Using therapy animals to help people destress is common today. After all, petting dogs can lower cortisol levels. And staring into the eyes of a happy dog builds oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) in your brain, which helps balance your joy and pleasure receptors. So, while dogs help reduce our stress, could the reverse be true? Can owners stress out dogs?
Dogs have been man’s best friend for centuries, but this relationship has created a level of connection between dogs and owners that you may not realize exists.
Because dogs were bred and domesticated to understand the desires of people who trained them, animals that were more attuned to those needs became dominant. The result is that, after centuries of breeding, dogs understand much more about us and are more connected to our emotional responses than perhaps we realize.
Studies show anxious or neurotic owners can pass these traits along to their pets without knowing it. A study showed that dogs could even pick up on human habits like pacing, nail-biting, and changes in body odor that correspond to feelings of depression or anxiety.
Understand the Swedish study
Much of these findings come from a Swedish study of around 60 dogs performed by Lina Roth, a zoologist at Sweden’s Linkoping University. The study focused on border collies and Shetland sheepdogs, so there’s more research to do on other breeds. But researchers say the results to show the bonds between dogs and owners can mirror the effects that parents have on their children. And Roth concludes that long-term stressful behavior in people has been shown to translate into similar feelings for dogs, including raised cortisol levels.
Researchers warn, however, that instead of being concerned about the possibility that you are making your dog nervous, focus instead on the emotional connection you and your dog have built to sustain each other. This idea might give you the ability to think about your feelings in a new way, and provide an opportunity to find new ways to relate to your dog and understand how your dog can (and wants to) help regulate your emotional state.
Consider using methods that make your dog more comfortable in your home as an investment in your mental health. Simple things that relax your dog might give you comfort as well.
Schedule regular vet visits
Keeping your dog healthy means making sure they have medical checkups, keep their vaccines current, and provide them with the food and medicine they need to stay healthy.
For more peace of mind, it might be a good idea to look into pet insurance that covers much of what your dog could face. Then you won’t have to worry that vet bills from an injury will drain your bank account!
Create a calming home atmosphere
While crate training may seem cruel (as you would respond poorly to being locked in a box), it is excellent for a dog’s mental health. Most breeds of dog love to have a small enclosed private space. Make sure the crate is the correct size for your dog – too big and they may use part of it as a bathroom, which can be unpleasant.
To help keep your dog calm and happy, understand what stresses dogs out and watch for critical signs of stress in dogs. If your dog shows signs of stress, you can use a variety of methods to help keep him calm including using music, putting your dog in a Thundershirt, or giving him CBD-infused treats.
Get the right food for your dog
For dogs (and humans), nutrition can significantly affect our emotional state. While it may feel time-consuming to do a deep dive into dog foods for particular breeds and situations, it’s useful to make sure your dog has the best sustenance for his digestion.
And if you plan to switch foods, do so slowly over time. Combine the new food with the old to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach.
Be happy together
Ultimately, you and your furry best friend have a two-way relationship, so don’t forget that owners stress out dogs. Your emotional state affects your dog.
Anxious or neurotic owners can pass those traits along to their pets. Your dog will be more nervous when you are stressed.
Be brave for your dog, and your dog will help you find the courage you need to face the day.
Sarah Archer is a Content and PR manager at Your Best Digs. She’s passionate about evaluating everyday home products to help customers save time and money. When she’s not putting a product’s promise to the test, you’ll find her hiking a local trail or collecting stamps in her passport.