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

EDITORIAL: The wishes of the voters

While the results will not please everyone, this is, more or less, what Canadian voters have chosen

Penticton-bound plane forced to return to Vancouver

It’s the third flight in three weeks that has been unable to land at Penticton Regional Airport.

SOREB brings back Warm up the Winter campaign

South Okanagan Real Estate Board seeking donations of clothing and blankets

Vehicle fire blocks southbound lanes of Coquihalla

The incident is reported to be between Merritt and Helmer Road

Penticton Search and Rescue locate missing man

Penticton Search and Rescue with air support from Elcipse Helicopters find missing hunter

VIDEO: Is the stethoscope dying? High-tech options pose threat

World-renowned cardiologist believes the device is just a pair of ‘rubber tubes’

COLUMN: Considering questions about a minority parliament

Liberals lost 20 seats, reducing their total to 157 and the NDP lost seats going from 44 to 24

Aquilini companies deny negligence in U.S. vineyard fire that killed two kids

Fire occurred at Red Mountain Vineyard, located in southeast Washington State

Surrey cop killer gets new parole conditions

Surrey RCMP Constable Roger Pierlet, 23, was shot dead on March 29, 1974

Former Kelowna Hells Angels associate could be deported, court rules

David Revell has lost his fight against deportation from Canada

Alcohol available onboard BC Ferries starting Thursday

Beer and wine sales begin at 11 a.m. on select Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay sailings

Impressive hometown win for Okanagan Marathon runner

Vik Bains celebrated his first-ever career win on his Kelowna home course on Oct. 20

Pumpkins, more than just a jack-o-lantern: UBCO chef

The festive Halloween vegetables are great for side dishes, soups and breads

Apex Volunteer Fire Brigade receives AED donation from Sheeprock Lodge Strata

The brigade is asking for more donations in order to offer medical responses

Most Read