Dog owners are some of the most passionate and invested pet owners when it comes to forming emotional bonds with their companions.
This is because dogs are so expressive. They give us unconditional love, are able to show us when they want something, and their loyalty means they are always there when we need them.
But along with sharing all the good stuff like love, affection, and loyalty, dogs also pick up negative emotions like stress. Not just on a basic sensory level, like noticing you’re down based off your mood. A recent study has shown that dogs experience biological changes along with their owners.
This study helped confirm a lot of things we dog owners have always felt about our dogs. Here’s what it revealed about how much dogs pick up on when we’re stressed and how it affects them.
Do Dog’s Stress Levels Mirror the People they Live With?
It’s a common belief that dogs are able to pick up on the emotions of their owners. But it was only after a study carried out at Linkoping University in Sweden earlier this year that we have scientific evidence.
The study examined a total of 58 dogs (22 Shetland Sheepdogs and 25 Border Collies) along with their owners. Researchers took into account a wide range of factors, such as the lifestyles of the dogs and their owners, personalities, relationships, and more.
They then measured cortisol levels in the dogs and their owners over a period of a few months. Cortisol is a stress hormone; it’s released by our bodies to help us deal with stressful situations. It’s an accurate measure of how stressed a person – or dog – is feeling.
The study found a strong correlation between dogs’ and their owners’ cortisol levels. Ann-Sofie Sundman, principal author of the study, said, “We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and its owner were synchronized, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels”.
If you’re reading this and feel concern about the long-term effects stress might be having on your dog, the study also ruled out any connection there. Senior lecturer at Linkoping University Lina Roth said, “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.”
This means that long-term stress isn’t going to change your dog’s personality or have a lasting effect. As soon as you start lowering your stress levels, your dog mirrors you and follows suit.
Does this Means Dogs are Empathetic?
There are debates over whether dogs are empathetic toward their owners or if they are just reacting to us. The definition of empathy is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of another. This is exactly what dogs are doing when they are mirroring, or sharing, the stress we’re dealing with.
This study added a lot of weight to the side of the argument that says “yes,” dogs are empathetic to their owners. There really is a bond between dogs and their owners that runs deeper than familiarity and friendship.
Can you Reverse the Effects of Stress In Dogs?
Yes, you can. Your dog is producing more cortisol, a stress hormone, because they are mirroring you. If you reduce the amount of stress you’re feeling and reduce your own cortisol levels, your dog’s stress levels will drop, too.
Obviously, this is easier said than done. If you’re dealing with a lot of stress in your life, it’s something you need to address for the right reasons and in a way that works for you. You need to think about yourself first.
The important takeaway here is that your dog is going to be there for you every step of the way. Dogs love us unconditionally. That’s one thing we already knew and don’t need a study to prove it.
Want to do more for your dog? Learn even more about their health and how you can help.