Stressed out? Your dog may feel it too, study suggests

For the study, Swedish researchers focused on 58 people who own border collies or Shetland sheepdogs

When dog owners go through a stressful period, they’re not alone in feeling the pressure — their dogs feel it too, a new study suggests.

Dog owners experiencing long bouts of stress can transfer it to their dogs, scientists report in a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

WATCH: B.C. university throws retirement part for on-campus therapy dog

The Swedish researchers focused on 58 people who own border collies or Shetland sheepdogs. They examined hair from the dog owners and their dogs, looking at the concentrations of a hormone called cortisol, a chemical released into the bloodstream and absorbed by hair follicles in response to stress.

Depression, excessive physical exercise and unemployment are just a few examples of stress that can influence the amount of cortisol found in your hair, said Lina Roth of Linkoping University in Sweden.

Roth and her team found that the patterns of cortisol levels in the hair of dog owners closely matched that found in their dogs in both winter and summer months, indicating their stress levels were in sync.

She thinks the owners are influencing the dogs rather than the other way around because several human personality traits appear to affect canine cortisol levels.

The researchers don’t know what causes the synchronization in cortisol levels between humans and their pups. But a hint might lie in the fact that the link is stronger with competitive dogs than in pet pooches.

The bond formed between owner and competitive dogs during training may increase the canines’ emotional reliance on their owners, she said. That in turn could increase the degree of synchronization.

But why do people influence their dogs rather than vice versa? Perhaps people are “a more central part of the dog’s life, whereas we humans also have other social networks,” Roth said in an email.

The study results are no surprise, said Alicia Buttner, director of animal behaviour with the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha.

“New evidence is continually emerging, showing that people and their dogs have incredibly close bonds that resemble the ones that parents share with their children,” she said in an email.

But she said there isn’t enough evidence to assume that the influence goes only one way; it may go both ways.

“It’s not just as simple as owner gets stressed, dog gets stressed,” she said.

Many other factors could affect a person or dog’s stress levels and possibly even dampen them, she said.

Buttner said cortisol levels don’t necessarily indicate “bad” stress. They instead can indicate a good experience like getting ready to go for a walk, she said.

Roth and her team plan to investigate whether other dog breeds will react to their owners the same way.

In the meantime, she offered advice to minimize how much stress dog owners may be causing their pets. Dogs that play more show fewer signs of being stressed, she said.

So “just be with your dog and have fun,” Roth said.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Jeremy Rehm, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

House arrest for Vernon physiotherapist guilty of sexual assault

Stephen Witvoet to serve 18-month conditional sentencing following July 8 hearing

Bike parks open at Vernon’s SilverStar Mountain Resort

The resort is also reopening spa, rental, retail and some restaurant services

Classical music festival going ahead in Vernon, Kelowna

The fifth annual Vernon Proms Classical Music Festival has modified programming to keep people safe

COVID-19: Fundraiser launched to keep Vernon restaurant afloat

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Little Tex Restaurant with a goal of $25,000

North Okanagan relatives to sleep outside for homeless youth

Sisters-in-law Kiley Routley and Heidi Routley raising funds, awareness for Covenant House Vancouver

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Kootnekoff: B.C. Supreme Court rules clause in Uber’s contract is invalid

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years.

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Pure magic: live performances revived in Revelstoke

Revelstoke Arts Council hosting Guerrilla Gigs on Wednesdays all summer long

Penticton photographer publishes book showcasing resilience of Okanagan people

Okanagan Strong showcases the bravery of many during crisis; from COVID-19, to floods, and fires

Summerland steam train to begin operations

Reduced schedule, physical distancing planned for Kettle Valley Steam Railway beginning July 18

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Kelowna woman shares story of alleged dog attack

Resident Yuli Lavigne alleges the incident happened on Monday, July 6

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

Most Read