According to a new study, dogs associate their owner’s scent with happy thoughts. Essentially, a dog can smell the scent of someone they like and it causes a positive reaction in the area of a dog’s brain associated with pleasure.
Scientist and study leader Gregory Berns at Emory University in Atlanta likens the dogs’ reaction to the way a person reacts to the perfume or cologne of a loved one.
In the experiment, dogs were presented with five scents on gauze pads: a familiar human, an unfamiliar human, a dog who also lived in their household, an unfamiliar dog and their own scent.
Researchers gave the dogs MRIs and scanned how their brains reacted. What they found was that the dogs’ caudate nucleus was most activated by the scent of the familiar person. The caudate nucleus is the area of the brain associated with positive expectations.
The results suggest that humans’ smells linger in a dog’s mind and that they can associate the smells with positive reactions. The brain scans showed that dogs did not respond to the other four scents as strongly, although the dog who shared a home came in second.
“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,” said Gregory Berns, whose study appeared March 6 in the journal Behavioural Processes.
Said Berns, “To the critics out there, it’s always difficult to prove that an animal is feeling something like a human emotion – although I think they do.”