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Can Dogs Really Sense Their Owners’ Stress?

Dog laying on sofa


It’s no secret that dogs can pick up on human emotions. You’ve likely heard things like "dogs can sense fear," especially if you’re a pup parent. But, just how true is the idea that your stress can cause your pet stress too? 

When you feel stressed, your dog senses your emotions and can internalize them, becoming anxious. A recent Swedish research study found that dog owners' stress levels can significantly influence their canine companions' stress levels.  Additionally, the study found similar amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in dogs and their owners.

So, before you let stress take over, take a breath. You're not just influencing your own health but your pup's too.

Does Your Stress Affect Your Dog's Health?

According to the aforementioned study, your anxiety directly influences your dog's stress. Researchers studied the relationship between 58 dogs and their owners, concentrating on hair cortisol concentrations (HCC). Cortisol is a hormone that people, dogs, and other animals release when stressed.

The results indicated humans experiencing long-term stress had similar cortisol levels to their dogs. The conclusion was that dog owners can inadvertently pass their emotions and feelings to their dogs, resulting in a change in their dogs' anxiety levels.

Overall, the study appears to back up what many pet parents already knew. Dogs sense their owners' feelings. Our emotions have a direct impact on our faithful furry friends.

Do Some Dogs Get More Stressed Than Others?

Just like people, every dog is unique with their own distinct personality and characteristics. Therefore, some pups may be more laid back than others, while others tend to get more excitable. 

Another interesting tidbit to spring from the research study was that owners that spend more time with their dogs might have a greater influence on their stress levels. The assumption here is that spending more time together likely increases the emotional bond between a dog and their human.

If you tend to be a more anxious person, then it's likely your dog will get more stressed than if you were a generally calm individual. This is one of the reasons dog trainers stress to owners to remain calm when their dogs interact with new dogs and people. If you tense up, your dog senses it, potentially interpreting the situation as a dangerous one, acting out as a result.

It could also be a possibility that certain breeds have more of a predisposition for stress than others, although much more study is needed.

This concept could potentially provide valuable insight into pairing specific dogs with their owners. It could be especially useful in determining which pups would make the best service animals or emotional support animals for different individuals.

Signs Your Dog Is Stressed

If you think your dog has anxiety or is stressing out, look for these potential signs of pet stress.

  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Having accidents in the house
  • Panting heavily
  • Excessive barking or whining
  • Increased shedding
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Shivering
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive licking or self-grooming

Stress can make your dog unhappy and also lead to other problems. For example, a dog that constantly licks their paws or elsewhere to reduce stress can end up with skin issues. If your dog gets stressed and engages in destructive behavior, they could hurt themselves. 

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, do a mental tally of what's potentially contributing to their stress. Knowing the root cause of your pet's stress is the first step in making them feel better. 

Next, act fast. It's vital to remedy the situation quickly to avoid worsening conditions or serious health problems.

Woman petting dog on floor

7 Ways to Ease Your Dog's Stress

Your own stress isn't the only thing that can make your dog anxious. Your pup can also stress because they're scared, sick, or dealing with separation anxiety. Since stress can affect your dog's health, it's essential to reduce your pup's anxiety as much as possible.

Here are 7 ways you can help decrease your dog's stress.

1. Take Care of Yourself

First, take care of yourself. Since there's such a significant link between your stress and your dog's, reducing your own anxiety is vital. Plus, it's better for you since high stress levels can play a role in your risk for things like heart disease and diabetes. 

2. Provide Exercise and Stimulation

Make sure your dog has adequate exercise and access to stimulating activities. Consider an interactive toy, like the Rolly Cannoli, that keeps your pup engaged and focused.

3. Let the Music Play

Play classical music or something similar with low frequencies and a slow tempo. The soothing sounds can help calm your dog and lower their stress level. 

4. Doggy Massage

Settle down next to your dog and give them a relaxing massage. Physical touch is a very powerful stress reliever, and it also strengthens the bond between you and your pup.

5. Give Your Dog Their Own Space

Create a relaxing place for your pup that's their own retreat. Let your dog know they always have a place to go to feel safe and secure.

6. Try Pet Products to Reduce Stress

Use products like calming sprays, diffusers, or the Neat-Lik Mat to give you a helping hand with your pup's stress. Spreading a tasty treat like peanut butter, pureed pumpkin, or soft dog food over the mat encourages your dog to lick. Licking releases endorphins which help calm down your dog.

You can also try putting a compression coat like the Thundershirt on your dog. The pressure around your pup's torso can help relieve stressful feelings. 

7. Seek Professional Help for Pet Stress

Work with a trainer to help your dog handle various situations better. Plus, when your dog is trained, you might find you're not as anxious when you're out and about together.

If you're very concerned about your dog's stress and can't seem to reduce it, talk to your vet. In some cases, your dog might need medication. At the very least, your vet can make sure there aren't any underlying conditions contributing to your dog's stress.

Does It Work Both Ways?

If we can affect our dogs' stress, is it a two-way street? If your dog is stressed for another reason, can it increase your anxiety? 

Currently, there's not enough research or evidence to say either way. Although, it's worth noting that dogs certainly have a big positive impact on our emotional well-being. This quality is why there are programs like Reading with Rover and dogs that visit nursing homes and hospitals. 

Many people report being able to sleep better when their dog is by their side. Others express how simply petting their furry pal can make them feel better. It's clear that spending time with a dog is just good for the soul.

Don't Stress About It

Overall, when you're stressed, it can increase your dog's stress levels, affecting them physically. The more time you spend with your pal, the more likely you will influence their anxiety levels. But, you certainly shouldn't let the idea that you're causing your pup to stress make you stress out even more.

Instead, do what you can to take care of yourself, and let your canine companion be your support. You can also check out our blog for other helpful insights into how to ensure your dog is happy and healthy. 


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