Dogs Love Owners Scent the Most, say Researchers

Dogs love their owners’ scent more than anything else in the world, including the smell of other humans or the odor of their best doggy friends. In fact, say researchers, owners’ scents are like the smell of sweet perfume to dogs…smelling their owners’ is like getting a great, big treat–something they like even more than the smell of their doggy friends’ butts.  Woof!


Scent of the familiar: You may linger like perfume in your dog’s brain


Synopsis:  An area of the canine brain associated with reward responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than it does to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs. This is among the first brain-imaging studies of dogs responding to biological odors. When humans smell the perfume or cologne of someone they love, they may have a similar immediate, emotional reaction that’s not necessarily cognitive.


Study highlights:

-Olfaction is believed to be dogs’ most powerful and perhaps important sense and an obvious place to begin for the study of social cognition of conspecifics and humans.

-Researchers focused the analysis on the dog’s caudate nucleus because of its well-known association with positive expectations and because of its clearly defined anatomical location.

-Researchers hypothesized that if dogs’ primary association to reward, whether it is based on food or social bonds, is to humans, then the human scents would activate the caudate more than the conspecific scents.

-An fMRI was performed in 12 awake, unrestrained dogs.

• Dogs were presented five scents: (1) familiar human; (2) strange human; (3) familiar dog; (4) strange dog; (5) self.

-On average, all scents activated olfactory bulb.

•Only scents of the “familiar human” activated caudate nucleus.

•Study results suggests reward–response is reserved for familiar humans over conspecifics.

-The caudate activation suggested that not only did the dogs discriminate that scent from the others, they had a positive association with it.



Read a synopsis of the study here.


Read the full study here.

Journal reference: Gregory S. Berns, Andrew M. Brooks, Mark Spivak. 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