Video: What Happens To Your Dog When You’re Stressed

Watch the latest Alpha Paw episodes with host Bernie Zilio as she tackles your pet parent questions, along with our board of pet experts. You can watch the video and read the transcript below!

The Transcript

Bernie Zilio
We all know that our dogs can pick up on our frustration…when it’s directed at them…if they’ve stolen a sock out of the hamper for example…I’m talking to you, Pod…but can they pick up on our stress when it’s directed at work? Our partners? Life itself? Let’s get into it.

Welcome back to Alpha Paw, your destination for everything dog. I’m Bernie Zilio and I’m on a mission to answer every doggone question you’ve ever had about your fur babies and today we are talking about if our dogs are able to pick up on our stress. The short answer? Yes.

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But they don’t only see that you’re anxious about your upcoming work deadline and move on with their days, our doggos will actually pick up on your stress and then get stressed out themselves. Talk about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes…now I’m thinking about a dog in a human’s shoes….and just like that I got rid of any anxiety I may have been harboring.

But that visualization trick may not work for everyone so let’s get into the science. A recent study out of Sweden’s Linköping University found that dogs’ stress levels were greatly impacted by their owners. Which just confirms that they are the most empathetic creatures. The study also found that this is not mutual. Which also confirms that humans…could do without ‘em. The findings of this study suggest that dogs, to a great extent, mirror the stress levels of their owners.

Canine Stress Is Linked To Their Owner’s stress

Now how do researchers go about figuring out how stressed a dog is comparative to their human? They actually tested the cortisol levels, AKA the stress hormone, in the hair of the dogs and humans. And what they found was pretty astounding. The cortisol levels in the dog hairs were synchronized with that of their owners.

And what’s more amazing is that the longer you own your pup, the more synchronized their cortisol levels get with you. There are other things too that contribute to the level of synchronization. Things like physical activity. Dogs who competed with their owners in agility competitions or things of that nature, had more comparable levels of cortisol than those who didn’t.

We can deduce if you engage in more exercise with your canine companion, on walks or runs or hikes, this will also likely sync your dog up to your emotions. Training can also help get your pup attuned to your moods and feelings.

The theory is that physical activity and training increase your emotional bond with your dog, since you’re spending increased time together and cooperating in shared tasks. There are a few other components that play a role. Believe it or not, the weather impacts your dogs attunement to your stress.

In winter, their levels were higher. And of course, as with most things, sex plays a role. Female dogs were more likely to share cortisol levels with their humans than male dogs because…like duh. This concept of sharing emotions and picking up on your stress is actually called “emotional contagion”– wherein animals share or mirror the emotional responses of their humans.

Your dog can literally catch feelings from you! And while they can pick up on your stress, it may manifest a bit differently. Think: aggression, panting, excessive barking, pacing, or going potty in the house. So while we often address these behavioral problems in our dogs, it’s important to remember…that we should start with the behavioral problems in ourselves.

Our Dogs Mirror The Emotional Energy We Have

Our dogs could just be mirroring the emotional energy that we put out. So next time you’re pulling your hair out of a deadline or upcoming dinner with your mother-in-law, just think about how your anxiety is affecting your poor pup…take a chill pill and do what you gotta do!

Your dog will thank you. And hey, might not be too bad for you either. Does your dog pick up on your stress? How do you help him or her calm down? Let us know in the comments down below. Again I’m Bernie Zilio and this is Alpha Paw, be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss a single doggone episode and we’ll see you next time!

Do you have more questions about your dog’s functioning? Leave them in the comments section down below. Again I’m Bernie Zilio and this is Alpha Paw, be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss a single doggone episode and we’ll see you next time!