You probably already know your dog is happy to be around you. They’re pretty good at showing it. Your behavior towards your dog is what matters most. But once they feel secure in your presence, your scent makes dogs feel safe.
The research on scent making dogs feel safe
Have you ever smelled a scent that reminded you of someone (perfume, for example) and had it stir your emotions?
Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University, performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on dogs (don’t worry, he taught them to sit still).
“We started the dog project about three years ago to get around this problem that we really don’t know what dogs are thinking or what they’re experiencing,” Berns said, according to National Geographic (cited below).
The goal was to see the activity of the brain’s nerve cells in order to get a hint of what they might be thinking. Of course, there’s a lot of interpretation to do to turn those images into ideas about doggy feelings. But they studied the part of the brain that is associated with reward.
According to NatGeo: “In the new study, Berns and his team performed fMRI on 12 dogs, including 5 service or therapy dogs and his own dog, Callie, to test their response to biological odors. The experiment dogs were presented with five scents on gauze pads: a familiar human, an unfamiliar human, a dog that lived in their household, an unfamiliar dog, and their own scent. The researchers found that the dogs’ caudate nucleus, an area of the brain associated with positive expectations, was most activated by the scent of the familiar person.”
The scent of a dog owner
The results suggested that dogs can pick out their owner’s familiar scent, AND it tends to produce a positive reaction that shows up in the reward center of the brain.
The dogs didn’t react to the other scents in any way that would indicate they had an emotional reaction to them.
While this is sweet and all, the research will be beneficial for service animals.
“What’s more, scanning potential service dogs for enhanced brain responses may pinpoint canines that are most up to the task. Training service dogs is very expensive, he said, and only 30 to 40 percent of those trained are placed with a person. Overall, Berns believes the dogs experience something akin to pleasure when they smell their owners.” — WTF fun facts