Imagine this for a moment. You are in your cooped up studio apartment while cars honk on the road below. The neighbours are again fighting, and the heat is killing you. What’s your general mood? Happy? We don’t think so. And seriously the stress that you feel right at this moment, is something that your dog would mirror.
Scientists have just revealed what many owners already knew- pets understand when you are stressed or troubled and our furry friends get stressed too. This experiment was landed through a cortisol test. The stress hormone was usually found in the DNA in the hair, and after a collective study of 25 border collies, 33 Shetland sheepdogs, and their human owners, it was found that the cortisol in human hair was closely matched with the cortisol present in the dog’s fur.
It is also to be noted that all these dogs live with their owners, indoors.
Lina Roth, an ethologist at Linkoping University Sweden was surprised at the synchronization in stress levels between two different species. The fact that this was long term, added to the interest.
The hair strands taken during the tests were usually cut really close and short to the skin and during the winter and summer months of 2017 and 2018. The cortisol link held through all the seasons, while increasing in dogs in the winter.
There was an addendum to the tests. In order to check if the lifestyle of the canines were impactful on their stress levels, half of each breed were put through tests of obedience and agility after regular training. The other half were simply companion animals.
The researchers wrote in Scientific Reports, that the stress in dogs who were competing closely resembled that of their owners, simply because the bond was much stronger.
The most interesting point in this research was that most outward influences didn’t matter much into fluctuating the cortisol levels in the dogs. It was the owner’s personality that determined it all. In fact, what mattered more was neuroticism.
As the study portrays, owners who were more neurotic had dogs with lesser cortisol levels. Why? For they received an abundance of hugs and kisses, which helped alleviate the tension. To put it in an ironclad hook, the scientists finally wrote in the journal that dogs mirrored their owners. Now, naturally, this would be disheartening to the owners at realizing they were the reason behind their dog’s stress. But Roth clarifies that while dogs do pick up signs that may sometimes be unintentional, it would be in the best interests of both that they lived together.
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While long term synchronization of stress levels has never been seen before this research, short terms have been seen on multiple occasions. In 2016, James Burkett of Emory University highlighted that prairie voles that were monogamous reacted to their stressed partner by increasing their own stress, and pampering them more.
While not included in this research between dog and human, Burkett says that while this is common knowledge among dog owners that dogs do get affected a lot by their owners, the level to which they are affected, and the level to which our intuition decides as to them getting affected is still up for research.
IMAGE CREDIT: soloway