Watch out, your stress could be affecting your dog

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FILE – This Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 file photo shows a Shetland sheepdog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. A study published Thursday, June 6, 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that dogs owners experiencing long bouts of stress can actually transfer the stress to their dogs like a contagious […]

NEW YORK (AP) — Stress is always hard on us, but did you know that man’s best friend can feel the stress you are giving off? A new study suggests that your stress could affect your dog. 

  • Stress levels can affect your dog
  • Scientists using a hormone called cortisol to examine stress levels between humans and their dogs
  • Not all stress is bad, some stress is good for both your canine friend and you

Scientists report that dog owners experiencing long periods of stress can transfer it to their dogs. The study was published Thursday in Scientific Reports

Swedish researchers focused on 58 people who own border collies or Shetland sheepdogs. The hair from the owners and their dogs were taken and examined to identify the concentrations of a hormone called cortisol, a chemical released into the bloodstream and absorbed by hair follicles in response to stress.

According to Lina Roth of Linkoping University in Sweden, stress can influence the amount of cortisol found in your hair. Roth and her team discovered that the cortisol levels found in the hair of dog owners and their dogs closely matched in both winter and summer months, indicating their stress levels were in sync.

Roth hypothesizes that the owners are influencing the dogs rather than the other way around, because several human personality traits appear to affect canine cortisol levels.

The scientists do not know what causes the synchronization between the cortisol levels between both humans and their dogs. It is possible that the link is stronger with competitive dogs rather than in pet pooches. During training a close bond is formed between an owner and their competitive dog, and this may increase the canines’ emotional reliance on their owners. This close bond could increase the degree of synchronization, Roth said. 

The results from this study are no surprise, said Alicia Buttner, director of animal behavior 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.

Buttner she said there is not enough evidence to assume that the influence goes only one way; it may go both ways. “It is not just as simple as: owner gets stressed, dog gets stressed,” she said.

Many other factors could affect the stress levels in a person and their dog. Buttner said cortisol levels do not necessarily always indicate “bad” stress. They can also 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 in the same way. She cautions dog owners to minimize their stress levels as much as possible so as to not affect their canine friends. “Just be with your dog and have fun,” Roth said. 

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