When humans make friends, we look for qualities such as loyalty, companionship and compassion. But what about man’s best friend? Since ancient times, humans domesticated mutts to hunt, herd and retrieve. These four-legged friends also make great companions. But how deeply do our furry friends empathize with us?
A research team at Linköping University in Sweden wanted to investigate owner-dog relationships related to stress. They knew that individuals of the same species can mimic each other’s stress. For example, children will feel stress if their mom is stressed out.
But Ann-Sofe Sundman wanted to determine if the same was true of a multi-species relationship.
In other words: Do fur babies feel it when their dog parents are stressed?
To study this, Sundman examined more than 50 herding dogs (border collies, German Shepherds, shelties) and their owners. Owners and their dogs provided two hair samples, a few months apart. The hair samples allowed the team to measure stress over time based on levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that ends up in our hair and stays there! Additionally, dog owners completed two personality surveys, one about themselves and one about their pets.
Sundman found that long-term stress levels of herding dogs are strongly correlated with the stress of their owners. This research concluded that man’s best friend can commiserate with his owner’s stress.
But what about dogs who are bred for more independence than the cooperative herding breeds?
Using other dog breeds, Amanda Höglin led a study to determine if the level of cooperation of our four-legged friends affects canine stress imitation. The team studied more than 40 dogs from two breed categories. Hunting dogs, such as Swedish Elkhounds and Dachshunds, were bred to hunt independently from their owners. Ancient breeds, including Huskies and Shiba Inus, are more like their wild wolf cousins.
Like the previous study, this experiment also collected hair samples and personality surveys. Höglin found that hunting dogs were more affected by owner/dog relationships than ancient breeds.
For example, hunting dogs with more agreeable owners were less stressed, but personality didn’t affect stress much in ancient breeds. Unlike herding dogs though, long-term stress levels in both hunting and ancient dog breeds did not correlate with owner stress.This shows that while owner personality can affect stress levels in many kinds of dogs, something about cooperative breeds lets them actually synchronize their stress with us too.
Now if only Fido would relax during his weekly bubble bath.
Source: Orange County Register