Nose leads straight to pets’ hearts

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

Local columnist

Sometimes it’s natural to wonder what they see in us.
Perhaps we are nothing more than animate vending machines, back scratchers, play buddies and comfort givers – valuable things to have if you’re a dog trying to make it in the modern world.

But if you ever had doubts that your dog feels good about you, worry no more — the nose knows.
Yep, that’s right, the schnoz of the dog appears to be the key to their hearts.
We already know that dogs have super powerful noses, superior to ours by more than 40 times.

Their keen abilities to detect the undetectable have been harnessed by mankind for a long list of uses including finding lost people and items, contraband, valuable commodities, detecting cancer and much more.
With up to 300 million smell receptors compared to our measly 5 million, it is said dogs can pick out a hint of chemical diluted a trillion times in water and can find something that has been buried under 40 feet of dirt.

More than detecting things, however, their noses also appear to trigger their emotions.
The purpose was to try and discern if dogs had a stronger response to other dogs over humans, but team of U.S. neurology researchers discovered a little more when they looked at how a pooch’s brain responds to familiar smells.

What they also discovered was that there is a specific reaction within a dog’s brain when they smell their human, according to the February study.
Dogs were exposed to a range of scents – a familiar human, a familiar dog, a strange human, a strange dog and their own scent — while undergoing MRI’s and the activity of their brains was evaluated to see how they processed what they smelled.

What the researchers discovered was that the dogs responded more when presented with the familiar smell of their humans, but more importantly, it was the area of the brain that responded.
The increased brain activity of the dogs was focused in an area of the brain called the caudate, which processes positive social expectations, including the expectation of reward, which causes a release of dopamine, a hormone responsible for reward and pleasure.

Likewise, they found increased activity in another area of the brain known for processing bodily sensations including taste and empathy.
The findings show that dogs definitely associate smells with relationships and social interactions, and that the smell of their person kicks off a reaction in the brain that is tied to their emotional perceptions.

The researchers even acknowledged that though their study found a connection between the smell of a familiar human and reward expectation, it did not delve into the type or quality of relationships the dogs had with those familiar humans.
In other words, it could have simply been the brain sending out the alert that, “Hey! I smell the food guy!”

As such, the team identified their results as a beginning in trying to understand how smells work on the minds and hearts of pooches. What those positive expectations mean and what happens with them have yet to be determined.
Either way, the study did accomplish what it set out to do – humans win. Dogs look to us over their own kind when it comes to positive social and reward expectations.

And to build a positive expectation that lights up the brain at the hint of one’s smell speaks for itself.
People are obviously doing something right.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: