Things are going badly at work, your youngster is in trouble at school and you are livid that the fitter who is supposed to be installing your new kitchen hasn’t turned up. Your stress levels are rising and the tension in the air is palpable. When you are feeling stressed to the max, your dog might be providing a useful antidote, but did you know that your pooch could be feeling stressed too – and because of you?
New research into canine stress
A new study has become the first to demonstrate that dogs can sense their owners’ stress and then become tense themselves. When everything has gone to pot, spare a thought for your pet because they might be feeling just as bad as you without really knowing why. Scientists have discovered that when cortisol levels rise in humans, their higher levels are matched by raised levels in their pets.
The study conducted by Linköping University looked at cortisol, a stress hormone which leaves deposits in strands of hair. The hormone binds itself to hair over time, creating a biological record of the stress an individual has experienced.
58 dogs studied
Featuring 25 border collies, 33 Shetland sheepdogs, and the animals’ female owners, the study revealed that higher cortisol levels in human hair was matched by raised levels of the hormone in canine hairs. The cortisol levels were monitored across the seasons and while there was always a link between the levels in owners and their dogs, the canines’ hormone levels remained higher in winter.
Lifestyle factors and canine stress
Half of the dogs which were included in the study were enrolled in regular training programmes and competitions which tested obedience and agility. The remaining dogs were merely companion pets. Those which were involved with the training and competitions tended to mirror their owners’ hormone levels more closely. This was believed to be the result of those dogs forming a stronger bond with their owners.
Interestingly, the study could find no evidence that dogs’ cortisol levels were impacted by the number of hours their owners worked. Neither were stress levels in dogs affected by living with another dog or not having access to a garden.
Human personalities and cortisol
The study also indicated that cortisol in dogs could be impacted by their owners’ personalities and in unexpected ways. Owners who tended to be neurotic generally had dogs with lower hair cortisol levels. The researchers felt that this might be because neurotic owners would seek comfort more regularly from their pet. All those hugs really do make a difference!
You might have already been aware that your pet picks up signals from you. But you may not have realised the extent of the impact your stress could have on your furry friend. The scientists have pointed out that pet owners should not feel guilty about stressing their animals. Dogs benefit from spending time with their owners even if they are sensing their stress.
Your dog empathises with you! They can’t tell you that they feel your tension or pain, but they really do!