Get a Whiff of This

November 3, 2014 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

Here is an exciting new fact for dog lovers: your scent activates the pleasure centers in your dog’s brain. A recent study used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to look at the areas of the brain that are associated with reward and pleasure in 12 canines of various breeds. This type of imaging measures the activity of the brain’s nerve cells.


Gregory Berns, at Emory University, trained the dogs to sit perfectly still for the fMRI in order to measure the dogs’ response to different biological odors. The five scents were presented to the canines on gauze pads and were from a familiar human, an unfamiliar human, a familiar dog, an unfamiliar dog, and themselves. The research shows that the area of the brain related to positive responses and pleasure was triggered most by the scent of a familiar person. In addition to the pups being able to recognize the scent of their owner or another well-known human, the study demonstrates that, while the people were not physically present, they were still on their pet’s mind. The fMRI scans show that the familiar dog smell had the next highest brain response, but the other scents did not invoke a significant reaction.


This study is further confirmation of the power of the canine sense of smell and the importance of humans in the lives of their dogs.


Source: Berns G, Brooks A, Spivak M. Scent of the familiar: an fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors. Behavioural Processes, 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.02.011.

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