Your Stress Levels Can Influence Your Pup | DogLife360
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Your Stress Levels Can Influence Your Pup

There is a general presumption that dogs often look like their owners. Now a study has revealed that not only do they sometimes have an uncanny resemblance to their owners but an owner’s stress level can have a direct influence on that of the dog.

Before we consider whether dogs mimic our stress levels we need to agree to what extent dogs experience emotions. In history during the early 1500's the philosopher Descarte claimed that dogs had no emotions, he proposed that they were just mimicking but not actually experiencing emotions. Thankfully our empathy and understanding towards our dogs has improved greatly over the centuries. Modern science claims that our dogs experience the same range of emotions as a very young child. Dogs are considered to feel all of the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust, and, of course, love. Supposedly our dogs don't experience the more complex emotions like guilt, pride, and shame. Yes, we know that you're thinking "but what about that guilty look when a tasty morsel is stolen from the table?" This guilty look is an aspect of fear. Science states firmly that Rex feels no guilt.

woman and dog grin at each other

So, do our dogs experience stress? Two recent studies revealed that dogs can mimic their owner’s emotions. If the owner is anxious the dog shows signs of anxiety. If the owner is happy the pup is happy and excited. The reverse is also true, a happy dog can help the owner manage their stress levels better.

In the first study, conducted by the Linköping University in Sweden, the cortisol levels in the hair of the dogs and owners were tested. The owners were also asked to complete a questionnaire about their own personality and that of their dog. They needed to answer questions about their relationship with their dog, including daily interaction, degree of emotional attachment to the dog and the extent to which owning a dog gave rise to problems. 

The study was conducted on both hunting dogs such as the Swedish elkhound and dachshund and a group called ancient breeds. Dogs in this ancient category are more closely related to the wolf and include breeds such as the Siberian husky and the basenji. 

It was found that the owner’s stress level had a greater influence on hunting dogs, less so on ancient breed dogs. 

Top 5 ancient dogs

Is it our long working relationship with hunting dogs that has proved them to be more sensitive to our emotions that our ancient breeds? Or is this just anthropomorphism in the extreme as we assume that we thrust our stress onto our beloved dogs with whom we live so intimately?

Either way a second study on stress levels was conducted by researchers at the University of Vienna. Here various tests were done on more than a 100 dogs and their owners, including heart rate and testing of cortisol levels in saliva. Owners were also asked to complete a questionnaire about their dogs to assess the personality of the dog.

The owners were assessed for the big five hallmarks of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

a happy dog under a loving hand

The results of the study showed that dogs are sensitive to and mirror their owner’s emotions. They can pick up emotional information from people and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

The final results proved that both owners and dogs influenced each other’s coping mechanisms, with the human being having a greater influence over the dog.

If your dog is showing signs of anxiety, try Adaptil. It helps puppies and dogs to feel reassured and relaxed in challenging situations. Mother dogs communicate with their puppies through natural messages released in the air. These “comforting messages” provide a strong signal of security and comfort to dogs. Using these “comforting messages”, Adaptil products help to calm your dog and bring you peace of mind that your furry best friend is well supported.

Our dogs have helped us so much especially through lockdown, responding to all our mental and emotional cues and lifting our spirits daily. But it is nice to know that we lift their spirits too. If you know a dog who has lifted you out of the blues, show them some love and nominate them for a Naturo SuperDog Award.