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New Study Shows You Are Your Dog’s Favorite Smell

Posted October 02, 2015 in A Vet's Life

Science is once again confirming what many dog lovers suspected: Our dogs know and love our smell. Research published online in the January 2015 journal Behavioral Processes by the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University, led by neuroscientist Gregory Berns, used advanced brain-imaging to prove dogs recognize our scent, even when we’re not around. Even more interesting is how the canine brains responded differently to the odor of other dogs and humans versus their own human family. As it turns out, you are the best smell for your dog.

Dog licking ownerAbout the study
Berns has been studying the thinking of dogs for several years. He gained fame for being the first person to successfully train dogs to remain still during brain imaging and is developing scientific methods for determining if a dog is a good candidate for military or therapy service. He also penned the fascinating “How Dogs Love Us” using the latest neuroscience to explore how dogs think and love.

His latest investigation involves canine cognition and olfaction. We’ve all experienced the powerful connection between a particular perfume and an emotion. Romance, home, work environments and foods all involve scents and provoke specific feelings and memories. Berns wanted to examine how a dog thinks when smelling, especially because much of their sensory information is derived from odor. He told Jennifer Viegas of Discovery News, “…since dogs are so much more olfactory than humans, their responses would likely be even more powerful than the ones we might have.”

According to the ScienceDirect website, where the study is posted, twelve dogs were used, all trained to remain completely still while undergoing an MRI. As the dogs’ brains were scanned, they were presented with five different scent smells:

  • The dog’s own scent
  • An unknown dog
  • A dog that lived with them
  • An unknown human
  • A known human that lived with them

Because the source of the smell wasn’t present during the testing, the study would also demonstrate sensory memory in dogs. The scents were obtained from highly odiferous body parts: the rear and genital areas of the dogs and the armpits of the humans. In addition, according to Viegas, participants were banned from bathing or using deodorant for 24 hours prior to sampling (pretty smelly science).

See more of: 5 Discoveries That Changed What We Knew about Pets in 2015 >>

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.