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.

Just Posted

Fighter Jets light up Bucs’ to take AFL first place

38-3 loss puts Central Alberta into second place in the AFL

Town of Blackfalds opens Tutty Pond

New natural greenspace recognizes historic Blackfalds family

4th annual Farm Safety returns to Lacombe County

300 Grade 5s learn about staying safe on the farm

Lacombe road patching work scheduled for the west side of Highway 12

Weather forecast for rain is hampering efforts for immediate permanent patching

Lacombe man to be in national Canadian Tire commercial

Sam Donahue took part in the brand’s ‘Tested for Life in Canada’ campaign

WATCH: Blackfalds Days Parade takes over community

Floats from all over central Alberta wows crowd

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

PHOTOS: Scamp the Tramp wins World’s Ugliest Dog Contest

‘He’s Scamp the Champ, no longer Scamp the Tramp,’ his Californian owner said.

Deals on paid time off for domestic violence ‘beginning of a wave,’ says expert

Philippines was the first country to pay for domestic-violence leave, starting in 2004

Calgary Flames select forward Jakob Pelletier with the No. 26 pick

The 18-year-old winger from Quebec City had spoken with the club earlier in the day and knew they were interested

Central Alberta RCMP constable found not guilty of sexual assault

Justice Grant Dunlop acquitted Const. Jason Tress following a week-long trial in Red Deer Court

Inuit sue feds over experiments that included skin grafts

Plaintiffs allege they were also prodded with sharp instruments to assess their reaction to pain

More than 700 wildlfire evacuees in Alberta can soon return to Metis community

Evacuees from the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement can safely return starting on Thursday

Most Read