Dog Scents: Your Dog Knows Your Smell, Even From Afar

Lets talk dog scents. Dogs love to sniff around. It is a major part of how they experience their surroundings; but did you know that your dog could probably pick your scent out of a lineup, even when you aren’t around?

In a recent study, piggybacking on recent developments in getting dogs to sit still for an MRI scan, 12 dogs were put through an MRI and presented with a sampling of different smells. Their brain patterns were recorded and analysed, helping to determine what type of scent produced the strongest response.

The Study

Each dog, once inside the machine, was made to smell five different scents: their own odor, an unknown dog, a dog they know, a person they don’t know, and a human member of their household. The study made sure to choose a member of the household that was not present during the study, since each dog required a handler throughout the study, and it would have skewed the results if the scent came from a person with whom they had recently interacted.

The results of the study were not far off base of what was hypothesized — each scent evoked a similar response, with familiar odors causing a stronger reaction. There were, however, a few details that surprised the researchers.

While nobody was surprised that the dogs had a stronger response to familiar scents, the fact that they only displayed a positive reaction to familiar people was a bit of a shock. One would have assumed that the scent of a familiar dog would be cause for joy as well, yet it seems that positive association is a response reserved for their people. Also, this positive association to familiar human scents drastically increased in those that were trained service dogs.

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The conclusion

This study confirms the belief that dogs are capable of remembering smells that they are familiar with, both human and canine, and that they draw a stronger connection with the people they live with than other members of their own species.

For the researchers, this study provided some useful insight. “Dogs play many important roles in military operations. By understanding how dogs’ brains work, we hope to find better methods to select and train them for these roles,” said project leader Gregory Berns.

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So, while this study gives us the warm fuzzies — confirming that our dogs love us and miss us —  for the researchers, this added insight into what triggers the strongest response in the doggy brain will help to pinpoint the best ways to train a service dog.

View more from Sam Bourne

What do you think? Why might our dogs respond strongly to our scent? Leave us a comment below!

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4 Comments

  1. 1

    It would be interesting to see the dog’s reaction to the scent of a dog they live with (not just a dog they are familiar with). If dogs see the humans they live with as their ‘pack’, they may be hardwired to have a powerful association with any species (human, dog, or even cat) that they live with. The pack is essential to canine survival, so pack members would necessarily have strong connections to each other.

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