment activities, as it increases your dog's motivation and drive to complete the task.


How to Put Together a Preference Assessment


Don't be scared, it's super simple! Here we'll be doing a MSWR (Multiple Stimuli Without Replacement) variation.


All you'll need:

  • Standard muffin tin.

  • Ingredients that your dog has had before*

**Tip: Ensure you use the same quantity of each ingredient. Having certain ingredients with less or more in their space may skew your results.



Watch me put together preference assessments for my dogs in this short clip:




Once Assembled, Serve!

Tip: Serve your preference assessment tin after a meal so that your dog isn't driven by hunger to make the closest choice.




Repetition for Accuracy

The best way to find concrete results when it comes to preference assessments is repetition. Repetition over time will help you have a better grasp on what items are your dog's highest value, as opposed to a few one time "flukes" that are bound to happen with any individual.



What did your dog go for first? Tag us in your preference assessments on Instagram!


Once you find out your preference hierarchy, you can begin building those preferences into some mentally stimulating games, such as these DIY Towel Puzzles!

Sources To Get You Thinking:

Preference Assessments | EBIP (vkcsites.org)

Introduction To Preference Assessment

Student Work | Preference assessments with shelter dogs

Assessing preference and reinforcer effectiveness in dogs

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