Dogs Mirror Their Owner’s Stress, Study Finds

Your four-legged friend really feels your pain.

By: Amanda Mushro


Photo by: Rebecca Nelson

Rebecca Nelson

When you’ve had a really bad day, is there anything better than coming home to your dog? Your pup is always excited to see you, always looking to cuddle and wouldn’t mind a few extra belly scratches. Basically, dogs are the best.

During those stressful days or weeks, our bodies are feeling the effects and we aren’t the only ones suffering: our dogs are actually mirroring our stress and it effects their bodies, too.

According to a study out of Linkoping University in Sweden, stress levels in dogs coincide with their owner’s. So, when we are stressed and our body is reacting with hormone changes, the same thing is happening inside our beloved pups.

For the study, researchers examined 25 border collies, 33 Shetland sheepdogs and their owners, who were all women. By studying hair samples from the owners and the dogs, researchers were able to measure the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol over different periods of time. Researchers also noted that physical activity can increase cortisol levels, so the dogs wore activity collars to record their movements during the study.

"We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and its owner were synchronized, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels," said Ann-Sofie Sundman, the principal author of the study.

Here’s some good news: our dogs, while mirroring our stress, seem to be unfazed by this phenomenon. Just further evidence of how amazing dogs truly are.

"Surprisingly enough, we found no major effect of the dog’s personality on long-term stress," said Senior Lecturer Lina Roth, who was the study’s principal investigator. "The personality of the owner, on the other hand, had a strong effect. This has led us to suggest that the dog mirrors its owner’s stress."

The researchers also noted that the stronger the bond between the dog and the owner, the greater the rise in the stress hormones in the dog. So, depending on who the dog views as their most loved owner, their body will react differently.

What can we do with this information? Well, we can make an effort to reduce our stress for our benefit and our dog’s benefit. On days when you are feeling extra uneasy, grab your pup and head outside for an extra-long walk. It will be good for you, your stress and your four-legged friend.


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