Dogs Take on Owners Stress: Study

Are you experiencing high stress levels these days?  If so, your dog may be stressed out too.  A new study has demonstrated that dogs mirror their owner’s stress levels.

Study overview

Researchers examined how stress levels in dogs are influenced by lifestyle factors and by the people that the dogs live with.  The researchers determined stress levels over several months by measuring the concentration of a stress hormone, cortisol, in a few centimeters of hair from the dog and from its owner.

The study examined 25 border collies and 33 Shetland sheepdogs, all of them owned by women. The owners and the dogs provided hair samples on two occasions separated by a few months. Since physical activity can increase cortisol levels, the researcher also wanted to compare companion dogs with dogs that competed in obedience or agility. The physical activity levels of the dogs were therefore recorded for a week using an activity collar.

The dog owners were also asked to complete two validated questionnaires related to their own and their dog’s personality. The researchers investigated whether stress levels are correlated with personality traits.

Findings

The results indicate that dogs mirror their owner’s stress. Researchers found that physical activity in dogs does not affect the long-term cortisol in their hair. On the other hand, the stress level of competing dogs seems to be linked more strongly than non-competition pet dogs with that of the owner. The scientists speculate that this may be associated with a higher degree of active interaction between the owner and the dog when they train and compete together.

“Surprisingly enough, we found no major effect of the dog’s personality on long-term stress. The personality of the owner, on the other hand, had a strong effect. This has led us to suggest that the dog mirrors its owner’s stress.”

-Lina Roth, principal investigator for the study and senior lecturer IFM

 


 

Journal reference:  Ann-Sofie Sundman, Enya Van Poucke, Ann-Charlotte Svensson Holm, Åshild Faresjö, Elvar Theodorsson, Per Jensen and Lina S . V. Roth (2019), Long-term stress levels are synchronized in dogs and their owners, Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-43851-x http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/10.1038/s41598-019-43851-x


 

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