Dog is love

Here is some more research about the emotions of animals. This time, there is evidence that dogs respond in an emotional way specifically when given the scent of the person they are familiar with. This stimulates a greater response than the scent of familiar and unfamiliar dogs, or unfamiliar people. So, not only do we love our dogs, they love us too!

Read about the research below.

Dogs DO love their owners: Scans reveal that canine brains respond ‘positively’ to the scent of their owners

  • Study trained 12 dogs to remain still without sedation in an MRI scanner
  • It looked at brain region named the caudate which is linked to rewards
  • In a dog brain, caudate is uniquely activated by scent of a familiar human
  • Region fails to activate when exposed to other dogs – even familiar ones
  • The research builds on a previous study which found dogs use the same part of the brain as humans to ‘feel’

By Ellie Zolfagharifard

Dogs have a sense of smell that is a thousand times better than that of humans.

And now a new study has harnessed this incredible sense to reveal the special place an owner has  in a dog’s heart.

Researchers have found key regions in a canine brain only light up when the animal is exposed to the smell of a human being that cares for it.

 
Researchers have found key regions in a canine brain only light up when the animal is exposed to the smell of a human being that cares for it

 
Their study, published in the Behavioural Processes, involved training a dozen dogs to remain motionless, while unsedated and unrestrained, in an MRI machine

Their study, published in the Behavioural Processes, involved training a dozen dogs to remain motionless, while unsedated and unrestrained, in an MRI machine.

WHAT MAKES A DOG’S NOSE SO SENSITIVE COMPARED TO HUMANS?

A human nose has six million sensory receptor sites, a sheepdog’s nose has 200 million and a beagle’s nose has 300 million. Next to them, we humans smell almost nothing.

And humans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our sense of smell.

A dog does. Its sniff begins with muscles in the nostrils straining to draw a current of air into them.

At the same time, the air already in the nose is pushed deeper inside or off through slits in the side, pulling yet more of the new scent in.

This action is markedly different from human sniffing, with its ‘in through one nostril hole, out through the same hole’ method.

Dogs are continually refreshing the scent in their nose, as though shifting their gaze to get a better look.

The researchers where then able to look at two areas of the dogs’ brains: the ‘olfactory bulb,’ which indicates the animal’s sense of smell has been activated, and the caudate.

According to previous studies, the caudate in other mammals, including humans, points to this region’s role in processing positive expectations such as social rewards.

While remaining motionless in the MRI scanner for around half an hour, the 12 dogs were exposed to five different smells.

The smells were from the dog itself; a different dog who resided in the same household; an unfamiliar dog; a familiar human; and a human the dog had never met.

The researchers found the olfactory bulb ‘was activated to a similar degree’ when the dog was exposed to each scent.

But the smell of the familiar human activated the caudate far more noticeably.

‘Not only did the dogs discriminate that scent from the others – they had a positive association with it,’ the researchers write.

‘This speaks to the power of the dog’s sense of smell, and it provides clues about the importance of humans in dogs’ lives.’

 
The research builds on a previous study by the same group which found dogs use the same part of the brain as humans to 'feel'

The research builds on a previous study by the same group which found dogs use the same part of the brain as humans to ‘feel’ 

 

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‘Although possible, we think this unlikely,’ the researchers write, ‘because most of the familiar humans were not the dogs’ primary caregivers.’

The research builds on a previous study by the same group which found dogs use the same part of the brain as humans to ‘feel’.

Professor Berns there was a striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.

The caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex and is rich in dopamine receptors.

In dogs, the research found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food.

‘Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate,’ said Berns.

Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.

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About transformational1

I have many interests and I have had a varied career. I am a semi-retired professional dog trainer, specialising in the use of positive reinforcement. I do some consultations, I run instructor workshops and I am setting up a Dogs and Psychotherapy Research Project. I have a law degree from Melbourne University (but have never practiced) and I am passionate about Human Rights. My first degree was in Sociology. I worked as a social researcher on issues such as low income housing, women's refuges and women in the workforce. I live in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and I have a German Shepherd called Chance.
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