You are your dog’s favorite smell.

In 2015, science confirmed that our dogs actually really love our smell.

In January 2015, research published in the Behavioral Processes by the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University used brain-imaging techniques to prove that dogs can recognize our scent. What they also found in this study was how dog’s brains respond differently to the odor of other dogs and humans to the odor of their own human family. They found that you are actually your dog’s favorite smell.

About the study

The 2015 study was led by the neuroscientist called Gregory Berns. He has been studying how dogs think for several years. He was the first person to train dogs to remain still to be able to do brain imaging – which is a feat in its own right. He is currently developing methods to determine whether a dog is a good candidate for military or therapy service. He has also written a book that explores how dogs think and love.

His study of 2015 specifically investigated canine cognition (thinking) and olfaction (smelling). Us as humans connect a specific emotion to a specific smell. Specific smells tend to take us back to a specific memory or emotion. Berns examined if and how a do thinks and feels when they smell a specific scent. Most of dog’s sensory information is derived from odor.

He once said “…since dogs are so much more olfactory than humans, their responses would likely be even more powerful than the ones we might have”.

In Berns’s 2015 study, he used twelve dogs which he trained to remain still during an MRI. When the dog’s brains were scanned, they were presented with different smells that included their own scent, and unknown dog’s scent, a dog’s scent that has previously lived with them, an unknown human’s scent, and their human’s scent that lived with them.

The actual source of the different scents weren’t present during the study, but this showed the sensory memory in dogs.

But where did Berns “catch” these scents? He obtained the scents from highly odiferous body parts that included the rear and genital areas of dogs and the armpits of humans. Human participants were banned from taking a bath or using deodorant for at least 24 hours before the sampling of the scents.


All five scents led to activity in the dog’s brain that was linked with a positive expectation. This showed that the dogs did have some kind of recollection and association with each scent.

Responses in the caudate nucleus, where the strongest emotional responses originate, were for the scents of their human or the human that they lived with. This response was also for dogs that these “study dogs” lived with, but not as strong. Dogs, therefore, favor familiar scents.

These results might be due to genetics. Service dogs are specifically selected due to specific traits and abilities, but it may also be due to stronger bonds that develop between the dog and the human during a prolonged time of exposure and training. He also suggested that more human interaction might even lead to more positive feelings.

Berns summarized his findings: “Not only did the dogs discriminate the familiar human scent from the others, they had a positive association with it. While we might expect that dogs should be highly tuned to the smell of other dogs, it seems that the ‘reward response’ is reserved for their humans. Whether this is based on food, play, innate genetic predisposition or something else remains an area for future investigation.”

In other words, dogs with human parents, prefer their human parents smell over the smell of other dogs.

What to expect in the future

Studies like that of Berns will help to better select service dogs as well as a dog in the line of work that detect explosives and work in military and police settings. Companion dogs for physically- or emotionally-challened humans can also be better selected.

This selection process has always been expensive. It has always been a problem that some dogs get half-way through training, but then the trainers realize that specific dog is not suited for the job. Precious resources and time have then been wasted.

Berns suggest brain-scanning puppies may help to choose the best suited dogs for the job.

“By understanding how dog’s brains work, we hope to find better methods to select and train them for these roles.” – Berns.

Me and my Siberian Husky, Meeka.

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