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

Salmon Arm RCMP say budget cuts won’t impact service

Police force, facing $10.7-million budget shortfall, says it won’t compromise public safety

Salmon Arm boxer hopes to fund Olympic dream

Supporters show they’re in Jordyn Konrad’s corner

Silverbacks PeeWee girls hockey team fundraising for WickFest

Festival will include opportunity to meet Olympian and event namesake Hayley Wickenheiser

Advertising restrictions frustrate Salmon Arm cannabis retailers

Retail prices off-putting to some, but businesses finding supportive clientele

Penticton and Salmon Arm will duke it out tonight for division lead

Penticton Vees and Salmon Arm Silverbacks meet in Penticton tonight for Interior Division lead

Family of B.C. man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Ski resorts selling mountain water is a risky move, critics say

Alberta allowed ski resort in Kananaskis Country to sell about 50 million litres to third party

Sportsnet looks at new options for Coach’s Corner time slot, post-Don Cherry

Spokesperson says Hall of Fame feature on tap this weekend after co-host’s firing

Woman wanted on Canada-wide warrant possibly in Central Okanagan

Brittany McLellan is unlawfully at large and wanted for breach of federal parole

Grand Forks residents protest on bridge to call for ‘fair’ compensation after 2018 floods

Demonstrators also criticized how long it has taken to be offered land deals

Salmon Arm history in pictures: Inheriting a handful

Considered the matriarch of Salmon Arm, Sarah Agnes McGuire arrived on the… Continue reading

Theft of 31 items rattles low-income seniors home in North Okanagan

Increasing theft around town concerns community

B.C. taxi drivers no longer exempt from wearing a seatbelt

Before, taxi drivers were allowed to forego a seatbelt when driving under 70 kilometres an hour

Smelly situation sniffed out at Okanagan courthouse

Call of propane smell turns out to be sewer

Most Read