Dogs go gaga for scent of owners

2014-11-25 00:00

WHEN a dog smells its owner, its brain reacts in the same way a person’s brain does to perfume or cologne of a loved one.

This is the findings of a study by Gregory Berns, a ­neuroeconomist at Emory ­University in Atlanta.

He told National Geographic he had trained dogs to sit still during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which enabled him to study nerve cell activity.

His study of a dozen dogs was published in Elsevier ­Behavioural Processes in March this year.

Berns and his team performed fMRI on 12 dogs, ­including five guide dogs and his own dog, to test their ­response to biological odours.

The dogs sniffed gauze pads of five scents — the armpit smell a familiar human, that of an unfamiliar human, a dog that lived in their household, an unfamiliar dog, and their own scent.

National Geographic reports the dogs’ caudate nucleus, an area of the brain associated with positive expectations, lit up most when familiar person was smelt, followed by the scent of a familiar dog. None of the dogs responded in a similar manner to the other four scents.

Berns said scanning ­potential service dogs for enhanced brain responses may show which canines were best suited to the task. “Training service dogs is very expensive, he said, and only 30% to 40% of those trained are placed with a person.”

Overall, Berns believes the dogs experience something akin to pleasure when they smell their owners. “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,” he said.

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