Stress can do some crazy things to the human body, and new research shows your dog actually can pick up on your stressed-out signals and become stressed out himself. It's just one more factor that shows how close the bond between man and dog really is.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska in Omaha followed 58 people and 58 dogs who were participating in dog agility competitions. In case you're unfamiliar with them, these competitions are stressful events that require dogs to complete obstacle courses as quickly and as perfectly as possible. They're only guided by cues from their handler. Among the handlers, 44 were women and 14 were men.
Saliva samples were collected from both dogs and humans before and after the competition. Researchers analyzed each sample for the stress hormone cortisol that both humans and dogs produce. The humans also had their testosterone levels checked. Handlers rated their dog's personality and performance during the trials, and throughout the trial and afterwards handlers had their behavior towards their dogs recorded.
Male dog handlers and their pooches were found to have higher levels of cortisol in their saliva post-competition compared with before the event. Cortisol levels in women handlers increased only sightly and did not change in their dogs. So what's the deal there? Study leaders say women may interact differently with dogs, which could affect the physiological state of both parties. Additionally, testosterone levels did not correlate with cortisol changes, and cortisol levels in dogs were found to be unrelated to the sex of the dog as well as the handlers' tone of voice or behavior toward their pooch.
Researchers believe the dogs picked up on odors or behavioral clues from handlers-- think body language, facial expression, or different types of touch. These subtle clues were probably enough to transmit the human's stressed-out state to the pooches involved. It's a little unnerving when you consider these are clues you can't hide.
While it's a really cool finding that just reinforces how connected we are with out precious fur babies, it's also a bit of a wake up call. Too much stress is most likely just as unhealthy for you as it is for your furry best friend. It's something to be mindful of so both man and dog and remain happy and healthy!