Using therapy animals to help people destress is common. 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 owners can pass these along to their pets without knowing it. Studies show 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.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety can become even more nervous if their owners show they are worried about leaving them.
Dogs mimic their owners and mirror their stress levels, so be careful not to create dog stress.
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 resto do on other breeds. But researchers say the results show that the bonds between dogs and pet owners can mirror parents’ effects 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 allow you 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.
Recognize body chemistry
According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Sept. 28, 2022, dogs can smell the difference if humans are stressed or calm.
Researchers used breath and sweat samples to create a baseline before researchers watched participants spend three minutes counting backward from 9,000 using units of 17.
After completing the task, the study team collected more breath and sweat samples.
The researchers presented post-task breath and sweat samples from one person to 20 dogs, along with two blank control samples. The dogs needed to select the correct sample at least seven out of 10 times to move to the next phase.
In the second phase, the study team gave four dogs that passed the first phase the same samples plus one from the same individual before the task and a blank.
When presented with these options 20 times, the dogs needed to successfully identify the original post-task “stress” scent at least 80% of the time.
The dogs chose the correct sample in 93.8% of the trials, suggesting that stress odors differ from baseline samples.
The search shows that dogs can detect subtle changes in a human scent that indicate stress with training.
Schedule regular vet visits
Keeping your dog healthy means ensuring they have medical checkups, keeping their vaccines current, and providing them with the food and medicine they need to stay healthy.
For more peace of mind, 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 dog breeds 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.
Your dog also needs regular physical exercise. Daily walks can help alleviate anxiety and help calm dogs.
Get the right food for your dog
For dogs (and humans), nutrition can significantly affect your emotional state.
While it may feel time-consuming to research dog foods for particular breeds and situations, ensuring your dog has the best sustenance is beneficial.
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 stressed-out dog owners can pass those traits along to their pets. Your dog will be more nervous if you are stressed.
Be brave; 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. You’ll find her hiking a local trail or collecting stamps in her passport when she’s not putting a product’s promise to the test.