Animal IQ

The Smell Of Its Owner Can Ease A Dog's Separation Anxiety

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Leaving your dog at home alone can be one of the saddest moments of your day—that is, assuming you don't later come home to see that Fido's separation anxiety has made him destroy the couch. According to the ASPCA, one way to ease mild separation anxiety in your pet is through something called counterconditioning. Counterconditioning teaches a dog to develop an association between being alone and something good, like getting a treat or a toy. Or, if fMRI brain scans are any indication, something that smells like you.

For a 2015 study published in New Directions in Canine Behavior, researchers trained 12 dogs to lie still in an MRI machine. Then they presented the dogs with five different scents—that of a familiar human, a strange human, a familiar dog, a strange dog, and the dogs' own scent—and watched what parts of the dogs' brains had increased blood flow (a signal that there's a boost in activity). Specifically, they homed in on the caudate nucleus, the part of the brain associated with reward and positive expectations. This brain region was activated the most by the familiar human, more than by a familiar dog or even the dogs' own scent, which suggests that not only do dogs consider your scent extra special, it gives them a little jolt of positivity, making it a great way to encourage positive associations with time spent alone.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Cancer cells produce waste products that give off a noticeable odor for dogs. 01:21

  2. Dogs seem to be able to sense when someone's blood-sugar levels are low or about to drop dangerously. 03:11

  3. When afraid, humans sweat, produce adrenaline, and emit pheromones, all of which dogs are able to detect. 05:35

Written by Curiosity Staff November 4, 2016

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