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Do Your Anxieties Match Your Dog’s?

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I’m pointing to a big yes on this one, but perhaps not in the way you expect. The bond between a human and their dog can be super strong. And, like our human bestie, dogs can sense when something is off.

In fact, science says dogs take on our stress.

How we feel impacts our dog’s daily stress and hormones

You read that right—triggers from work, personal relationships, or just trying to do everything all the time can be picked up by your pup. Not only that, but this chronic stress may change their cortisol levels too. (You’ve probably heard about cortisol before—a hormone that’s related to stress.) So when you’re stressed out, you’re changing the chemical makeup of your dog!

Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden recently looked at 58 pet parents with either a Border collie or Shetland sheepdog. They were studying the cortisol levels in the hair of both the parent and dog.

What they found was pretty interesting—the researchers reported “dogs, to a great extent, mirror the stress level of their owners.”

Competitive dog/dog parent combos are even more synched

When humans work together to accomplish something, the duo start to vibe together. Whether you have a stressed-out boss who makes you feel more stressed or a trainer who is helping you train for a marathon, you tend to harmonize closely the more you work together.

Competition dog
Competition dogs are more likely to have their cortisol levels sync up with their handler.

Just like humans can, competition dogs are more likely to have their cortisol levels sync up with their handler. The kicker? It doesn’t even matter if the dog takes home a prize! And it doesn’t matter how the handler interacts with the dog post-competition. They still sync up.

Lina Roth, one of the researchers from the study, shared a few theories about this with the New York Post: “‘The bond formed between owner and competitive dogs during training may increase the canines’ emotional reliance on their owners,’ she said. ‘That, in turn, could increase the degree of synchronization.’”

But why do dogs pick up and mirror our stress?

The pressure of life can be too real. Balancing work, relationships, career and pet parenting—we often deal with so much stress that we can get worked up and forget to just breathe.

Whenever you have periods of prolonged stress—unemployment, too much exercise, depression—your body shows the signs of it through cortisol production.

  • For most dogs, you are their whole world.
    For humans, we have so much more going on. While our dogs may struggle to pee higher on the local lamppost as a form of climbing the social ladder, we’re often spending one-third of our lives at work, potentially competing and working hard to move up. That stress builds up.
  • Dogs can literally smell your fear.
    Researchers presented dogs with human sweat samples from subjects who were happy, neutral or stressed. Dogs who sniffed the stress-sweat were more likely to show stressful behaviors.
  • Dogs are excellent at reading body language—and
    Along with their olfactory prowess, dogs beat out chimpanzees in a Harvard study of how well the two picked up human body language. Another study found “evidence that dogs are sensitive to the human’s attentional state when producing facial expressions.” In layman’s terms, the researchers point out that the cute faces our pups make back at us could be intentional attempts to communicate back.
  • We pick up their stress—and get more stressed because of it.
    Turns out many dog and cat parents get stressed at the thought of vet visits in anticipation of their pet’s stress. This gets more complex when our dogs then pick up our stress about the visit and get more stressed because of it. This makes us more stressed and less likely to take them to the vet and everyone loses.

Break the stress cycle!

Don’t worry. A huge part of the battle against stress is recognizing that it’s there at all. #quickwin

Getting out of the vicious stress cycle is 100% possible, and you and your dog will both be better for it.

Check out four proven methods to help your dog fear-bust and make sure you’re adding in a little self-care in your life, too. After all, de-stressing your own life WILL de-stress your dog’s, too. Science proved so.