Smells Trigger Emotions: how to make scents in the Dog Mindfulness Program

Mindfulness asks us to ground ourselves by tuning into our five senses. The four senses of seeing, hearing, touching, and tasting are first processed in the frontal lobe of the brain. They are responsible for higher-level mental processes. Smells, however, are much more likely to quickly trigger emotional responses than any other of the senses because smell is first processed in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.

Since smells are processed in the amygdala, this sense is much more likely to connect you to emotional memories than your other senses.  For example, smelling smoke may be paired with a memory of a kitchen fire you may have experienced in the past. Since then, every time you smell smoke you may automatically think back on the kitchen fire.

Pleasant scents can have a more immediate and profound relaxing effect than a visual image, for example, or a sound.  We can learn or condition ourselves to enjoy smells that others have found unpleasant.  For example, some people may enjoy the horse barn’s odor of manure because they associate it with a positive experience from childhood, maybe visiting a family horse farm.

Because the amygdala is recognized to be one of the areas of the brain that creates anxiety, you need to be mindful that your sense of smell can become a source of anxiety.

You can actually be proactive in creating opportunities to experience positive scents, and you can learn tips on how to do this from dogs, the super-powered sniffers.

As we observe dogs, we notice that they rely most on their ability to smell.  Dogs can smell anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans:

 People spend more time interpreting visual data than olfactory information. Dogs are just the opposite.Dogs devote lots of brain power to interpreting smells. They have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity as compared to 6 million in people, and the area of the canine brain devoted to analyzing odors is about 40 times larger than the comparable part of the human brain.

This powerful nose probably accounts for my dog, Honey, running away from a stinkbug!

Here are three ways to bring good scent into your life:

  1. Take your dog for a walk after a rain. Breathe in the scent of pines, flowers, sage. What do you smell?
  2. Take your dog to the ocean beach and smell the salt air.
  3. Find a park with fresh-cut grass for your dog to roll in. Lie down and take in the smell with your dog.

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