A fascinating new study has found dog owners who feel stress can transfer those feeling to their dogs.
58 people who own border collies or Shetland sheepdogs participated in the study. For the study,Swedish researchers examined hair samples from the dog owners and their dogs. The team wanted to analyse the concentrations of a hormone called cortisol, which is a chemical released into the bloodstream. This chemical is then absorbed by hair follicles due to stress.
Lina Roth of Linkoping University in Sweden explained that factors like depression, too much physical exercise and unemployment can increase the amount of cortisol that is found in one's hair. The results showed that cortisol levels in the hair of dog owners were similar to the levels found in their dogs regardless of what season it is. The findings suggest both owner and dog's stress levels are the same amount.
Roth believes these pet owners are influencing the dogs because there are many human personality traits that can affect pets' cortisol levels. While researchers have yet to understand why there is this connection, one theory put forth is that it may be down to the strong bond between owner and competitive dogs. Training sessions may increase the dog's emotional reliance on their owners. Another reason people have such an influence on their dogs is that humans are “a more central part of the dog’s life, whereas we humans also have other social networks,” Roth told a news portal.
Alicia Buttner, director of animal behaviour with the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha, is not surprised by the findings. "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 told a news portal.
However,Buttner feels more evidence is needed to knows if the influence is purely a one-way street. "It’s not just as simple as owner gets stressed, dog gets stressed,” she told a new portal. There could be other factors that affect a dog’s stress levels.
The team now wants to further investigate this link in other dog breeds to test if they will react in a similar way. For now, Roth recommends owners find ways to reduce their stress levels so it does not have an impact on their dogs. Pets that are playful tend to not exhibit that much stress.
The study's findings were published Thursday in Scientific Reports.