Reward sensitivity in dogs – risk factor for addictive behaviour and key to trainability varied reinforcement in pet dogs

Period: 2018 - 2021
Principal Investigator: Stefanie Riemer
Project Team: Hanno Würbel
Alja Mazzini (PhD student)
Federico Monteleone (Master student)
Katja Senn (Master student)
Annina Hirschi (Master student)
Sarah Bütler (BSc student, graduation 2017)
Funded by: SNF Ambizione PZ00P3_174221

Reward sensitivity comprises reactions to reward directly, as well as reactions to reward predictive cues. In dogs, reward sensitivity has been little investigated; however, it can be predicted to be an important factor influencing trainability. In humans and rats, individual differences in this trait have been found to be associated with impulsive behaviour, propensity for frustration, and risk of addiction.

Also some dogs show addictive-like behaviours towards ball toys or other fast moving toy objects, often associated with high arousal levels, impulsivity and a lack of interest in other environmental or social stimuli.

The relationship between reward sensitivity, different cognitive factors and trainability is investigated in a sample of pet and working dogs through several behavioural tests, concomitant physiological measures, and questionnaires to assess the external validity of tests and to explore environmental factors of influence.


Bremhorst, A., Bütler, S., Würbel, H., & Riemer, S. (2018). Incentive motivation in pet dogs–preference for constant vs varied food rewards. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 9756.